Who’s who at WEF 2020 in Davos?

Chance encounter: Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg runs into Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank in the hallways of the WEF in Davos. © Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

Many eyes will be on the big names like Donald and Greta, but some of the most interesting speakers at the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos may well be the ones you’ve never heard of.

This content was published on January 20, 2020 - 11:00
Jessica Davis Plüss (text), Kai Reusser (graphics)

A bat researcher, the founder of the Afrobubblegum art movement and a Nobel prize-winning stem cell researcher are all on the list of the invitation-only event. Some 2,800 participants from more than 118 countries made the cut. That’s 300 fewer people than last year, which a WEF spokesperson said was because there are more meetings through the year, so the focus is on bringing the “most senior leaders” to Davos.

Among them some 50 heads of state including US President Donald Trump, who was a late addition to the list and who will come with an entourage including his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner (both presidential advisors). Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dropped out last week, dashing hopes that a meeting between the two countries on neutral Swiss territory could help ease tensions.

While UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are skipping the festivities this year, highly anticipated appearances include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Iraqi President Barham Salih, and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam.

Simonetta Sommaruga, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, will meet with Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, to make headway on the Swiss-EU framework agreement. All the other members of the seven-member Swiss Federal Council will also attend WEF,External link each focusing on meetings pertaining to the ministry that they head. 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, aged 33 and 34 respectively, will help keep the average age down as the two youngest heads of state in the world.

Some 1,680 business leaders will also be filling the halls of the Congress Centre including CEOs from companies making headlines recently such as Novartis, Huawei Technologies, Uber and Credit Suisse.

Teenage voices

After her recent sail across the Atlantic, Swedish teenager and climate activist Greta Thunberg will make her second appearance along with nine other teenagers, one as young as 13. Other guests more commonly found marching in the streets than shoulder to shoulder with CEOs include Micah White, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What civil society lacks in numbers it hopes to make up for with strong messages from the likes of UNI Global Union's General Secretary Christy Hoffman, Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth and the Chair of Transparency International, Delia Ferreira Rubio. Notably absent from the list are the heads of Oxfam and Amnesty International.

Other special guests include musicians Peter, Indian actress Deepika Padukone, and Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, co-founder of Afrobubblegum, a media collective dedicated to supporting a new genre of African art. Adding something unexpected to the standard fare, founding director of the Centre for Irish Bat Research Emma Teeling will explain how bats hold the secret to living longer, healthier lives.

Kai Reusser /

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