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At Davos, they want to rebuild trust

January 24, 2003 13:39 IST

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum reconvened in Davos on Thursday with an agenda that would seek an answer to an unusual question: How to rebuild trust in business?

The Davos Annual Meeting 2003 has returned after a gap of a year amidst hopes from hoteliers that they will be able to recoup some of their losses incurred last year, when the annual meeting's venue was changed.

The Davos Annual Meeting 2002 was held in New York to mark its solidarity with the global war against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.

But since that meeting, the world, according to the WEF, has witnessed a wide-scale loss of global trust.

Confidence in the security of public and corporate life has shattered institutions that appeared robust and yet were rocked by disaster, scandal and financial collapse.

"Restoring confidence in the future is the most important leadership challenge today," says Jose Maria Figures, managing director of the WEF.

Endorsing the view is a recent WEF survey of global public opinion, which showed that 48 per cent of people polled had "little or no trust" in global companies, with 52 per cent expressing similar scepticism.

"Consequently, Building Trust, the theme of the annual meeting is more timely than ever," adds Thierry Malleret, director of the annual meeting.

The organisers of the 33rd edition of the WEF's annual jamboree believe that the various sessions during the five-and-a-half day long conference will help business leaders restore society's trust and confidence in them and thereby the groundwork for sustained growth and development.

There are six main themes identified to be addressed by over 150 political leaders from different countries and 200 leading thinkers.

The six themes relate to business, development, economics, leadership, security and values. Lest the Davos meeting is criticised for ignoring the alternative non-establishment views on these issues, the organisers have invited 150 leaders from non-government organisations and civil society and 40 senior religious leaders.

There is even an alternative forum for discussion of such issues at the Open Davos Forum, which will take place in the village of Davos simultaneously.

Quite a few issues like the ethics of globalisation, poverty and inequality are going to be discussed at those sessions with participation of a few thinkers taking part from the main show.

The opening plenary will have Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad as the star speaker on Thursday.

He will speak on trust and governance in a new era. If regaining the trust of shareholders, customers and employers is the main issue in its business sessions, the themes to be tackled in other sessions include the role of aid in development, how far is the world from a sustained recovery, new forms of governance, new leadership models, the threat from terrorism and the role of tolerance, respect and love in society.

A K Bhattacharya in Davos
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