Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Bridging the Arab World and the West

Never before had so many at such a high level met to discuss all aspects of practical business cooperation between Western Europe and the Arab world.

1976

The highlight of the sixth European Management Symposium in Davos was a lively debate on the future role of free enterprise in Europe. Among the contending panellists were Edward Heath, who had stepped down as prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1974 and as leader of the British Conservative Party the following year, and François Mitterrand, Secretary-General of the French Socialist Party, who would become his country’s president in 1981.

The cooperative exchange programme with UNIDO was launched, with 26 developing countries, mostly represented by minister-led delegations. It offered a platform for emerging economies to present investment projects to Davos participants. Among the nations taking advantage of this initiative were Bolivia, Iran, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, the Philippines and Thailand.

Because of the growing popularity of small interactive sessions among participants who found them highly useful, the Forum increased the number of workshops, seminars, contact lunches and dinners to 200. It also reinforced the participation of civil society by inviting prominent speakers such as Ralph Nader, the American consumer rights activist and environmentalist, who spoke on the responsibility industry has towards its consumer.

After the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the ensuing oil embargo, the West’s relations with Arab countries had become tense. Klaus Schwab saw an opportunity to show the impact that a private reconciliation initiative could have.

In October, the Forum launched such an initiative – a significant step forward in its internationalization – when it organized the first Arab-European Business Cooperation Symposium in Montreux, Switzerland, together with leading Arab and European institutions. Over 1,500 senior executives, including over 400 from the Arab world, took part in three days of plenary sessions, seminars and private discussions.

The response of participants was strongly positive. Opening the meeting, Schwab said:

“The overwhelming interest in this Symposium shows the need for multinational, direct and practical contacts between the top decision- makers in the industrial, economic and financial life of the Arab and European countries. Instead of the 1,000 participants we had planned for, more than 1,500 have come and are now assembled here; hundreds had to be turned away owing to lack of space. The great success of this Symposium, which we can foresee before it has even started, is evidently based on a genuine Euro-Arab partnership.”

With the meeting in Montreux, the Forum played a critical role in repairing the strained relations between Arab and Western countries and in deepening the Euro- Arab-partnership.