World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab said he’s in a “constant fight” to keep corporate interests from commandeering the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, even as his organization collects about $200 million from sponsors such as Citigroup Inc., Google Inc. and Accenture Plc.
“We fight the commercialization of the meeting,” Schwab said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview in Davos, the alpine town southeast of Zurich that hosts the meeting. “The forum has a great opportunity to tell the business community: You have to act in the global public interest.”
It’s a balancing act for Schwab, admonishing his corporate benefactors for an overemphasis on profits while at the same time holding his hand outstretched. Companies each pay 500,000 Swiss francs ($550,000) annually to become a “strategic partner” of the forum. In return they get exposure -- a larger delegation and roles in panel discussions at the annual meeting -- and media support. The 110 listed on the WEF’s website generate about $60 million in fees.
Industry partners get a lesser package of similar benefits for 250,000 francs. The WEF has about 500, good for almost $140 million in additional revenue.
Some WEF partners pay by providing services. Omnicom Group Inc., for example, is covering part of its annual fee by sending a communications expert, said Georg Schmitt, a communications specialist for the WEF.
Dublin-based Accenture, a longtime WEF supporter, says it’s participating in the annual meeting as a strategic partner to engage businesses, regulators and policy makers in debates on the impact of digital technology, one of its main consulting services.
Schwab said he knows many top executives come to Davos only to meet with clients, host dinners and attend parties. He believes his message is getting through nevertheless.
“The Davos Man in the old tradition probably has some self-doubt,” Schwab said. “He knows that capitalism today in principle should be combined with deep social responsibility, with the concern for those who are left out.”
Schwab said his greatest concern this year is the lack of public trust in global leaders. Edelman, a public-relations firm, yesterday released a survey showing trust in government at 44 percent worldwide, down from 48 percent a year ago. In the U.S. trust in government plunged to 37 percent from 53 percent.
Global elites who prioritize entrenchment and ignore the demands for more income equality, job creation and action on issues such as climate change do so at their own risk, Schwab said.
“When you’re in a defensive mood, you want to keep as much as possible,” he said. “So you become more short-minded, more egoistic.”
So far, there’s no sign executives are growing tired of Schwab’s pronouncements. Schmitt, the communications specialist for the WEF, said several dozen companies apply to be strategic partners every year and there’s currently a waiting list.