This year marked the beginning of what would quickly become a very strong relationship between the European Management Forum and India. Klaus Schwab took the initiative to invite Rajiv Gandhi, then General-Secretary of the ruling Congress Party, to meet business leaders at the Forum’s headquarters in Geneva in August.
Gandhi, who had succeeded his mother, Indira, as prime minister of India on her assassination just three months after his trip to Switzerland, delivered the opening address.
The Summit has since become a significant annual event on the Indian business calendar and has contributed substantially to the economic and industrial development of India and the promotion of understanding and collaboration between the international and Indian business communities. “If one day history of India’s globalization and liberalization will be written, you [Klaus Schwab] will figure in the most prominent way in this history book,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would remark in an address at the Summit in November 2009.
By 1984, the Informal Gathering of World Economic Leaders (IGWEL) had already become a useful place for leaders to launch and test new ideas. Many initiatives that were later officially undertaken by international organizations or governments were in fact “born” in Davos. For example, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who spearheaded and negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada, once said that the idea of the trade bloc had emerged at an IGWEL.
To integrate business leaders in Davos into these high-level discussions, a World Economic Brainstorming session preceded each IGWEL. In reporting on the symposium and the brainstorming session, the Financial Times called Davos the place for “deals and ideas”. An excerpt from the newspaper’s story:
There has been criticism from some business participants in the past that the symposium has been too political and too little managerial. But this year’s proceedings, with the cautiously optimistic theme ‘Warming up for economic recovery’, underlined that political and business decision-makers are as dependent on one another as Siamese twins.
For the first time ‘brainstorming sessions’ were introduced, in which world political and economic leaders moved from one round-table group of businessmen to another, discussing debt, protectionism, investment and so on with no holds barred for 40 minutes at a time. In quick succession senior executives got the chance to challenge (and be challenged by), say, the President of the World Bank, the US Deputy Treasury Secretary and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
To be honest, few new ways of putting the problems right showed up – but most of those who participated said afterwards they had a better idea of why things were going wrong.1
- Jonathan Carr, “Big Deals and Small Talk in Davos’s High-Class Bazaar”, The Financial Times, 2 February 1984