DAVOS, Switzerland - As President Barack Obama starts his second term, the world's business and political elite pines for greater American engagement to tackle a thicket of security challenges.
The most coveted badge in all of Davos is one with a shiny holographic sticker on it -- despite the fact that most attendees, and even some Forum employees, don't actually know what the sticker actually means. It's seen on the badge of every head of state, so some people thinks it means you are a head of state. It doesn't. In fact, the shiny hologram grants you entry to the hyperexclusive Davos-within-Davos known as IGWEL, or the Informal Gathering of World Economic Leaders.
To get in, you need to be a senior government policymaker -- think finance minister, or trade minister, or one of their sherpas -- or one of a very select group of WEF employees. And in fact the exclusivity does seem to help: if anything useful has ever been achieved at Davos, it has probably been achieved at IGWEL, which remains one of very few occasions where international politicians can meet informally, off the record, to talk about their biggest aspirations. Mexican president Carlos Salinas once said that the idea of NAFTA first emerged at an IGWEL. But don't expect anything that ambitious to emerge this year: the politicians will probably spend more time commiserating than conspiring.
I got invited to Davos.
"Strategic Partners" who pay half a million dollars or more
Access to a secret elevator in the convention center which takes you to a secret VIP room. Which turns out to be exactly the same as all the other rooms in the convention center.
I feel both important and ignored at the same time.
Chasing after CEOs to ask them what "the mood" is, while being constantly informed that you're barred from everywhere you actually want to go.
Technical teams with reporters
Following the reporters who are following the CEOs, while also trying to get a video camera and tripod through security five times a day.
World Economic Forum permanent staff
Prioritizing requests from heads of state and people with blue dots.
Volunteers working with the permanent Forum staff
A high-intensity week away from your boy/girlfriend. What happens in Davos, stays in Davos.
Technicians who work behind the scenes
Standing on a roof for hours in freezing temperatures, pointing a video camera at men in suits who do a five-minute interview and then go back indoors.
I'm friendly enough with a head of state, or Bill Clinton, to get a Davos badge without even being invited.
I can't even get past security, but I'm allowed into the hotels to serve my master.
Breakfast in Davos
Archives of Davos Today - the official morning show of the World Economic Forum
Proudly egalitarian Switzerland is increasingly unhappy with the growing class of super-rich unafraid to flaunt their wealth. Combine that with an undercurrent of xenophobia and you have a volatile mix. Full Article | Reuters Magazine (PDF)