Religious leaders get 'new focus' at World Economic Forum in Davos

(Denis Balibouse/Reuters)South African Acedemy award-winning actress Charlize Theron speaks out on fighting HIV and Aids after getting an award for her charity work at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

An African cardinal, the archbishop of Dublin, chief rabbis, an Indonesian Islamic preacher and the head of Christian, Islamic and Buddhist non-governmental organizations are attending the world's biggest networking event in Davos, the World Economic Forum meeting.

In 2013, the annual WEF meeting, which began work on Wednesday is setting up a new Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith.

In past years the meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos-Klosters attracted high profile religious leaders such as the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu and his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama.

The WEF honored Academy-winning actress Charlize Theron with a special prize for her work on the HIV pandemic in young impoverished South Africans at the opening ceremony on Tuesday night. Theron won the best actress Oscar in 2004 for the film "Monster."

"I can think of no bigger shadow that is cast than the one over my beautiful country of South Africa because of the AIDS pandemic and that is still continuing to ravage generation after generation," Theron said at the ceremony.

South Africa has the largest HIV positive population in the world, and sub-Saharan Africa is home to three quarters of the world's HIV positive youth.

Theron called the eradication of mother-to-child HIV transmission an "incredible stride" but said much work remains to ensure that youth has "the resources, skills and lifesaving information to lead an HIV-free life".

(Photo: World Economic Forum)Impression during the session 'Improving Decision-Making - Thinking, Fast and Slow' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013.

Among religious leaders attending Davos in 2013 is Peter Prove, executive director of the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, which focuses mainly on HIV and AIDS and food justice.

"The World Economic Forum has been heavily criticized by many in civil society for lack of inclusiveness and lack of accountability," Prove told Ecumenical News." On the other hand, the Forum is undoubtedly one of the world's leading regular gatherings of private sector and government leaders, and has in recent years increased its engagement with civil society."

Other religious leaders attending are former Irish president Mary Robinson who head her own foundation on climate justice; Nigerian Roman Catholic Cardinal John Onaiyekan; Diarmuid Martin the Archbishop of Dublin.

Also at Davos are: Indonesian Islamic preacher Al-Habib Munzir Bin Fuad Al-Musawa; Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide; Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis; Loretta Minghella, CEO of Christian Aid, David Rosen, Chief Rabbi from the American Jewish Committee, Jim Wallis President of the Sojourners, and other religious leaders.

Proved noted, "This year there is a new focus given to faith and faith-based organizations, including through the establishment of a new Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith.

"Through my attendance at the Annual Meeting in Davos, and my participation in the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith, I hope to be able to get a sense of the extent to which this represents a genuine engagement and a new opportunity for faith-based advocacy for social and economic justice. For the moment, the jury is still out."

The World Social Forum founded Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 on the principles of what it calls "counter-hegemonic globalization" sometimes held its meeting to fight against what it sees as neo-liberal capitalism favored by the WEF at the same time as the Davos meeting. This year it will take place in Tunis from March 23 the 28.

But the WEF is considered a laboratory of ideas by its founder Swiss economist Klaus Schwab who said on 18 Jan., "The issue of the world economy is based on restoring trust." He noted, "We have to get out of this crisis mode, which is amplified by the media."

The WEF said global leaders attending will include Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti who will address the meeting from 23 to 27 January.

Participants include nearly 50 heads of state or government, nine from Africa and more than 1,500 business leaders meeting under a theme stressing determination and progress.

Others expected to attend include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the Director General of the World Trade Organization Pascal Lamy, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, South African President Jacob Zuma and Microsoft, U.S, Congress representatives and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

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