39th WEF: a crisis meeting? What a difference a year makes. Even as the storm clouds of a global financial crisis were gathering during the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting of movers and shakers in Davos last year, few could have predicted how subdued the mood would become just 12 months later.

Author:Armitage, Tom

Against the backdrop of a global economic slowdown, this year's January 284 get-together in the Alpine resort may be a more sober affair than in recent years. The five-day event will give global business executives and political advisors a chance to compare notes and strategise on how to tackle the crisis in financial markets, and determine what steps can be taken to prevent it from re-occurring.

"We are in the midst of a crisis, a transformational crisis," Klaus Schwab, the 70-year-old executive chair of the WEF said in a video interview broadcast on the Internet site YouTube. "The world will be quite different when it comes out of the crisis so we have two tasks: the first is to help manage the crisis and the second to shape the post-crisis world."

Record turnout is expected this year, as Schwab will be joined at the meeting by China's Premier Wen Jiabao, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz and British Finance Minister Alistair Darling, along with over 40 other heads of state and government. Around 1,200 business leaders, including many chief executives like Deutsche Bank's Josef Ackermann, will also attend the event, which in the past has won a reputation as much for the parties that are held on its fringes as for the debates that go on inside the Forum itself.

Early hopes that U.S. President Barack Obama would attend the event have faded, but organisers hope that a significant number of his close advisors will be present in the village of Davos to take part in the debate on where the world is heading. A U.S. presence is seen as particularly important given the change in White House administration, with Obama taking office just eight days before the WEF gets underway.

On the world's stage

Schwab founded the WEF in 1971 as a not-for-profit organisation committed to improving the state of the world. Over the years, it has grown into a worldwide forum and meeting place for business, political and intellectual leaders. In recent times, global figures such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Premier Tony Blair have graced the stage together with leading authors, academics, intellectuals and pop stars.

The WEF has become increasingly well-known throughout the world, thanks in no small part to the number of celebrities who swap the generally warmer winter climes of Hollywood for the chilly January air of Graubunden: Angelina Jolie and U2 star Bono...

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