An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders

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Dear friend,

Six decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, creating a global covenant affirming the fact that ‘all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights,’ the vision lies in tatters, made worthless by the ever-increasing chasm between haves and have-nots.

Today our world is polarised into the 1% who control the world’s resources and the 99% who are on the receiving end of an unprecedented pillage of people’s labour, their lands and livelihoods. The confluence of disasters and crises (including climate change, poverty, inequality, wars) has brought our planet and the human species to the edge of a precipice.

Around the world, ordinary people are losing trust in the global governance system.  They have little faith in elected governments and public institutions. They do not believe that big corporations tell them the truth. They see the international intergovernmental system as irrelevant at best and ineffectual at worst.  They experience it as a system established to regulate the rules that are beholden to powerful predatory economic and political elites.

Yet still they dream of equality and rights.  Indeed, beyond dreaming, many actively fight for it in their daily lives.  Across all continents, people rise up on the streets, in slums and villages and towns and cities, in protest to demand jobs and decent education and health for their communities.

They have done so to end corruption, they have marched to demand participation in the decisions that affect their lives and they have risen to demand basic services like water and sanitation. At the very heart of their struggle lies their refusal to accept the glaring inequality that sits at the heart of the new world order.

Sadly, those of us who work in civil society organisations nationally and globally have come to be identified as part of the problem.  We are the poor cousins of the global jet set.  We exist to challenge the status quo, but we trade in incremental change.  Our actions are clearly not sufficient to address the mounting anger and demand for systemic political and economic transformation that we see in cities and communities around the world every day.

A new and increasingly connected generation of women and men activists across the globe question how much of our energy is trapped in the internal bureaucracy and the comfort of our brands and organisations.  They move quickly, often without the kinds of structures that slow us down.  In doing so, they challenge how much time we – you and I – spend in elite conferences and tracking policy cycles that have little or no outcomes for the poor.

They criticise how much we look up to those in power rather than see the world through the eyes of our own people. Many of them, sometimes rightfully, feel we have become just another layer of the system and development industry that perpetuates injustice.

We cannot ignore these questions any longer.

We need a meaningful commitment to a set of global organising principles and a model for the world we want. These must include:

  1. Insisting that the voices and actions of people are at the heart of our work.  Our primary accountability cannot be to donors.  Instead it must be to everyone that is or has been on the losing end of globalisation and inequality and to the generation that will inherit a catastrophic future.
  2. Consciously constructing our organisations around women and men of diverse ideological identities to fight corporatism within our own ranks.  This means re-balancing power dynamics towards the less resourced sections of civil society and away from large international civil society organisations.  It also means recognising the power and importance of informal networks and associations.  Our resources and might matter, but so too, does the wisdom of the street.
  3. Lay the foundations to build global people-to-people solidarity from below and a united front of active citizens. Without organised peoples’ movements’ support, the institutions we build will lack understanding of the very people we claim to serve. Without a radical re-think of the way we organise, global campaigns will be denied the support they require to consolidate the new societies that we all wish to build.
  4. Promote and protect media, civic and democratic space for citizens to self-organise, express themselves and take action.

This criticism of ourselves does not suggest that global civil society organisations and the people who work within them on a daily basis are not engaged in crucial and strategic work.  Nor are we suggesting that your work should replace the work of protesters.  We critique as people who respect the gains that have been won by global activists, and who also understand that our success has sometimes taken us away from listening to and understanding the needs of our core constituencies.

We offer this critique because we have watched with increasing anxiety as civil society has been co-opted by processes in which we are outwitted and out manoeuvred.

We critique because we recognise that we have less and less power within the international system that determines the rules of the development game. This means that when big meetings happen to discuss the future of our planet, they do so without any meaningful involvement of the voices of real people.

The UN focus towards 2015 on averting climate chaos, sustainable development goals and trade reform offers a global platform to consciously build people’s power from the bottom-up, and across borders. If we have the people’s will with us, we can build a broad united front of social movements, labour, faith-based and CSO alliances.  These frameworks matter because they determine the rules that affect our future generations.

