The Great Transformation?

The World Economic Forum has certainly taken measures to improve multi-stakeholder engagement in recent years. It appears that some political and business leaders are finally realising that it may be time for new ways of doing things and perhaps even hearing what alternative voices have to say. Members of civil society who have been granted access to engage with the world’s top politicians and business leaders are wondering whether this year’s theme of “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models” will address the multiple political, social, economic and environmental crises facing the world.

Given the tumultuous events of last year from the people’s revolutions in the Middle East to the economic meltdown in Europe (which is fast spreading to other parts of the world), what civil society is seeking from leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos is a resolve to prioritise democratic freedoms, social protection, and transparency in business and political leadership.  Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chair of perhaps the world’s most high profile annual gathering recently told the media that established systems of governance and business are in urgent need of a radical overhaul.1 He noted that “capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us…a global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.”2

In defining what the future should look like, Davos organisers should start by recognising that the “old boys” way of solving problems, by consulting an elite few behind closed doors in the Swiss Alps, is a modality that needs a great transformation. While there is representation of large international NGOs at Davos, we need to interrogate whether sufficient invitation was extended to representatives of the 2011 Indignados and Occupy Wall Street movements formed in response to the economic crisis, solutions to which delegates in Davos are discussing.

As talks at the World Economic Forum continue, it is imperative that five key issues are urgently addressed:

1. Implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Big business has largely remained silent about their role in the economic crisis, further exacerbating the current legitimacy deficit felt by the people. Occupy Wall Street’s foremost demand is to change the ‘business as usual’ operations that have undermined social justice and aggravated income inequality. Business leaders must start to rebuild legitimacy by adopting and implementing polices and processes to prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights violations and ensure that human rights are at the centre of economic growth initiatives. Last year, the UN adopted a set of principles on business and human rights developed after extensive consultations amongst diverse stakeholders by an eminent Harvard professor.

2. Prioritise Democratic Freedoms

The uprisings of 2011 have demonstrated that ordinary people are tired of being locked out of decision making. Citizen led movements are utilizing their democratic freedoms, even in the face of violence, to demand the space and opportunity to influence policy.  The street protests during the Arab Spring brought down dictators and the Occupy Wall Street movement spread throughout corners of the globe, but these movements were not just about overthrowing oppressive rulers; they were about changing the system at large. Business leaders need to prioritise democratic freedoms along with economic growth. The recent political upheavals have contributed to economic turmoil largely because business and industry are overlooking democratic reform, and more countries are expected to implode if business as usual continues.

3. Commit to a Binding Treaty on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Leaders at Davos need to recognise that a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gases that has legal weight is the need of the hour. The pathetically selfish ‘every man for himself’ behaviour demonstrated by official representatives atCOP17 in Durban demonstrated that despite the interconnected nature of the world we live in, our leaders are not willing to agree on solutions to safeguard our common planet. Already, floods and famines induced by rapid climate change are causing political and economic turmoil.  If business and industry continue to produce and consume at the current rate the planet will be subjected to disaster at a level we have not experienced before and climate crises will not be confined to isolated pockets.

4. Commit to reform of Global Governance Institutions

Given the changing dynamics and needs of the 21st century, it is critical that concrete progress is made with regard to discussions on reform of international financial institutions whose governance needs to be made more inclusive and democratic. It is untenable in today’s world that control of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund lies with a handful of traditionally rich countries.

5. Implement a Global Financial Transaction Tax

Lastly, leaders in Davos need to raise funds to secure a social protection floor for those at the bottom of the economic ladder through the Financial Transaction Tax. The minute tax would serve as a levy on bank financial transactions, including trading in shares, bonds and derivatives and is designed to stop currency speculation.  Binding commitments for innovative tax measures need to be adopted by every country and supported by business. Tax equality should serve as a pillar of economic reform and business must not only be held accountable to pay their fair share but commit to use tax revenue in a way that supports the most vulnerable.

Civil society groups across the world have established platforms, made their demands clear and are looking for holistic social responsibility that reforms the policies, institutions and systems that perpetuate cycles of poverty and inequality.  Will the leaders at Davos listen and agree?  Events of 2011 have proved that people are up to the challenge of seeing through great transformations, now let’s see if the world’s leaders are willing to follow suit.

Laura Brazee
Policy and Advocacy Unit

1. WEF seeks to rewire global leadership by Matthew Allen
2. Ibid.

Responding to Increasing Demands of CSO Accountability: Reflections from Phnom Penh and Manila

Pressures on CSOs are on the rise. Beyond transparency and accountability demands, CSOs now live in the world of effectiveness demands. As public funds for development cooperation diminishes, the “value for money” mantra is increasingly heard.

