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Day Minus One

26 January 2005

from our correspondent Simon Zadek

Tuesday afternoon, Geneva, supping on a black coffee before setting off across a snow-driven, blue-domed Switzerland for Davos, soon to be haven for several thousand of the world’s most influential and – hopefully – interesting and interested people.

Its that ‘Davos Moment’, as I turn to the hefty programme, the menu of goodies for the coming days and nights. I calm myself with Gilberto Gil, who offers soothing melodies through my iPod, reminding me of the Schwab Foundation event in Brazil towards the backend of last year, where Gil, as singer and government minister (of culture), left several hundred social entrepreneurs, and me, in excited awe at his humour, depth and abilities…

…but I digress, back to the programme. You just have to be amazed, choose a topic, do a word search, and the odds are it is there, presented and debated by brilliant minds and powerful voices – the meaning of happiness, Chinese consumer habits, Islamic futures, African poverty, climate change, architectural habits, technological wows, the economics of ageing and, yes indeed, even the ageing of economics… ‘taking responsibility for hard choices’ is the theme for this year’s gathering, with the top scoring choices in the limelight including equitable globalisation, weapons of mass destruction, US leadership, world trade, poverty and Islam.

Its hard to resist a quick scan for my favourite word…no prizes, I am afraid…yes, you guessed it, ‘accountability’. Tricky business this, since it’s a muddy word with no obvious translations into many if not most languages. But then, the programme I am reading is in English, so what the hell, a quick peek…hmmm…well let’s be fair, the word responsibility appears numerous times, and there in the corner I see ‘accountable corporate governance’, although I suspect that might relate mainly to shareholders…aha, there it is, snuck away towards the back…but oh dear, it is nothing more than the name of the organisation I work for, AccountAbility, next to the session on responsible investment (more on that anon)…I abandon my ad hoc word search and turn to more productive things.

Tuesday night, or more accurately one on Wednesday morning, arrive in Davos after a beautiful but hellish drive through Switzerland (no, I won’t bore you with the ‘why I am driving story’). Approaching Davos, and there is the inevitable police roadblock, they wave us down, and peer into the opened window – no sticker on the window saying ‘down with all full paying event participants’, no red-tinged hair, no fire bombs sticking out from my bag on the back seat…they wave us through, oblivious to their archaic lack of attention to any real dangers…as we pull into Davos, the streets are virtually empty, the welcome events either long gone or else snuggling behind closed doors…oh yes, I almost forgot to tell you, it is minus 13 degrees Celsius, seriously cold. As we pull up to the hotel, a young women approaches me, wrapped tight. “Dr Zadek?”, she enquires politely. I respond with incredulity, asking why on earth she is seeking me out in the freezing cold in the middle of the night. She hands me an envelope with my name neatly hand written, “your personal invitation from Accenture to the private dinner tomorrow night, we are so happy that you can come”. I thank her profusely and mutter, with some embarrassment given the time and temperature, “I’m a vegetarian…sorry”. Completely unfazed, she replies, “important to know, we will make sure the kitchen is informed”, and then with a final smile, she is gone into the night…

                                            Welcome to Davos !

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