In this context we invite you:

  • To reflect on the significance of this call for the organisations you serve. It means passing it on, discussing it with colleagues, partners, allies and friends, debating it, defending it or rejecting it, but engaging with it regardless.
  • Set the path for a radical re-haul of civil society in order to get back to our roots and organise to build people’s power and define a future based on local initiatives and organising.
  • Challenge the business as usual approach. Prioritise a local community meeting rather than the big glitzy conferences where outcomes are pre-determined. Demand diversity in these conferences if you attend.
  • Share your views on this statement at http://blogs.civicus.org/civicus/

In the days leading up to International Civil Society Week, 19-25 November 2014, hundreds of activists from around the world, including youth, from a wide range of backgrounds, will meet in South Africa to discuss these issues, build solidarity and design actions. A draft manifesto and programme of action will be presented to the delegates taking part in the CIVICUS World Assembly on 24 November 2014 and we hope to emerge with a popularly-accepted and pragmatic programme of action.

Together we can radically and pragmatically transform our policies, practices and relationships to match the imagination and expectation of the billions around the world that are currently voicing their discontent. To continue in the manner we have done thus far would be irresponsible and represent this generation’s lost opportunity.

We welcome a frank and brutally honest dialogue. Time is running out. The space that humanity finds itself in today requires us to stop patting ourselves on the back and to urgently do something to avert the impending long-term disaster. We need to tell the truth. We need to come up with solutions. And then, we need to act.

Yours Sincerely,

Signed, in a personal capacity, at Rustlers Valley, South Africa, 18 July 2014, by

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Irũngũ Houghton, Society for International Development
Jay Naidoo, Earthrise Trust
Jenny Hodgson, Global Fund for Community Foundations
Liv Tørres, Norwegian People’s Aid
Mark Heywood, Section27
Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, Greenpeace Africa
Siphokazi Mthati, Oxfam South Africa 

Endorsed, in a personal capacity, by
Adriano Campolina, ActionAid International
Anabel Cruz, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Anele Yawa, Treatment Action Campaign
Anselmo Lee, Asia Development Alliance (ADA)
Ashok Bharti, National Confederation of Dalit Organisations
Aya Chebbi, Voice of Women Initiative
Caroline Skinner, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International
Elisa Peter, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Ezra Mbogori, Akiba Uhaki
Feliciano Reyna Ganteaume, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Hadeel Ibrahim, Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Joanna Kerr, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International
Magnus Walan, Diakonia
Nabila Hamza, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International
Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth Foundation
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Chair of CIVICUS Board of Directors
Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation
Sheela Patel, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers
Uygar Özesmi, CIVICUS Board of Directors
Vuyiseka Dubula, Sonke Gender Justice
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International
Ziad Abdel Samad, Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

 

 

 

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25 comments on “An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders

  1. Peter Ngure on said:

    Indeed, this is a very welcomed discussion.
    We need to have an internal reflection, especially on ‘career NGO staff’ who join this work for self benefit and not for the noble goals of healing society. Internal reflection on what is our calling is key. this will help us avoid being co-opted by the corrupt and the rich and the governments!
    Lets also revive the issue of morality as a social fibre! money centered world and capitalism will not help alleviate poverty in the world!
    I am ready to change, are you???

    • Craig King on said:

      Capitalism has moved more people out of poverty than any other social construct in history. I understand that you wish to smash capitalism and abolish poverty. Perhaps you could elucidate on what you wish to replace capitalism with and the mechanism of how that would abolish poverty.

      Thanks

      • David Le Page on said:

        Capitalism may have moved some people out of poverty. But strong social democracies that regulate capitalism and redistribute the benefits of capitalism have moved many more people out of poverty.

      • James Moffett on said:

        Consider “compassionate capitalism”. Within this and most “ism’s” you will find the causes and answers to our situation: fear, ego, lack of faith and integrity. Look within for the answers.

