World Economic Forum

Davos Man vows to tackle populism's 'silent fear'

An armed member of the Swiss Police standing guard on the roof of the Hotel Davos yesterday, ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The annual conference to seek solutions to society's biggest problems will hold its discussions this
An armed member of the Swiss Police standing guard on the roof of the Hotel Davos yesterday, ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The annual conference to seek solutions to society's biggest problems will hold its discussions this year under the theme of responsive and responsible leadership, on the heels of rising populism in the world.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Elites' group to hold special meeting in Washington to discuss issues raised by Trump's win

LONDON/NEW YORK • The World Economic Forum is listening to Mr Donald Trump.

The group will convene a special meeting in Washington this year to discuss issues raised during the US President-elect's campaign and the populist wave that swept him to victory, WEF founder Klaus Schwab, the so-called Davos Man, told Bloomberg Television on Sunday.

The gathering will explore US investment and job-creation opportunities for companies that participate in the forum, he said.

"It's very natural that with the new administration we plan a major event in the US to see what are the implications of the new president and how the business community could engage," Mr Schwab said in advance of the forum's 47th annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. "We have to be responsive to the call," he added.

While the WEF has staff in the United States, it had not planned to hold a meeting there. In addition to the annual gathering in Davos, events are currently scheduled in Argentina, South Africa, Cambodia, Jordan and China.

Mr Trump has claimed credit for persuading companies from Ford Motor Company to Sprint Corporation to bring jobs and factories back to the US from countries such as Mexico, and has demonstrated he can pressure chief executives to shift course with a single tweet. 

SEEKING SOLUTIONS

We have populists here and we want to listen. We have to respond to these individuals' fears and to offer solutions. It's not just enough to listen; we have to provide answers and that's what we're here for in Davos.

MR KLAUS SCHWAB, founder of the WEF, on this year's conference agenda.

On Sunday, Mr Trump said he will sanction companies with operations overseas, without specifying how. "Car companies and others, if they want to do business in our country, have to start making things here again. WIN!" he posted on Twitter. 

Mr Trump's anti-establishment rhetoric and leadership style promise to dominate discussions at Davos, where a sense of unease has emerged following a year of political shocks.

Mr Trump's win, the Brexit vote in Britain, and burgeoning populist movements across Europe have led the so-called Davos Man to wonder whether he is part of the problem.

This year's theme is "responsive and responsible leadership", which the WEF says "requires recognising that frustration and discontent are increasing in the segments of society that are not experiencing economic development and social progress".

A pre-conference article asks whether capitalism might finally be able to "benefit the many, not just the few".

Mr Schwab says the WEF's annual meeting - where firms host lavish parties awash in champagne and rare vintage wines, attendees pay US$50,000 (S$71,500), and thousands of soldiers and police stand guard - remains an appropriate forum to discuss political issues like the rise of populism and to seek solutions to society's biggest problems.

"People have become very emotionalised, this silent fear of what the new world will bring," Mr Schwab said. "We have populists here and we want to listen. We have to respond to these individuals' fears and to offer solutions. It's not just enough to listen; we have to provide answers and that's what we're here for in Davos."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Davos Man vows to tackle populism's 'silent fear' '. Print Edition | Subscribe