Did Davos Man pick the wrong destination?

Tue Jan 31, 2012 10:51am EST
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By Michael Stott

CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) - More than 2,000 of the world's top business and political leaders gathered last week in the Swiss ski resort of Davos looking for solutions to the world's problems.

But were they in the right place?

Half a world away, in the balmy Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena, a very different type of "global conversation" was taking place among some of the planet's leading thinkers, writers, poets, scientists and philosophers, inspired by the Renaissance notion that the exchange of ideas between intellectuals of different disciplines fosters original thought.

An offshoot of the Hay Festival of arts and literature founded around a kitchen table in 1987 and held each year near the Welsh border with England, the Hay Cartagena festival is now in its seventh year and has its own distinct identity, attracting a growing and eclectic crowd of intellectuals mainly from the Anglo-Saxon and Hispanic worlds.

The global Hay Festival agenda - once described by former U.S. president Bill Clinton as "the Woodstock of the mind" now stretches well beyond literature and the arts to encompass freedom of expression, climate change, conflict resolution and human rights and has spawned a worldwide network of events from Bangladesh to Mexico.

At first sight, the idea of comparing two such diverse forums - one a gathering of the rich and powerful, the other a mecca for bohemians - might seem bizarre. Yet Davos and Hay Cartagena were discussing some of the same big global themes and targeting some of the same audience of global thinkers with their ideas.

The topic of Europe's economic woes was prominent at both events and encapsulates their contrasting styles. Davos leaders (slogan: "Committed to Improving the State of the World") focused on how big the risks were to the future of the euro and how to solve Europe's debt troubles; Hay Cartagena speakers looked at the crisis in a broader context.

Mexico's leading writer Carlos Fuentes picked up in Cartagena on the symbolic significance of the first major news item from Europe this year being the shipwreck of a modern cruise liner just off the Italian coast in calm seas.   Continued...

<p>U.S. writer Jonathan Franzen speaks at a news conference at the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara during the Hay Festival Cartagena January 28, 2012. The festival runs from January 26-29. REUTERS/Joaquin Sarmiento</p>