  2. Jack Lewis on said:

    The deceleration of principles is all very well. A statement of liberal values and good intent. A common political programme which is achievable and realistic and which every person can see will improve things is needed to rally people global movement for change. I would suggest the following minimum programme: 1. Global minimum purchasing power partity wages and global basic conditions of employment, enforced by WTO and ILO applicable to exports (initially) together with a reform of the WTO. 2. Wealth tax and financial transactions tax (Tobin Taxes) for a global development fund to replace or complement World Bank and seriously invest in education and other infrastructure in the least developed countries and elsewhere.

  3. Kabatabazi Patricia/ Gender mainstreaming Trainer of Trainers on said:

    This is sustainable development for all stakeholders but not for few numbers.
    Let us go back to our roots:- No tree can grow before roots, no house can be build before foundation, no human being can grow without roots.

  4. Arnaud Pont on said:

    Thanks for this letter which I think points out an important issue regarding development in general.
    I believe that if you want to “build from below”, then your first statement about accountability which should be toward ‘people at the heart of our work’ and not “primarily to donors’ is one of the main problem in the civil society movement as a whole.

    INGOs are competing every day for funds, but also to not disappear. It seems indeed that there is a general trend from donors to fund bigger projects, consortiums, hence managing less contracts. It may not be the only reason for the merging of INGOs (for example Merlin and Save the Children), but it surely can be taken into account in the competition for funds.
    This means we will see in the future bigger INGOs, managing bigger projects, with even more bureaucracy than today. The trend is definitely not really in the good direction if we want to ‘build from below’.
    One could argue that there is another trend which is about partnership with the civil society in countries where INGOs works. That is true, but it is in general nothing much than sub-contracts, either to please the donor or because of difficulty of access, therefore perpetuating a neo-colonialist way of working. Civil society is not strengthen, not empowered, the money still goes to big INGOs, and the problem remains the same.

    I do not have the solution but I have a strong feeling that we are definitely not moving in the right direction.

    International experts, when they really are experts, should work directly with local civil society, at the demand of the civil society. INGO, except for important emergencies, should not “exist”, in the meaning that local NGO cannot get any funding if they are competing with INGOs (except if INGOs fund them, but with the negative effect described above). They should lead the development agenda because they are in a much better position than any INGOs ‘to be at the heart of our work’.

    But yes how do we do that? If i found a sustainable answer, which can be used every where, I’ll write you again!!

  5. Paul Okumu on said:

    To you all great people.
    Allow me to get ancient and use the Cocacola ad
    “Welcome to the World!”
    The New world of the New activists.
    Because the kind of people you are looking for above….
    All of them…DEAD
    All Social activists are DEAD!
    All those people who care about social justice
    All of them
    DEAD!
    When we decided that we will “engage” governments and not challenge them, we killed activism.
    When we decided to respond to Request for Proposals (RFPs) by the EU and the US and literally every one today instead of challenging what was clearly a strategy to control what civil society do, we killed activism.
    When we started finding excitement in meetings that take place in safe confines of hotels and with our own colleagues who talk and speak like us, we killed activism.
    When we started writing proposals jointly with donors in the name of Partnership, we killed activism.
    When we started placing values on NGOs that have big budgets, big systems and big salaries and big rents, we killed activism.
    When we started to place value and respect on people who say they represent networks of “hundreds of other NGOs” instead of individuals who have the pain and the passion for the weak,we killed activism.
    When we started to value speaking at international meetings whose agenda is shaped and driven by governments and donors, we killed activism.
    When we started sitting in hotel rooms to develop policy papers and then share them with our entire mailing list, we killed activism.
    When the poor became statistics that we use to raise funds and justify our need to travel more, talk more and earn more, we killed activism.
    When we started using twitter to send a message and get excited that we have mobilized, we killed activism!
    When we started holding press conferences and seeking signatures from our colleagues before forwarding documents to “Senior Government Officials’ we killed activism.
    When meetings attended by government officials became more valued than those attended by citizens, we killed activism.

