A beginner's guide to Davos
On her first trip to the World Economic Forum, the FT's Katie Martin reports on the weird world of Davos, taking in waffly-sounding sessions and trying her hand at meditation and virtual reality.
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KATIE MARTIN: Hello from Davos in the beautiful Swiss Alps where the great and the good are here to discuss, amongst other things, global inequality in a week when Charity Oxfam has reported that just 8 billionaires own as much wealth as half of the global population combined. It's a very rarefied environment-- very slick, but also very weird. If you feel the urge in between speeches by heads of state, CEOs, and celebs, you can glue little wooden blocks together into the shape of a tree. Some of the sessions have waffly-sounding titles about empowering innovation and enabling compassion. I exaggerate but only slightly.
Well, I don't do meditation, and I don't do mindfulness. But I'm going to start my Davos day in the best spirit, so wish me luck.
OK, so I'm just out of the half-hour session of mindfulness and meditation-- not my usual bag, you might be surprised to hear. I'm not sure I'm very good at it, this whole breathing and being nice thing. But it was very relaxing. It was a peaceful way to start the day. You could see the sun rising over the sun-capped mountains.
And there was a very nice monk-- I assume he was a monk-- wearing orange robes. Apparently he normally lives in a hermitage in the Himalayas. It was food for thought. It's something you have to practise. But it was nice. It was a relaxing start to the day. I'm sure I'm going to achieve more as a human being as a result.
I'm new to Davos. This is my first time. And what strikes you-- apart from the grandness of the surroundings and the beautiful mountains, of course-- is all these posters kicking around telling everybody to be good human being. Live with a plant-based diet. Don't drive, walk. Don't drive, get the train. Well, when you look at the traffic jams outside I'm not sure that's quite getting through to the global elite.
OK, now I'm heading into a Davos staple, a slightly strange-sounding event called A Day in the Life of A Refugee.
SPEAKER 1: OK, now. Quickly, in! Inside now! Quickly, inside!
KATIE MARTIN: So there's clearly no small irony in converting the basement of a swanky hotel in a luxury alpine resort into a replica refugee camp for people who have little prospect of ever experiencing genuine hardship and fear. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's a bit of a gimmick, a kind of Disneyfied way for the worthy to sample a tiny sliver of deprivation. And it does have hammy theatrical elements. But it's a powerful message well delivered. And if you have a better way to get rich, influential people to hear first hand from former child soldiers, then I'm all ears.
OK, coming up shortly in the main hall we have Joe Biden, US Vice President. Of course, he's only in the job for another day or so. And if the scrum yesterday to get into speeches by Xi Jinping of China and of John Kerry, US Secretary of State, are anything to go by, I might need to sharpen my elbows. I hate to tell you, but some of the global elite are not very good at queuing. It's a bit like a really posh easyJet queue.
Companies like Facebook are here to talk about their role as a force for good, reaching new and ever-more remote communities to keep them safe, get them voting, boost their small businesses, and so on. It was also showing off new technology like these virtual reality glasses that they say could help train surgeons in crisis-hit regions or maybe train journalists in running away from dinosaurs. This is a tool that is expected-- oh my god-- to have-- [LAUGHS]-- various practical applications like being able to train doctors and things. But at the moment, I can see like a weird submarine. And I haven't got any hands.
You see these videos of people looking idiots with VR headsets on, but it is actually really disconcerting. I'm not getting the practical advantages at the moment. That's terrifying. Is that the end?
SPEAKER 2: Yes. Welcome back.
KATIE MARTIN: That's absolutely horrifying! That's really strange. All in all, one for the bucket list. Remember to pack sharp elbows, comfy shoes, and an emergency dose of cynicism.