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Complexity Digest 2000.05 - 01.04

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History of the World	 Economic Forum Meetings in Davos, Dean LeBaron

The founder and chairman of World Economic Forum (non-profit) is Prof Klaus
Schwab, a
cultivated German living in Geneva. He started the Davos meetings thirty years
ago on the premise that leaders of business, academia, arts and politics would
meet in an informal, isolated setting to discuss, without distractions, the
main issues of the day. Complexity is almost always one of the science topics
although at a theoretical level rather than in its applications to the other
issues being discussed.
Davos, a small village known for its world class skiing, in the Engadin
section of Switzerland was chosen as the venue. From a modest beginning of
several hundred people and with close sponsorship by the major Swiss financial
institutions, the annual meeting at Davos has grown to several thousand.
Importance of the participants is controlled by limited membership and fees in
the tens of thousands of Swiss francs. Informal attire during the day is
encouraged as is attendance at evening social affairs as business
attire except for one evening in black tie. The facilities of this small
village are stretched with the addition of several thousand people with the
overflow going to nearby Klosters.
Although selling and self-promotion is prohibited, clearly that is the
motive for most of the speakers and participants. If sales material can not be
handed out, business cards seem as plentiful as snow flakes and electronic
contact systems giving internal email messages to meet at the coffee bars to
discuss "common interests" are common. What started as a single annual meeting
is now an organization which runs important regional meetings, approximately
one every several months, and a magazine, World Link. I have attended
the meetings for about half of its history and spoken once or twice. And
although I have disliked the crowds, I never felt it was other than
For the past five years, Prof Schwab has initiated several attempts to
incorporate the net into the meeting structure. He knows that networking is
becoming electronic but has yet to find the formula that works with the Davos
meeting. This year web-streaming and tools for online participants and press
were more than ever before. As a participant from my home in New Hampshire the
sites seemed well used during the meeting times but access was easily
available through the archive.
Topics almost always have a global theme whether in business, politics,
science or culture. This year was no exception. And an extra feature is that,
most years, a casual meeting of leaders may produce a combination that solves
a seemingly intractable problem. And that is the essence of an adaptive
system, to promote connections to allow a best solution to emerge.

Contributed by Dean

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