    When we started giving legitimacy to the many “Civil Society Engagement Forums” created and hosted by Institutions, Governments and Organizations that neither care about civility nor society,we killed activism.
    When we started placing value on intellectualism and professionalism rather than connections with and passion for the poor and the suffering, we killed activism.

    Activism is dead.
    Social Justice is dead.
    Its no longer socially acceptable to seek justice in ways that activists used to do.
    Its backward, its not professional.
    And who will fund you, anyway!
    When was the last time there was an outcry about Central Africa Republic, Mali, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine…
    Tell me , what happened to “#bringbackourGirls
    Did twitter bring them back?
    No.
    Because Hash tag is a comfortable way of sitting in front of our flat screens and pressing a button on our smart phones.
    Its harsh and it does not tag along.
    But we feel comfortable that we have done our work.

    If you are looking at activism you will have to look far far back into history.
    Because they are dead.
    They are dead because they are left alone on the streets.
    We call them lone rangers.
    Because they do not belong to our networks, they do not speak our language.
    And they have no funding to even reach us.
    When was the last time you saw any global mobilization organized by like me who show up in suits and shuttle between conferences and meetings?
    When we go to countries we travel in taxis because of comfort convenience and insecurity-
    never mind that the reason for the insecurity is the very reason we earn the money.
    Sorry to you all good people.
    If you are waiting for some mobilization about ebola, about Syria, about Vulture Funds….

    Sorry.
    That,too, is dead!
    Because there are no activists today, only “Partners”
    They died in demonstrations in Egypt and Libya and Syria.
    They died as we watched in horror on our TV screens with popcorn in one hand and a remote in the other.
    Do you remember the women who were crying on Television during the first few weeks of attacks on Syria?
    Those are the activists.
    They are dead!
    Do you remember a Kenyan known as Boniface Mwangi who photographed the Post election Violence and was so disturbed by the pictures that he became an activist..
    They forced him out…..he stepped down….He is no more!
    The men who led demonstrations in Central Africa Republic asking for protection.
    They are the activists
    They are dead!
    The activists died in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations
    They die daily in their own demonstrations.

    Here are the new activists
    We write proposals….to the very people who are destroying lives and livelihoods of the poor.
    Yes, we write proposals to them.
    They sit with us and say….we are not donors…
    We are partners.
    So they sit with us and help us “shape the proposal”
    They delete the things they do not want us to do.
    They say its too sensitive.
    They choose who to fund and what to do.
    If you speak against them you are branded a lone ranger
    You must be the leader of a network of some NGOs. The more network you lead or “represent”, the stronger your “constituency” becomes, and the more donors love and adore you….
    We mobilize in hotel rooms.
    Some of the hotels we hold our luxurious meetings are owned by the very people we are criticizing!
    We work between flights, in flights, out of airports.
    We even have business tickets and sit in business lounges working away at our laptots and ipads and tablets and smart phones.
    We are busy.
    Very busy serving the poor.
    We fund raise
    Spend
    Fund raise more
    Spend.
    The more Donor logos appear on our websites and our documents as “partners” the more important we are.
    The Donors even have specifications on the size of their logos on our documents.
    Because its all about the show.
    Its about the image.
    As for the poor, well, we are working for them so why should they bother.
    If you want invitations to meetings, do not ruffle feathers.
    No.
    That will not only risk your funding, it will risk your next pay check, and perhaps your next conference invitation.
    And if you are too loud you may not even get your next visa.
    And who wants to be denied a chance to travel around the world helping the poor?

    Sorry
    Did you say you are looking for those who stand for Social Justice!
    Did you say you are looking for activists?
    They are dying daily as they demonstrate on their own while we send out position papers and policy briefs.
    The rest died last year, last week, yesterday, today
    More will die tomorrow.

    • Tell them/us Paul

    • Herschelle Milford on said:

      Powerful Paul! I feel passionate about this debate and despite being a well-paid staff member of an NGO I can proudly say that we interrogate these issues head on. will share this widely in an attempt to open up the debate and to stimulate critical reflection!

