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5 things to know about World Economic Forum in Davos

The world’s elite, from monarchs to CEOs, will don their parkas and converge this week for five days on a snow-covered Swiss mountain town two hours from Zurich to chew over the world’s problems at the 45th World Economic Forum.

So how did one man and his small foundation manage to gather 2,500 of the world’s top power brokers from 140 countries and the 400 media who cover them in Davos, Switzerland, in near-freezing temperatures in the middle of the winter?

Here are five things to know about the World Economic Forum:

1. Why is the forum simply known as Davos?

In the shorthand of those in the know, the World Economic Forum is known simply as Davos for the alpine town 5,120 feet above sea level. For much of the past century, Davos was known for its tuberculosis sanitariums where Europe’s sickest and wealthiest gathered to breathe the cold, fresh air and take their “rest cure.”

With the near eradication of tuberculosis, those sanitariums transformed into spiffy hotel resorts with spectacular views and a thriving ski scene.

2. When did it first convene and why?

The World Economic Forum first convened as the European Management Forum in 1971 in Davos as essentially an academic and economic conference chaired by Klaus Schwab, a German-born business professor at the University of Geneva, and sponsored by the European Commission and several European industrial organizations.

Schwab’s idea was to bring together business leaders to discuss his theory on business management, which asserted that the management of a business must be accountable to stakeholders, such as employees, customers, suppliers and civil society, as well as to shareholders. The first guest list included 44 European business executives.

3. What does the gathering achieve?

By 1987, the forum had drawn business leaders from outside Europe. The organizers renamed the gathering the World Economic Forum for its growing scope. It has played a role in connecting emerging economies in China and India to more established economies in Europe in the United States and developing agreements for worldwide cooperation on promoting immunization and fighting diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

It has also sparked political engagement, including the 1988 Davos Declaration between Greece and Turkey that averted war between the two countries. South African President F.W. de Klerk met with anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in 1992 in Davos and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1994.

4. Who attends Davos?

The invitation-only guest list is broad, encompassing heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, technology CEOs and media titans. The Forum’s permanent membership includes the world’s top 1,000 companies. Among those rubbing elbows in the Davos Congress Center are Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, French President Francois Hollande, CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, King Abdullah of Jordan, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al Abadi, rapper Will.I.Am (listed in the program as William Adams), Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

5. What’s the theme?

The theme this year is “The New Global Context,” defined as 10 global challenges affecting the world today: environment and resource scarcity; employment skills and human capital; gender parity; long-term investing, infrastructure and development; food security and agriculture; international trade and investment; the future of the Internet; global crime and corruption; social inclusion; and the economy.

The week includes 280 sessions, but there are scads of cocktail parties and arts events, including a performance by renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli.