x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Brainstorming at WEF in Dubai was not as chilled as Davos

The decision to hold the World Economic Forum global agenda councils in Dubai offered a pleasant contrast to Davos - where temperatures last year hit minus 10.

Having already enjoyed World Economic Forum bashes in Davos and Istanbul this year, I was pleased the WEF came to me in Dubai this time, with its annual summit of experts from the global agenda councils.

The Dubai experience, in the glitzy splendour of the Madinat Jumeirah complex, was yet another contrast.

Davos in January was laden with all the gravitas and snootiness of the real "A list" of global movers and shakers, injected with a big fix of Swiss efficiency.

Istanbul in June was more laid-back, with the natural iconoclasm and irreverence of the Turks breaking through against the magnificent backdrop of the Bosphorous. Potential anarchy was in the air.

Dubai was somewhere in between. The big set-piece plenary sessions were just as well attended and lavishly staged as at Davos, but there was an informality in the Madinat corridors and gardens that would have gladdened any Turk.

Many of the council members, obviously frustrated at being holed up in the little cubbyholes of the council area (off limits to press) took the opportunity to decamp to the more relaxed atmosphere of the Madinat's lakeside gardens for a bit of less formal brainstorming.

And very pleasant it looked too. For sure there won't be much open-air think-tanking in Davos, where temperatures last year hit minus 10.




By calling Davos participants the "A list" I don't mean to imply that the gathering in Dubai was the "B list".

In fact, there were some illustrious names from the worlds of business, finance and politics, as well as a fair few stars of the UAE firmament in attendance.

The main draw, of course, was the opening plenary session in the presence of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The whirr of TV cameras and snapping of photographers was frenetic.

The most impressive speaker of the first two days, surprisingly in my opinion, was Gordon Brown. The former British prime minister, now the United Nations special envoy on education, always struck me as a bit of a bore in his days in politics.

But freedom from the burden of high office has obviously freed the latent after-dinner speaker in the man. He was eloquent, effective, and in a dry kind of way, even funny.

"There are two kinds of finance minister, in my experience," he told the audience in a debate on global governance. "Those who fail and those who get out in time. I was one of those," he cracked.




One of the main focuses of the panel discussion on which Mr Brown appeared was the vital subject of women's empowerment.

It really is an important issue, especially in the Middle East, and the WEF should be congratulated on opening its doors wider to women this year. A WEF insider tells me there were at least 250 female participants among the experts on the councils, a higher proportion than at any of its other gatherings, including Davos, and many more than at last year's gathering in Abu Dhabi.

So it was, ahem, surprising that so few women made it onto the big set-piece debates and plenary sessions. Even the Brown panel, which discussed female empowerment with earnest conviction, was entirely male.

The point was not lost on the moderator, the BBC's Nick Gowing, who went out of his way to take questions from female members of the audience.