  6. Daniele Panzeri on said:

    NGOs are getting more and more closed societies, where small boards take big decisions. We should be able to open up to the broad public. We should favour the participation of our supporters and beneficiaries over the control on decision making processes. A way could be to have beneficiaries and supporters to decide on our advocacy campaigns instead of small groups of practitioners, who often decide on the basis of what is more strategic for the organization.

  7. Jacques LeCavalier on said:

    Wow, two comments so far on the Open Letter, that’s a bit depressing isn’t it?

    I’m in total agreement with Jack Lewis who in his comment above requests support for simple yet powerful solutions such as international labour standards and minimum wages, and implementation of the Tobin Tax. Frankly, more conferences, summits and discussions are not the answer. Most of the needed solutions, such as those already mentioned, are already known. Civil society should invest more of its resources and power in mobilization and integated action, and get out of its silos,

  8. Hugh Knowles on said:

    I have been having this exact debate with a couple of colleague after observing the professionalisation of NGOs and the sheer number engaged by the same large corporates to work on social and environmental issues. I think one of the most interesting issues are that charities/NGOs should be set up as a temporary solution to fullfill a role that is currently lacking in society. That means that all these organisations should have their own demise as a key goal. Hardly any even consider that prospect. A very welcome debate and one I would very much like to be involved in.

  9. Adam Pickering on said:

    This is an incredibly important issue and one that is not easy for large organisations to discuss. I have attempted to respond to this letter in my policy blog for Charities Aid Foundation at http://futureworldgivingdotorg.wordpress.com/?p=411&preview=true. I welcome your comments.

  10. Thomas Coombes on said:

    This is a very important letter. One thing we have to address is unintentional elitism in NGOs. An NGO career route is often closed off to people who cannot start with an un- or low-paid internship. What happens down the road when an NGO’s staff is predominantly made up of people from a comfortable background who could afford to start their career with little or no pay? For all their good intentions, they will have less understanding of the challenges involved in living in poverty. Perhaps this is one reason why there are so may more high-profile NGOs working on either political rights or emergencies than on everyday grinding poverty and economic rights?

  11. This is an essential shift, and I’m glad people have written this letter. I hope that it will make some of the majority of NGOs who are entirely uncommitted to structural change or change that outlasts a funding bid, wake up. Perhaps one reason why many of us would assume that this initiative won’t get far, is because even this letter, this apparently iconoclastic shake up, this punk rock scream, to a certain extent mirrors, in the incrementalism of its end goals, those that NGOs tend to have.
    You could imagine an NGO leader saying, OK, let’s set ourselves performance targets for these 4 goals…

    Insisting that the voices and actions of people are at the heart of our work.
    Consciously constructing our organisations around women and men of diverse ideological identities to fight corporatism within our own ranks.
    Lay the foundations to build global people-to-people solidarity from below and a united front of active citizens.
    Promote and protect media, civic and democratic space for citizens to self-organise, express themselves and take action.

    …and thinking that, yeah, we’ve reached them in a few years, depending on how they interpreted the targets, especially the first one, which everyone is supposed to be doing anyway.

    I think actually that NGOs don’t know what they ultimately want, have no idea how to change the ‘rules of the game’ of capitalism, and so are always running to catch up with the Dick Cheneys, the people who don’t delude themselves, the people who ‘make reality’ rather than the ‘reality based community’. NGOs are not even aiming for anything that will help the poor and oppressed win the game. Why?

