WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The World Economic Forum, one of the largest gatherings of heads of states, key corporate figures, media honchos and leading academics, kicks off this Thursday in New York City for the first time, after a long history in Davos, Switzerland.
Known as something of a schmooze fest for the world's elite, the forum runs from Jan. 31 through Monday, Feb. 4. During this five-day meeting, over 2,700 participants from 106 countries will gather in New York City, according to conference organizers.
Attendees in the past have ranged from President Bill Clinton, to Microsoft head Bill Gates, with the unique ferment at Davos often bringing about new international and business agendas. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum has become famous by its own account for frank, informal and collaborative discussion as well as spirited debate on key aspects of the global agenda -- what has become known as the "Spirit of Davos."
This year, in a show of solidarity with New York City, the World Economic Forum will be held not amid the snow-capped Alpine splendor of Davos, a pristine ski resort town, but rather in garrulous, busy, vibrant Manhattan, centered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Fifth Avenue.
"The decision to organize the annual meeting 2002 in New York, after the tragic events of 11 September, was the right decision for the right venue at the right moment," said Klaus Schwab, president of the World Economic Forum. He said the New York meeting "will be the most significant one in the forum's history, from a thematic point of view and with respect to the quality and quantity of participants."
Schwab, a Swiss business academic, founded the World Economic Forum in 1971. Since then, it has grown markedly in attendance and prestige. Corporate sponsorship has increased to include contributions from 1,000 of the world's top corporations.
The theme of the 2002 meeting is "Leadership in Fragile Times: A Vision for a Shared Future" in acknowledgment of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and of the ongoing world economic slowdown.
The agenda for the meeting includes: advancing security and addressing vulnerability, redefining business challenges, reducing poverty and improving equity, re-evaluating leadership and governance, restoring sustained growth, sharing values and respecting differences
Of the 2,700 attendees, around half will be business leaders, there will also be at least 30 heads of government or state, nearly 100 Cabinet ministers, 74 ambassadors, nearly 30 heads or senior officials on international organizations, 120 heads of non-governmental organizations, 40 union leaders, 300 media or "opinion leader" participants, 40 religious leaders, and 200 participants from academic institutions and think tanks, according to organizers.
Also over 700 of those attending will hail from developing countries, organizers said.
But on the attendee list for this year are such heads of states and world leaders as the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir bin Mohamad, and Phillipines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, King Abdullah II of Jordan, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Leading political figures from the United States expected to attend will include: Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Sen. George Mitchell and former President Bill Clinton.
On the CEO front, frequent attendee Microsoft founder Bill Gates will be at the 2002 WEF along with Nobuyuki Idei, chairman and CEO of Sony, and other well-known CEOs.
"The incredible enthusiasm we have seen from our participants is very encouraging," said Schwab. "We are bringing together an extraordinary collection of people in extraordinary times. This could truly be the annual meeting that makes history."
One question is whether the large conglomeration of anti-globalization protesters, which have been at Davos for the last several years, will be out in force in New York, and if so, if they will riot and attack New York police, who along with city firefighters, have enjoyed the status of heroes.
The anti-globalization group Another World Is Possible has announced an "anti-capitalist convergence" against the World Economic Forum in New York, but some allied groups have begged off. Also, anti-globalization forces will be holding their own version of a global summit at the same time with the staging of a counter-gathering entitled the "World Social Forum" in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Not in question is the amount of media attention at the World Economic Forum, which is expected to be large-scale. WEF organizers are setting up a nearby media center, but will not be providing direct press access to World Economic Forum participants or sessions at the Waldorf-Astoria, though many participants are expected to hold press conferences at the media center.
Past milestones at the yearly meeting of the World Economic Forum have included: the 1988 signing of the "Davos Declaration" between Turkey and Greece, which were facing potential war with each other; the 1992 meeting of South African President F. W. de Klerk with Nelson Mandela in Davos, their first joint appearance outside South Africa; the 1994 draft agreement between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat regarding Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and the city of Jericho in the West Bank; and the 2000 announcement by then Secretary-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, for a "Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization."