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"In the Spirit of Davos" gives up the ghost

The violent clashes of 2001 led to the creation of "In the Spirit of Davos" Keystone

A foundation set up in Switzerland to promote dialogue between supporters and opponents of globalisation has closed after just two years of existence.

This content was published on May 14, 2004 - 12:13

Carol Franklin, director of “In the Spirit of Davos”, said she had been “surprised” and “a little disappointed” by the apathy of financial institutions in particular.

“I am convinced that these representatives of the economy will do their companies, the economy in general and globalisation a disservice if they are not more open,” she said at the official closing ceremony in Zurich.

In the Spirit of Davos was set up as a neutral and independent forum after violent demonstrations in the alpine resort marred the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2001.

But the foundation struggled from a lack of cash and the failure to carve out its own mission and identity. Many people saw it simply as an offshoot of the World Economic Forum.

“I think that the problem was that the aims and objectives were not clear enough,” said Franklin.

“This [foundation] came out of the World Economic Forum and tried to be an independent organisation, but everybody still believed that we were somehow attached to the WEF; that was very difficult to overcome.

“We really wanted to promote a dialogue between the civil society, politics and business on topics of globalisation. That has nothing to do with the World Economic Forum, but people tended to forget that,” she added.

The confusion is perhaps understandable since the founder and chairman of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, coined the term “spirit of Davos” years ago.

Globalisation

Franklin said non-governmental organisations and politicians in Switzerland had been willing to tackle globalisation on a “higher, more abstract” level, but business had failed to respond in kind.

“Businesses are only willing to discuss globalisation on a very concrete level, and only if they can see advantages that will give them a higher profit within about three months,” she told swissinfo.

“I think that’s very dangerous because society gives business a licence to operate, and they will only give this licence to operate to businesses which are willing to enter a dialogue with all stakeholders and listen to what the people are saying.”

“If businesses are not willing to do this, they will just lose their licence to operate,” she argued.

Not precise

Swiss diplomat Peter Maurer, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees, told swissinfo that the definition of “dialogue” had not been precise enough.

“In order to convince the business community you have to be rather concrete, and the general notion and concept of dialogue was too fluffy and vague,” he told swissinfo.

“I think what is interesting is to find concrete forms and concrete issues to promote cooperation between state representatives, private business, as well as the NGOs,” he added.

Maurer, who is Switzerland’s ambassador designate to the United Nations in New York, commented that it was also unclear from the beginning whether the foundation’s goals were attainable.

However, Franklin is philosophical about the winding down of the foundation and believes that it is important for dialogue on globalisation to continue.

“I’m not disappointed. We tried; we did our best; I think we achieved some things. But at the end of the day, if you see that what you’re doing is not perhaps at the right time or not the right subject, it’s better just to stop,” she said.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Zurich

Key facts

The idea of creating In the Spirit of Davos arose following violent demonstrations during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in 2001.
Former senior government official Peter Arbenz was commissioned by canton Graubünden to produce a study on how the situation could be improved. A foundation was one of his suggestions.
The Swiss government, canton Graubünden and the community of Davos set up the foundation in May 2002.

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In brief

The foundation, In the Spirit of Davos, has closed with an appeal to the business community to take more interest in globalisation issues.

It is shutting down because it has run out of money and its mission was considered to unclear.

Another problem was that people did not consider it to be independent from the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

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