    Because it’s not possible, funding wise, or not fashionable to say ‘We are on the Left. We want a ‘massive redistribution of wealth and power’, we want markets to be reined in, hell, we want nationalisation, we want global corporate taxes, we want the ‘capital repression’ that that severely non-revolutionary Keynes used to talk about. We want housing, ultilities, public services, hell, even basic commodities nationalised and redistributed, in countries everywhere, like they’ve done in Venezuela, one of the only countries in the last 40 years where inequality has actually gone down, and at the fastest rate in the world. Sure, we can talk about worker management and cooperatives and participatory democracy as well, but fundamentally you can’t win if everything is marketised because marketisation fundamentally creates inequality and reduces democratic control, so we need to expropriate some way or other’. Try actually getting behind something like that and you’d crack that mysterious hidden lock, you’d actually see the goals you say you have start to be achieved. But NGOs either legally, fundingwise, or as a consequence of the collapse of socialism as a global ideology after the utter disaster of Soviet and Chinese Communism, won’t do that. So they obsfucate their words – many staff within them are in fact socialists or anarchists or radical social democrats, and the vagueness of stated goals keeps them believing that they are actually aiming at structural change, not just crappy little projects, others are not and they are happy too. But no-one is really even aiming at the stated organisational goals, the grand mission statements, despite the fact that answers to that conundrum are staring them in the face, because their theory of change is so lamentably bad, ahistorical and frankly massively overstating their ability to change politics.

    If you fundamentally, as an organisation, cannot say openly that you want to demarketise, then how fundamentally are you going to stop running to catch up as further commons is privatised, and inequality continues to spiral?

    • David Le Page on said:

      Agree with much of what you say, but disagree that it is necessary – or desirable, or even possible – to “demarketise”. What’s needed is much stronger regulation of markets. This works perfectly well to create generally decent societies in the Nordic countries.

  12. David Le Page on said:

    Very welcome discussion, thank you – though it’s a pity it appears to have roused so little interest so far. But it’s a message many will not want to hear.

    Unfortunately, though the analysis of the problems are good, the proposed remedies are pretty thin. I was glad to see Jack’s thoughts on some universal potential economic remedies for social injustice. (For more diagnosis, I recommend visiting therules.org.

    I would add to them that *getting corporate money out of politics* should be a global priority for all flavours of the NGO movement/civil society. It is a universal source of corruption that impedes democracy and social democracy in all too many societies.

  13. Matteo Mattioli on said:

    Untill there are politicians instead of humans inside the Ngo/Onlus the purpose won’t be philanthropy but power and money.
    The example has enough evidence in Italy where there are 250 Ngo and the founds are directed to them from the same politicians who are sitting on their administrative committees.
    And where still operate Alisei Ngo even after the european courthouse declared this organisation guilty after the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) commenced an investigation of the applicant for gross professional misconduct and serious breach of its
    contractual obligations (Case T-481/08). Still operate (Alisei) even after 2 administrative blocks, in 2006 and 2011 comminated by two different government cabinets. Still operate after this organisation defrauded circa 200 families in a self help building houses project named “Un tetto per tutti” led with italian municipalities and regional governments. Nobody has had something to declare or to demounce, even if the fiscal damage (for the state) achieves the amount of 30-40 milions €.

  14. Katrin McGauran on said:

    What a great letter, thank you for initiating this debate. I also appreciate the very specific suggestions and invitation to “prioritise a local community meeting rather than the big glitzy conferences where outcomes are pre-determined.”

    I would like to add that glitzy and not-so-glitzy but by no means community-led conferences serve another purpose for NGO and also academic staff, that is self-celebration and/or marketing. This is not to say that conferences of all kinds are critical to generate knowledge and stimulate debate. But we should also ask ourselves, in how far value systems of corporatism and/or elitism have pervaded our own actions and thinking when we prepare papers and speak publicly. Individualisation and privatisation, in academia and increasingly the NGO world have led to the need, perceived or real, to promote our organisations and promote our careers (after we have left these organisations to seek better wages and higher positions). Individuals have become important, and they are often celebrated as celebrities, in left, academic and NGO circles. Whilst individuals play important roles, the focus on them obscures the true nature of political wisdom and intellectual insights, which in my experience are always collectively generated. I still knew a time when magazines were produced by collectives, without individual authors being named, because of this insight: that we write, research and work never alone but base our insights on a body of collective knowledge.

    I am afraid local community meetings do not serve this need of self-celebration and are therefore low on the list of priorities for us. And local communities have internalised this elitism as well. Attempts to invite speakers for discussions to our local trade union meeting seem to fail because we believe we are not important enough for people with a public profile; that 5 people are not enough and we have to rally at least 20 for them to even consider us an audience worth speaking to.

