Chris Gibbons: Don't dis Davos
Some years are better than others at the World Economic Forum (WEF), which closed this weekend at Davos-Klosters, high up in the Swiss Alps.
Ideally, nothing much happens in January, certainly not in the northern hemisphere, locked in winter's icy grip. Political and business leaders can gather to debate the pressing issues of the moment and brainstorm solutions. All of this in the media's sharp glare, which affords disproportionate time and space to Davos and its participants.
Perhaps that's not what University of Geneva Business Policy Professor Klaus Schwab had in mind when he launched the very first meeting back in 1971, when it was still called the European Management Forum. But the very isolation and intensity of the WEF's annual gathering make it absolutely perfect for the spotlight.
The hope, of course, is that it's not overshadowed by a major outside event, like the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004.
This year's WEF did have competition: Ukraine's problems, the Syrian peace talks, a possible Argentine debt default and the separation of French president Francois Hollande from his partner, were all stories that made significant headlines.
But so too did Davos: Iran and it's genial new president Hassan Rouhani reappearing on a global stage. Delegates were also treated to a close examination of China's economic prospects, asked to consider the impact of hi tech on future jobs and to breathe in a general air of wellbeing with regard to the major Western economies. Even Goldie Hawn on transcendental ,editation grabbed column inches and TV time.
So, all in all, a good conference.
But what would happen if this year's event turned out to be the last? Would anyone care? Isn't it just a giant media gabfest or an opportunity for rich businessmen to rub shoulders with ageing rock stars?
The same questions about the WEF's relevance come up annually, usually from people who didn't crack an invitation. In truth, there is no other event quite like it, no conference or gathering where you might bump into Branson or Annan in the lift, or find yourself chatting over coffee to Meyer or Huffington, or listening to Roubini or Rogoff. Everyone there is a someone.
They're there every year, exchanging ideas and business cards, setting up meetings for later, exploring new ventures. It may be, as London mayor Boris Johnson termed it, 'a jamboree of egos', but it's also the business conference to end all business conferences. Nor is just about raging capitalism. The WEF is the birthplace of the Global Compact, the GAVI Alliance and the Global Fund to fights AIDS, TB and Malaria, as well as the G20 concept.
For countries like Iran and others with question marks beside their names or credit ratings, Davos is doubly important.
It's why this year South Africa sent a delegation of no less than seven senior cabinet ministers, led by Pravin Gordhan. Yes, of course we have question marks hanging over us: among them, the platinum strike and general labour problems, the weak rand and perceptions abroad that our economy is fragile. Davos is the ideal opportunity for the seven and their team to fan out, press the flesh, appear on panels about emerging markets and generally offer smiles and reassurance that South Africa is a fine place for investment and business.
You won't notice any major announcements when the South African team flies home. But had we not been there, our absence would have been noticed instantly and knocked another 50 cents off the rand.
See you next year…in Davos!
Chris Gibbons is a veteran journalist and broadcaster and former host of the Midday Report.