Arif Naqvi attended his first World Economic Forum (WEF) event in June 2003, a few weeks after George W Bush declared the Iraq War over. The 42-year-old Pakistani-born investor went to one of its sessions on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan. It was an experience that transformed his life. According to Simon Clark and Will Louch, it opened his eyes to ‘an intoxicating new world of networking opportunities where investors and politicians met … They talked about how companies could help solve Middle Eastern problems like unemployment and chronic water shortages.’
Naqvi became a regular at WEF meetings over the next decade and a half, including its showcase annual event in Davos. There he could not only hobnob with members of the global elite but also sell them a dream, seducing them with talk of the power of philanthro-capitalism and ‘impact investing’ to change the world. It was a win-win situation, where investors’ money would be funnelled into worthy enterprises, such as schools and hospitals, that would lift the underprivileged in developing countries out of poverty at the same time as producing impressive returns.
Investors were taken in by Naqvi’s charm. In the early part of the book, he comes across as an ebullient, optimistic salesman adept at winning over the powerful, and sometimes you cannot but admire his chutzpah. The global ‘great and the good’ who bought into the dream did not, however,