    Well so many other issues are relevant here. I will certainly discuss this open letter at my work and with fellow activists. Thank you again for taking the time and energy to write it.

  15. Katrin McGauran on said:

    An afterthought: isn’t it interesting that this letter has been written largely by staff from southern NGOs? What you describe is, I believe, even more the case in northern NGO circles. Although the distinction is increasingly diffuse, there are still many very real economic and social factors determining our work; centre-periphery economics in all regions, and different social movement contexts, such as weak European social movements. I miss the debate on the issues you mention especially in northern Europe.

  16. krishna p Paudel on said:

    it is timely reflection about NGOs, they are now trapped into their own boundaries. they can not do much therefore need to revisit
    their role in society.

  17. Frank Kashner on said:

    I suggest that we create the tools to allow people to express and to organize themselves.
    1. Enable people to express grievances in any aspect of life, including work, housing, health care, education, as consumers, customers, and recipients of services. Enable people to
    2. find each other, kind of grievance, by need, by community, institution, organization, sector, city, country, world
    3. organize themselves by providing examples and tools.
    4. find organizations to help them organize and act
    5. change institutions at every level, to abolish those that are not worth saving, and to create new ones as needed.

    We have constructed a proposal for this set of tools at says-us.net – we welcome your feedback and help. info@says-us.net or fkashner@gmail.com

  18. Marieke Kremers on said:

    This letter is a great initiative, thank you so much for launching it!

    We, from Greenpeace, would really welcome it to talk more about environmental aspects in here, it would be great to have a call for action to environmental and social justice activists across the globe and we get even more movements on board.

    We therefore suggest adding to the set of global organizing principles, the following:
    ’5. Protect our planet by striving for ambitious climate goals: an energy transition towards 100% renewables for all by phasing out of fossil and fissile fuels by 2050.’

    On the critique paragraph (last one), we think it’s important to speak about climate disasters resulting in more poverty and social injustice: the recognition of having less power as a civil society and seeing big meetings to discuss the future of our planet, without significant outcome and without any meaningful involvement of the voices of real people. The leaders discussing this future need to start listening to all people living on that planet and we need to figure out how we can make them listen:
    ‘We need to speak up and announce that business as usual is not any longer good enough, that no more climate disasters need to happen to give the bad example of how our planet is being destroyed. We need to speak up and take action now!’

  19. Subhash Mehta on said:

    CIVICUS:
    I had rewritten your open letter in track but since there is no facility to upload nor can I access an email, I have no other choice but to post the rewritten comment
    Civicus’, the global civil society network, have written an open letter challenging NGOs that:
    “those of us who work in Civil society organisations nationally and globally have come to be identified as part of the problem.
    We are the poor cousins of the global jet set.
    We exist to challenge the status quo, but we trade in incremental change.
    Our actions are clearly not sufficient to address the mounting anger and demand for systemic political and economic transformation that we see in cities and communities around the world every day”.
    We have watched with increasing anxiety as civil society has been co-opted by processes in which we are outwitted and out maneuvered.”
    The full letter is at:
    http://blogs.civicus.org/civicus/2014/08/06/an-open-letter-to-our-fellow-activists-across-the-globe-building-from-below-and-beyond-borders/
    An article about it is in the Guardian: NGOs losing the war against poverty and climate change, says Civicus head: charities are no longer drivers of social change; for many saving the world has become big business. How did we lose our way?
    www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/aug/11/civicus-open-letter-civil-society-professionalisation

