Ged Davis is organizing his first Davos. Here he explains to Global Agenda’s Sophia Hoffmann how he set about this daunting task

GLOBAL AGENDA The theme for the annual meeting is different every year. How do you decide what it will be?

GED DAVIS The theme we choose is the one that best captures the prevailing zeitgeist.

You have to understand the broad set of issues that are shaping current debate. And that comes about by a lot of discussion, learning from our communities and some research. This year, what struck me was that there are no easy decisions to take in many of the critical policy areas of the global agenda, only tough ones.

In some cases the difficulty arises from denial of the problem, eg, HIV/AIDS in many countries, or from the need for radical change in behaviour, as with climate change. Will we put in the energy and the resources to tackle these problems? So “tough choices” was an idea that emerged and taking responsibility for them was another.

We wanted to focus on the individual leader. In the end it is about the decisions that you make. You will be measured by your action or inaction.

GA What role does Klaus Schwab play in shaping the programme?

GD The Annual Meeting programme is not shaped by one person alone. One of the first things I did was sit down with Klaus and discuss emerging global issues. He has influenced the programme, but it is shaped by the force of ideas and the contributions of many. I see Klaus as a mentor. He has a remarkable background, great intuition and an exceptional network of contacts – all valuable to the process.

GA How do you choose who you invite to the meeting?

GD First of all, the members choose themselves. They choose to come or not come. Secondly, for Davos to work, you need well-informed individuals who can communicate.

To make each session work is quite a challenge, you need not only the right topic you need the right people. You need people who can take quite different views on an issue and challenge it. That is where the magic of Davos occurs.

Given the Forum’s emphasis on multi-stakeholder involvement, we give special emphasis to the broader community, such as non-governmental organizations, trade unionists and religious leaders.

Then there is faculty, who provide significant input at the individual sessions. They can be Nobel Prize winners or scientists who have expertise on, say, longevity.

A group of people from the media are invited. Partly they report on what is going on but some also participate and act as moderators.

GA One of your goals is to build networks and community. Do you have that in the back of your mind when you are doing the programme?

GD At Davos we are doing two quite contradictory things. One is to build and strengthen specific communities around industry groupings. The other is to deliberately bring people from different communities together around specific issue areas.

GA A standard critique of Davos is that it is a “jamboree”, that it is a talking shop for the rich and famous who can decide the fate of the world in secret. What’s your response?

GD The Annual Meeting can hardly be said to be secretive. There is a website, there are more than 250 journalists and there is a detailed report that goes out. Having said that, there are some private sessions and whenever 2,000 people get together there are bound to be many side discussions. For many CEOs Davos is the opportunity of the year to network. There is no question, this is a members’ meeting. In that sense there is a hierarchy, but no more so than is the case with many other events in the world.

I am aware that people object to Davos, to Bilderberg, to any grouping that appears to be self-selected. But any company of a certain size and standing can become a member of the Forum and, in that sense, Davos is open.

GA Do you find yourself sometimes under pressure from different groups who want particular things in the programme?

GD In this job you are never short of advice. There are many people who have one or two pet topics, which are very important to them. This can include the G8, which is focused on climate change and Africa, to individuals who are particularly interested in health issues or those who have special regional concerns. Our challenge is to listen carefully to all and then decide on the overall focus.

GA Let’s say, for example, we have an event of the magnitude of 9/11 where suddenly people wake up and think, “We are living in a different world.” What would you do?

GD When surprising events of that type occur you do not know exactly what is going on. But I believe we have enough flexibility, if such an event occurred, to address it in Davos. For me a key matter is to define very quickly alternative interpretations of what might be happening. Most important, the issue is to get the right people to Davos.

I sometimes think that designing the Annual Meeting is like designing a musical programme. If we have the right instruments and spaces at Davos, the right sessions and people, we can then play many different types of music depending on the mood of the time and the events that are shaping that mood.

GA Do you have any sort of informal quotas for a gender or regional balance?

GD There is a strong desire for diversity. One of the problems of Davos is that heads of state or heads of a company tend to be men in their 50s and 60s.We have a colleague whose prime responsibility is the role of women in Davos.

GA This year there seems to be a focus on scenario planning. Is that your personal input?

GD The “2020 sessions” are not pure scenario sessions. Rather, they aim at helping us better appreciate the elements of a successful future. This is one of the devices to help our members better prepare for the world that they are entering into.

I have learnt from my experiences of exploring the future, through scenarios, that they can be very powerful devices to help strategists to identify and cope with new risks. This is something I want to see developed much more fully in the Forum. The launch of our new work on the ‘Global Risks to the Global Economic Outlook’ is a step in this direction.

GA Can you point to specific tangible differences that Davos or the Forum have made?

GD The Annual Meeting takes place over five days and is an opportunity to showcase relevant issues and examine possible options for action. We try to bring attention to issues earlier than they would have otherwise received it. To give us new options we might not otherwise have thought of.

But it is in the remaining 360 days of the year that we can make a significant difference. The Global Institute for Partnership and Governance brings together those who want to actively move the global agenda forward. Our desire is to provide the space in which members and public figures can further their discussions and act. We can bring some characters together, who would not otherwise meet.

The range of current initiatives is broad. It includes catalysing action like our Global Health Initiative, the Global Greenhouse Gas Register and the Water Initiative. It also includes efforts to improve governance and to bridge perspectives through dialogue, e.g. West-Islamic dialogue in the C-100 group of religious leaders.

GA You want this Davos to be more action orientated than previously?

GD I want to achieve clarity about where action is needed and about the sort of things we need to do. I would like Davos to make it easier for participants to decide what actions they wish to take to ‘improve the state of the world’. That would be a useful contribution to moving us forward. If we achieve that I will be very pleased.