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3 Big Trends Global Leaders Will Be Talking About in Davos This Year

January 16, 2017, 3:59 PM UTC

The World Economic Forum might soon be receiving an early morning tweetstorm from Donald Trump.

Often the theme of the annual gathering of CEOs, top academics, and world leaders—many of whom have traveled by private jet and then helicopter to Davos—which takes place this week, is overtaken by world events. The idea is that the peaks of the mountains that surround this remote Swiss ski town can keep such noise out, allowing leaders to come and discuss long-term solutions to the world’s problems. But it never seems to work that way.

Last year, for instance, participants of the annual confab were officially gathered to explore how technological change—namely automation—will alter the global economy, eliminate jobs, and increase inequality. But financial markets, which were going through a mini-crisis in late 2015 and early 2016, as well as a massive oil price drop, dominated much of the conversation.

This year, though, WEF organizers – perhaps because for the first time in years the conference overlaps the U.S. inauguration – seemingly decided to take on world events more directly. The official theme of the forum, which draws world leaders and top Fortune 500 executives, is “responsive and responsible leadership.” From a crowd and a conference that seems to lean heavily toward supporting globalism and free trade, one could see this year’s theme as taking direct aim at not only Donald Trump, but also Nigel Farage and other British leaders who backed Brexit. One of first panels of the conference is how to tackle world problems in an era of fake news. Davos has long attracted criticism for being a gathering of an out-of-touch elite. But this year some commentators say the conference could actually be more relevant than usual, because the liberalists and globalizers who attend have to face up to the reality that they’re losing the battle.

WEF organizers say the picked the theme well before Trump won the U.S. election, but after British voters backed Brexit.

The Davos conference kicks off with opening ceremonies on Monday night and concludes on Friday. Its official schedule of panel discussions and addresses from world leaders takes place in a centrally-located Congress Centre that is its hub. Not all the panel discussions are open to everyone and, befitting one of the year’s most elite conferences, there is a hierarchy of badges that determines who can attend what. On top of that there are a number of closed-door sessions that are only open to top executives or heads of state, including one called IGWEL, which is only attended by finance ministers from various countries. Bill Gates and others will attend another closed-door meeting on the International Monetary Fund.

Attending this year are Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Xi Jinping will be addressing attendees on Tuesday morning – the first time that a serving president of China has visited. Among the top executives who are attending the conference are Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, GM’s CEO Mary Barra, and J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon. Davos also typically draws its fair share of celebrities. This year, actors Matt Damon and Forest Whitaker will be attending, along with singer Shakira.

But a good deal of the of the action takes place outside the conference center throughout the day and into the night in salons in hotels around the resort.

Here are three topics that attendees are likely to be discussing and buzzing about, both in and around the conference.

Donald Trump

The relationship between Donald Trump’s camp and WEF organizers seems set up to be naturally chilly. But the fact that conference organizers picked responsible leadership will probably cook things further, and set Trump up for more criticism. In 2009, Obama’s first year in office the theme of the event was “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.” Only one member of Trump’s new administration is attending the conference: hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, who recently took a job as a top advisor to the President-elect, is due to talk Tuesday afternoon. WEF organizers say it’s typical to get a smaller delegation of U.S. politicians when there is an incoming administration.

That doesn’t stop the forum talking about Trump or the changing political landscape. On Tuesday afternoon, consultant Ian Bremmer and Daniel Glaser, CEO of insurance company Marsh & McLennan, will headline a panel titled, “Leadership in the Age of Political Risk.” A panel on Wednesday titled “The Great American Divide,” will feature Laura D’Andrea Tyson (formerly the head of Bill Clinton’s National Economic Council) and be moderated by Time‘s Michael Duffy.

Financial Markets

Discussions about finance are somewhat taking a back seat this year to other issues, given that most global leaders don’t see markets being a major risk or topic of concern in the next year. Nonetheless, this is the World Economic Forum after all, so finance issues will get some attention, especially on how regulations are likely to change during a Trump administration, and whether banks are planing to do their own exit from London following Brexit. The highest-wattage panel will take place on Thursday morning and features Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan and JPMorgan’s head of asset management as well as Fortune Most Powerful Woman Mary Erdoes and Bill Winters, CEO of U.K. bank Standard Chartered. There will a number of panel discussions focusing on energy markets, including one on Thursday afternoon (Swiss time) featuring Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih.


Automation, and the idea that artificial intelligence will replace ever more workers, will again figure prominently, as it did at last year’s Davos. On Tuesday afternoon, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Ginni Rometty will be on a panel about AI business opportunities. Fortune‘s Alan Murray will moderate a panel discussion on how driverless cars and trucks will change productivity and the notion of ownership.