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The high Davos pricetag

How much would you pay for a change to hobnob with political and economic elite... and presumably Bono? If you're attending the World Economic Forum in Davos this week -- hailed as a forum for sorting out the world's trickiest issues -- the answer is quite a lot, as Andrew Ross Sorkin points out in the New York Times's Dealbook today:

There are several levels of membership: the basic level, which will get you one invitation to Davos, costs 50,000 Swiss francs, or about $52,000. The ticket itself is another 18,000 Swiss francs ($19,000), plus tax, bringing the total cost of membership and entrance fee to $71,000.

But that fee just gets you in the door with the masses at Davos, with entry to all the general sessions. If you want to be invited behind the velvet rope to participate in private sessions among your industry’s peers, you need to step up to the “Industry Associate” level. That costs $137,000, plus the price of the ticket, bringing the total to about $156,000.

Of course, most chief executives don’t like going anywhere alone, so they might ask a colleague along. Well, the World Economic Forum doesn’t just let you buy an additional ticket for $19,000. Instead, you need to upgrade your annual membership to the “Industry Partner” level. That will set you back about $263,000, plus the cost of two tickets, bringing the total to $301,000.

And if you want to take an entourage, say, five people? Now you’re talking about the “Strategic Partner” level. The price tag: $527,000. (That’s just the annual membership entitling you to as many as five invitations. Each invitation is still $19,000 each, so if five people come, that’s $95,000, making the total $622,000.)

All this makes the conceit that Davos actually solves any problems sound a bit absurd. Imagine for a moment that the delegates really are paying for the opportunity to find global solutions in a room with talented people -- rather than paying for simply the opportunity to be elbow distance from those people. Would we really pick only the people who could afford a Davos ticket to save the world? Attendees are largely wealthy, working elite. Americans and Britons are over-represented, relative to their countries' share of global GDP. And despite measures to boost gender inequality, most attendees are still men. I'm all for wealthy American men. But food for a thought when you read the usual hype in the coming days -- Maybe it's kind of a good thing that Davos always "fails" to solve the world's troubles in three short days?

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Davos Woman

Several years ago, the late political scientist and FP co-founder Sam Huntington coined the phrase Davos Man to describe the lifestyles and worldviews of habitues of the global confab. Thanks to new gender equity policies instituted by the organizers this year, a more gender-neutral moniker may be required

The World Economic Forum WEF.L will for the first time require that its around 100 "strategic partners" -- comprising many of the world's top firms -- include one woman among their five delegates to the meeting which starts on January 26.

"There are so few women heads of state, CEOs. This is an attempt to nudge towards gender parity in terms of participation," Saadia Zahidi, who heads the WEF's women leaders and gender parity groups, told Reuters.

[...]

Zahidi said the policy should increase the proportion of women to about 20 percent of the 2,500 participants at Davos from the 15-17 percent where it has stagnated in recent years.

In the Guardian, Columbia international relations professor Anya Schiffrin, who is also the wife of economist Joseph Stiglitz, discusses the plight of "Davos wives":

If being a Davos Woman is hard, being a "Davos wife" is still more invidious. "Davos wives" are given white name-only badges with no affiliation – which is like an announcement to the world that no one need trouble talking to us. We are given last priority to get into sessions and sometimes barred from the popular ones, and – no matter how accomplished we are in our own right – we are never given a chance to participate. Just about the only activity organised specifically for "Davos wives" is a sleigh ride to a fondue restaurant (which, admittedly, is really fun). But, all in all, no wonder many never bother to come back the next year.

So, if the World Economic Forum really wants to give women more visibility without spending money on recruiting new ones, they could draw on the pool of actually accomplished "Davos wives" already attending. After all, we have nothing to lose but the sleigh ride to the fondue restaurant.

The WEF seems to be one of those special institutions whose every effort to improve its public image and inclusiveness only winds up making it look more obnoxious. 

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