What is Davos?

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Circle of blue chairs
Circle of blue chairs

Davos is a modest ski resort near Zurich, Switzerland. But that isn’t why it’s famous. Every January, Davos hosts the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). A highly curated selection of delegates from global business, government, civil society, media, and academia converges on this Swiss town to attend sessions designed to spark fruitful discussions around the most pressing issues of the day—and ultimately drive impact.

But Davos isn’t just about the keynotes. The meeting is also famous for the networking and socializing that goes on in the corridors, side rooms, hotel suites, and restaurants of the Alpine town. McKinsey senior partner Acha Leke says he’s “had some of my best informal conversations with amazing leaders at the after-dinner events.”

Some 2,500 delegates and hundreds of others go to Davos during that period, making it perhaps the largest gathering of global decision makers all year. As McKinsey senior partner Enno de Boer memorably described the meeting, “It’s business speed dating on steroids.” For McKinsey veterans of the Davos meeting, connecting with clients is their primary focus of the conference. Watch the video to learn more about this year’s topic areas.

In 2020, WEF issued a new Davos Manifesto to guide companies in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The manifesto states that a company should “pay its fair share of taxes,” show “zero tolerance for corruption,” uphold human rights throughout its global supply chain, and advocate for a competitive, level playing field.1

2022 was an exceptional year for the gathering in Davos. The in-person event was held in May after a hiatus of 18 months—the longest interval between meetings since WEF’s founding.

For more on WEF, the annual meeting in Davos, and insights on what lies ahead in light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical unrest, and concerns about climate change, read on.

What is the World Economic Forum?

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WEF is an international not-for-profit organization focused on promoting cooperation between the public and private sectors. Founded in 1971 by Swiss-German economist Klaus Schwab, WEF seeks to foster a spirit of collaborative entrepreneurship to address global issues and shape governmental, industry, and social agendas.

Since the adoption of its new manifesto in 2020, WEF is formally guided by stakeholder capitalism, which posits that a corporation should deliver value not only to shareholders but to all those who have a stake in the destiny of the company, including employees, society, and the planet. Its goals include a commitment to “improve the state of the world.”2

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WEF partners with many international organizations and corporations to run projects addressing global concerns. This year, collaborations are focused on pursuing a net-zero pathway, nurturing resilience, reimagining globalization, and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in every part of society.

Learn more about McKinsey’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum here.

Who attends Davos?

Approximately 1,000 corporations hold membership in WEF, and members send a small number of key delegates to the meeting in Davos based on their membership tier. Official attendance is by invitation only. In 2022, there were approximately 2,000 delegates, including Al Gore, John Kerry, Christine Lagarde, Jens Stoltenberg, Ursula von der Leyen, and many other high-profile names. In 2023, a record of more than 2,500 delegates, including German chancellor Olaf Scholz, are expected to attend.

What’s on the agenda for 2023?

This year’s annual meeting in Davos will take place January 16–20, 2023. WEF is currently focused on several themes for the annual meeting in Davos: sustainability, economic growth and resilience, globalization and geopolitics, and energy and food security. “I think it’s unavoidable that the more challenging economic and geopolitical environment will dominate this part of the agenda,” says McKinsey senior partner Pedro Rodeia. “I just hope that we spend most of the time talking about solutions rather than problems, and that we find inspiring ways to come out stronger from this more difficult period.”

Here’s more from Rodeia and other McKinsey delegates:

McKinsey’s partnership with WEF for the Davos meeting each year includes events and interventions aligned with shared goals. For 2023, McKinsey’s knowledge collaborations with WEF are intended to foster sustainable, inclusive growth collectively. Here are a few of the initiatives to look out for:

  • Resilience Consortium. Events of the past few years—including the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, latest refugee crisis, and increasingly dire climate change–related events—have underscored the critical importance of resilience for institutions and leaders. Davos brings together representatives from governments, the business sector, and international organizations to build the resilience muscle for the global economy.
  • Reimagining Globalization. The world is reckoning with a new normal, in the aftermath of the pandemic, rising tensions between the United States and China, and the continuing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This year at Davos, McKinsey, the WEF, and other stakeholders will collaborate to understand the nuances of changing global interdependencies—and what these mean for the future of our globalized world.
  • Accelerating Sustainability. As the goal of net zero becomes increasingly urgent, McKinsey and the WEF continue working to navigate energy resilience and the net zero transition for governments, companies, and other actors. The sustainable economies of the future remain central to the Davos agenda this year.
  • Increased Parity. The business case—not to mention the moral case—for increased parity between people of diverse races, genders, sexual orientations, and social classes has been well established. As diversity, equity, and inclusion approaches a global inflection point, McKinsey and the WEF will continue their ongoing collaboration to examine and support DEI in every part of society.
  • Space Economy of the Future. The new era of space is here. As more governments and companies begin operating beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, this collaboration between public- and private-sector organizations (including McKinsey and WEF) aims to maintain space as a collaborative area in a time of mounting geopolitical tension, assuring everyone benefits at lift-off.

What impact does Davos have?

WEF describes itself as a new kind of institution, with the adaptability, entrepreneurialism, and stakeholder trust necessary to be a platform with the power to make change. In the run-up to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fashionable to question the value of the meeting in Davos. But the upheavals and isolation of the pandemic have, to many, underscored its ongoing value and a record turnout is expected in 2023.

For McKinsey senior partner Tracy Francis, the value of the Davos meeting is in “the human interaction of a multitude of different types of entities—start-ups, nonprofits, governmental organizations, business. There’s a lot of talk about a new world order, but I do think that just being together in person and exchanging ideas increases connectivity.”

And while the spotlight shines bright on the well-known names, it’s the smaller interactions that can mean the most. “In Davos, I always like to meet the start-up or technology company that comes up with an idea that, if it works, could scale through the planet and change something,” says McKinsey senior partner and McKinsey Global Institute chairman and director Sven Smit. “You’ll find hope in these kinds of things. The big voices will be there, but the small voices bring a lot of hope.”

To keep up to date with McKinsey’s Davos coverage, visit McKinsey and WEF. Additionally, search for #davosagenda on social media, and look out for live events with McKinsey experts in the time leading up to the January meeting. And stay tuned for Davos updates in your inbox.

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