Davos forum's founder: "Listen to the populists"

DAVOS, Switzerland —  At the Davos economic conference, “it’s important to listen to the populists,” says the founder of the annual gathering of movers and shakers, adding that he hopes to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump “expressing his ideas” at the Swiss forum one day.

Critics often accuse the yearly World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps of being a snow-covered playground for well-heeled business and political elites. But founder Klaus Schwab said this year’s event, which opens Monday before a public start Tuesday, is reaching out to populist politicians who have ridden a wave of discontent among the masses.

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World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab. This year’s annual gathering of top politicians and business leaders in the plush Swiss ski resort of Davos, Switzerland, will take place from Jan. 17 to 20.

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s important to listen to the populists, and actually we have several sessions where we deal with these issues, and we have representatives of populist parties here with us,” Schwab said Sunday. “We have to take it [populism] seriously.”

For a forum that strives to take the pulse of the world each year and produce “a real hub of a global discussion,” Schwab said “it would be soundly unrealistic and far from realities if we did not integrate the concerns of populists very much into our own deliberation.”

For this 47th Davos conference, a record turnout of some 3,000 people will gather around the theme of ‘Responsive and Responsible Leadership,” alluding to the challenge of wise decision-making during a time of populist fervor.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first Chinese head of state ever to attend the forum, is perhaps the standout among 46 heads of state expected to be on hand. Xi’s visit to Davos during an official visit to Switzerland is important, Schwab said, because it shows how the world is moving from a “unipolar to a multipolar world.”

As for the United States, the incoming Trump administration will be represented by adviser Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier who has attended Davos in the past. Schwab said WEF organizers knew Trump wouldn’t attend this year because his inauguration Friday is on the conference’s last day.  

Trump has never attended the forum “and I’m looking forward to having him here, and having him expressing his ideas,” Schwab said. “I hope he will join us. I cannot predict that, it depends very much on the future of the politcs of the U.S. administration.”

ALLie Home 360 video by Gilad Thaler on YouTube

Contributing for CBS News from Davos: Lulu Chiang, Lauren Hoenemeyer and Gilad Thaler.