February 3, 2006 | The World Economic Forum in Davos, in the luxurious Swiss Alps, recently ended. Thank goodness.

You’d like to think the forum was accomplishing something in the lavishly extravagant Alps, but some are entertaining serious doubts.

This year, the Forum leaders placed great emphasis on fashion by making it clear to invitees that wardrobes were to be just as important as speeches: each invitee was provided clear instructions to wear only “sporty or business casual (no tie).”

Two years ago they said no ties too, and were so determined to eliminate formality that if you showed up with a tie, you were punished by being forced to donate $4 to UNICEF. (Since when is donating to an international relief organization considered punishment?) This year, the WSJ reports, “the collection was more low-key: there is an honor box for donations with a sign depicting a tie with red slash through it.”

Apparently, according to the World Economic Forum, when discussing weighty issues of economic growth for struggling economies, famine, disease, corruption, insurrection, terrorism, human rights, global competitiveness, you are all supposed to be laid back and having a good time.

To Davos organizers, forum fashion is so important that some portions of the invitee list look more like an invitation to the Oscars than a serious conversation about global economics. Following a discussion on Debt Relief in Africa, the forum’s official report about the session said the highlight was when actress Sharon Stone, who had been slouching in her chair in blue-jeans, suddenly stood up and chirped out a request for money for "bed nets" for Africans, after a remark by the President of Tanzania saying his country was having difficulty servicing the country’s debt.

Bafflingly, the panelist representing the UN High Commissioner on Refugees was none other than Angelina Jolie. You’d like to think the UN would send someone who has actually had a career processing refugees--perhaps my acquaintance Andy who worked tirelessly repatriating refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the High Commissioner, a task that required detailed understanding of The Dayton Peace Agreement, international property law and other complicated legal challenges. Andy demonstrated savvy and leadership in the context of local violence, inefficient bureaucracies, distrust and much more. But Angelina Jolie wears high fashion and nabbed Brad Pitt, making her the more obvious choice.

But at least Jolie had more respect than Stone and didn't wear blue jeans; instead she wore a cute pregnancy suit which the event’s fashion trackers noted included a bolero style jacket.

But really, why should I care what style her jacket was? I’d rather know if she said anything besides, “We need to help people.”

Google’s founder Sergey Brin, the former gymnast now multibillionaire, was apparently wearing a sexy black t-shirt while boogying on the dance floor. But it begs curiosity—what really happens on that dance floor? Considering nearly all the attendees are men, was Sergey line dancing with Clinton and Michael Dell? Doing a jig with the Richard Branson? Or dancing to Britney Spears with Giorgio Armani, Zhu Yanfeng, and Boutros-Ghali? I doubt it. But really, who was he jamming with? And why on earth does Davos even have a dance floor? I hope someone who attended enlightens me on this.

A man whose company for many years outperformed competitors to the benefit of shareholders, customers and the economy, John C. Bogle, Former CEO of The Vanguard Group, actually understands global capital markets far better than many of the attendees. Yet he wasn’t invited. But U2’s Bono was. With this year’s casual fashion instructions, Bono and his funky sunglasses were apparently in demand.

Then enters sex. What does sex have to do with global economic growth? Apparently everything. The World Economic Forum had a session on sex for the rich and famous. Offered to the attendees was “All You Ever Wanted to Know about Relationships—But Were Afraid to Ask” during which the speaker planned to talk about why “relationships and sexuality may be the only truly universal part of human life.” Attendees were to be given “tools to overcome old patterns and keep desire flowing.” As an expert in this area, Brad Pitt attended Davos wearing a skinny tie--heaven forbid he is ever caught with a fat tie. Did he offer tips to aging men about how cheating with a buxom coworker really heats things up? I'll never know, I wasn't there.

The fashion requirement for the Saturday night Gala Soiree was “black tie” or “national dress.” A Wall Street Journal journalist wrote, “Three years ago, Raghida Dergham, who covers the U.N. for the Arab newspaper Al Hayat, danced with Time Warner Chief Executive Richard Parsons. Two years ago, she did the same with billionaire investor George Soros. Last year, it was actor Richard Gere. In each case, she credits the dress. This year she brought three formal outfits—one in chocolate brown, one in black, and one in green silk with a sash. She says she’ll pick one Saturday, based on whom she most wants to dance with.”

Now that all the private corporate jets, funded by shareholders, taxpayers and corrupt governments have departed, I would venture to say that at least some of these rich and famous folks made a mockery of the people whom they are supposedly trying to help. I wish the U.N. would send experienced leaders instead of always angling for who looks best on camera.

Which brings us to the female journalists dancing in their sexy dresses with random male executives and inconsequential Hollywood actors. Am I naive to wish they would promote their issues with dignity, and represent their organizations and countries with class? To hope that the World Economic Forum would next year stop the dancing, cancel the sex sessions, and return the bottles of 1959 Pauillac Bordeaux and stick to serious economic content?

‘Shaking their booties’ on the dance floor hardly garners respect. The issues they should be discussing are complicated, technical, and require some discipline to solve.

But wait a minute, if the problems were solved, there would be no need for a party next year. And then what excuse would we have to throw around fancy wines and fashion merely for image enhancement and self-promotion?

Read more on the blog....


Jeannine Kellogg, based in Minneapolis, has a Masters in Business Administration and works in the technology field. Outside of work she enjoys writing, travel, and teaching piano.




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