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Michael Elliott: Davos in the Age of Miracles

If you’re ever looking for a reason to go to Switzerland in the winter, here’s one: admiring the local railroad system.


Two years ago, I got off a train at Zurich airport, and a few minutes later realized that I had left my briefcase on the luggage rack. I had two hours — at most — before my flight back to the U.S. In a panic, I went to Lost and Found, told them where my bag was, in which car. They sort of shrugged — you know, no big deal — and made a phone call to the train. A conductor found the bag, gave it to someone at the next station, who put it on a train back to the airport, and I made my flight, bag in hand. Amazing.

Of course, you don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy Switzerland this time of year. I’ll be there next week — as I have been every late January for most of the last 20 years — for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, the gathering of the globe’s business, political, economic and NGO leaders. I don’t have any qualms in saying that I find Davos week the most efficient few days I spend in the year, and the one in which I get most ideas, too.

With the turmoil in markets caused by the revaluation of the Swiss Franc, the fallout over the horrible events in Paris and Nigeria, and a new congressional leadership taking over in the U.S., there will be much for the Davos devotees to discuss. For myself, I’ll be most concerned with the progress made in the meetings — both public and private — on advancing a new development agenda. This September, the nations of the world are due to gather their representatives in New York to adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals of 2000; and of course there is also a conference on climate change scheduled for later in the year in Paris. Both international summits will be the subject of some of the most eagerly awaited sessions in Davos.

As I explained in a long essay I’ve just written for TIME magazine, I think the new development goals give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to extend what I call “The Age of Miracles,” a period when key indicators of global health and poverty reduction saw real improvement. But we know that progress is never guaranteed, which is why we at ONE — and at many other organizations — will be using Davos to start building a global coalition to ensure that leaders keep their promises of development to the least among us. Business leaders, too, can play a key part in this process, and Davos will be a wonderful opportunity, as it always is, to forge new relationships (and refresh old ones) among those determined to make the world a better place.

I’m counting the hours until my flight. And keeping fast hold of my briefcase, even if I now know that those clever Swiss can be trusted to find it for me if I lost it. Just one reason why I love Switzerland in January.

Top image: Afghan child receives polio vaccine (Courtesy of Majid Saeedi, Getty Images)

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