Another challenge for CSOs is to work on the complex demands of accountability and effectiveness when government regulations and other external factors are not conducive to providing an environment in which CSOs can be effective.

But CSOs do rise to the challenge. This is the overriding reflection from participating in two forums on the topic of CSO accountability in Cambodia and the Philippines last month. Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) organised a Regional Forum Revisiting CSO Governance and Accountability in South-East Asia in the Context of Post-High Level Forum (HLF-4) where CIVICUS was asked to deliver the keynote address. Afterwards, I then flew to Manila to join a workshop entitled Strengthening Accountability of the Civil Society Sector organised by our partner organisations, The Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC), as well as CIVICUS.

The subject of CSO accountability has been around for some time. Building self-regulation frameworks as a means of ensuring CSO accountability has received a good amount of attention and efforts in the last several years, with the good argument that it is best to pre-empt government’s regulations by setting high standards among CSOs. As a seminal effort, One World Trust has developed a database of civil society self-regulation initiatives. According to it, we now have as many as 309 identified initiatives worldwide. Self-regulation mechanisms were indeed the focus of the Philippines workshop.

Between these forums, presentations were made to introduce initiatives in Cambodia, the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Korea and Zimbabwe. Country contexts vary and thus does the nature of initiatives (follow the links to see presentations or reports) but the efforts to set a high standard, safeguard the sector and build public trust were common to all.

It was inspiring to listen to these presentations, and to see the level of interest and engagement in discussions. I was also feeling that we needed to recognise that the environment of CSOs across the globe had considerably shifted since heightened awareness of CSO accountability was first brought to our collective minds.

A few weeks prior to these forums, in Busan, CSOs, governments and others were engaging in the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4). CSO accountability was one of the central topics of discussion. Since the HLF-3 three years ago, Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness worked to develop an international framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. For the international NGO community, the INGO Accountability Charter was further developed to upgrade the reporting framework on accountability. In Busan, a few workshops and a side event were organised to share what we have gained in the last few years and what lies ahead.

Some self-regulation frameworks, such as the one in Australia and Pakistan, are beginning to include effectiveness standards in their codes, which is a good development. Effectiveness, however, is a complex concept (well, so is accountability). The Istanbul Principles and the international framework, put forward by the Open Forum, lay out a good collective understanding of the subject, but we are still working our way to having them endorsed as a common set effectiveness principles by a broad spectrum of CSOs, not to mention by other stakeholders.

Understanding the concepts is one thing, but putting them into practice is a whole different ballgame. Issues of limited capacity are a recurrent topic of discussion. Follow-ups to the meetings in Phnom Penh and Manila will attempt to address the capacity building issue. CIVICUS, with its LTA (Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability) work and through the LTA working group of AGNA (Affinity Group of National Associations), will continue to support the initiative.

Collectively, we need to walk through this challenge of proving our accountability and effectiveness. From my experiences in Phnom Penh and Manila, I can say that we have the will to walk this path.

In solidarity

Katsuji Imata
Deputy Secretary General

Looking back; Moving forward

Dear friends, partners and supporters,

What a year 2011 was!

Often I found myself quoting Lenin: ‘Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens, then weeks pass and decades happen.’ Disasters, natural and man-made wrestled for attention with economies on the brink. Young people around the world defied incredibly daunting odds to seize control over their futures. Activism, citizen action and political engagement surged and found new, compelling forms on every continent. Authorities of every stripe were challenged and found lacking in accountability, legitimacy and imagination. Transparency was radically re-defined. Too many friends passed on. Many more were subjected to incarceration, intimidation and worse. But Aung San Suu Kyi walked free, living testament to the power of non-violent resistance. And a new nation was born in Africa. Freedom and control seemed locked in mortal combat like irresistible force and immovable obstacle.

Yet amidst the tumult, gloom, destruction and uncertainty, I could not help feeling that the balance tipped in favourite of freedom and justice. Especially when I heard young Arabs and North Africans reiterate in the face of lethal force that things would never be the same again simply because they were no longer afraid. Or saw the protest sign in Zucotti Park that read: We’re here. We’re unclear. Deal with it. We start 2012 with all the pieces still in play and with everything to play for.

I wish you and yours a wonderful year, a year of dreaming dangerously and outrageously, in which you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. That you will experience victory and joy in unprecedented measure. And, most importantly (because I think there should be both, more wisdom and more silliness in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, but that you will also make time for silliness.

Warm New Year greetings,

Ingrid Srinath
Secretary General, CIVICUS