    An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders:
    http://blogs.civicus.org/civicus/2014/08/06/an-open-letter-to-our-fellow-activists-across-the-globe-building-from-below-and-beyond-borders/
    Six decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, creating a global covenant affirming the fact that ‘all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights,’ the vision lies in tatters, made worthless by the ever-increasing chasm between haves and have-nots’.
    The world is polarised into the 1% who control the world’s resources and the 99% who are on the receiving end of an unprecedented pillage of people’s labour, their lands and livelihoods.
    The confluence of disasters and crises (including climate change, poverty, inequality, wars) has brought our planet and the human species to the edge of a precipice.The poor and rural producer communities are losing trust in the global elected governance system and public institutions.
    The big corporations do not tell them the truth.
    The intergovernmental system is irrelevant at best and ineffectual at worst asthey mostly regulate the rules that are beholden to powerful economic and political elites.
    They dream of equality and rights, havingto fight for it in their daily lives.
    Across all continents, people rise up in slums and villages, on the streets, of towns and cities, in protest to demand their rights and for their communities.
    They have marched to demand to end corruption, participation in the decisions that affect their lives and they have risen to demand basic needs/ services like nutritious food, water, education, health and sanitation whilst struggling to accept the wide inequality that sits at the heart of the new world order.
    Sadly, those of us who work in civil society organisations (CSO/ NGOs) locally, nationally and globally have come to be identified as:
    Part of the problem
    Poor cousins of the global jet set
    Exist to challenge the status quo
    Trade in incremental change
    Actions are not sufficient to address the mounting anger and demand for systemic political and economic transformations taking place day after day
    We cannot ignore the questions of a new generation of women and men activists across the globe of how much of our energy is trapped in the internal bureaucracy and the comfort of our brands and organizations,. as they mov quickly, without the structures that slow us down, challenging the time we spend in elite conferences organized to ratify the agreed policy cycles/ scripts that have little or no outcomes for the poor but mostly meet the needs of the National Agriculture Research & Education Systems (NARES)/ Governments and the CGIAR. They criticise us for looking up to those in power rather than fearlessly working for meeting the needs of the rural poor illiterate smallholder producer communities, having become just another layer of the system and development industry that perpetuates injustice.
    We need a meaningful commitment to a set of global organising principles and a model for the world we want. These must include:
    Ensuring that the voices and needs of the poor are at the heart of our work.
    Accountability not to donors/ institutions but to those who are or have been on the losing end of globalisation and inequality and to the future generations.
    Support/ assit and fund the producer communities to set their organization/ company (PC) but staffed with professionals (general practitioners[GPs]/ MBAs in agriculture), local women, youth and men of diverse ideological identities to fight corporatism within our own ranks. This means re-placing power dynamics from the high cost market oriented economies of scale industrial mono crop conventional agriculture systems towards the low cost producer oriented economies of scope eco/ natural/ organic smallholder friendly agriculture systems, with which sections of civil society are knowledgeable and away from large international civil society bureaucracies, thus recognising the power and importance of the PC intervention as it takes over all risks and responsibilities other than on farm member activities. ‘Public funds in the hands of donors/ institutions are only for public good’.
    Lay the foundations to build people-to-people solidarity in the community from below and a united front of active citizens following democratic principles. Organising the rural/ tribal poor (about 60% of the population), fund, support/ assist to set up their PC and identifying professionals to staff the intervention, calls for an out of the box re-think the way we organise, extending support they require to consolidate the new communities that they all wish to build.
    We critique as people who respect the gains that have been won by local, national and global activists, and who also understand that our success has sometimes taken us away from listening to and understanding the needs of our core constituencies, the poor.
    We offer this critique because we have watched with increasing anxiety as civil society has been co-opted by processes in which we are outwitted and out maneuvered by those controlling the funds, mostly meeting the needs of the haves.
    We critique because we recognise that we have less and less power within the local, national and international system, controlling the funds, thus power to determine the policy and rules of the development game. This means that when big meetings happen to discuss the future of our planet, they do so without any meaningful involvement of the voices of real people (about 60% of the population).
    The UN focus towards 2015 on averting climate chaos, sustainable development goals and trade reform now offers us a platform to consciously build people’s power from the bottom-up, and across borders and globally. If we know the needs of the people for their long term sustainability, we can, with the PC intervention, build a broad united front of social movements, labour, faith-based and CSO alliances. These frameworks matter because the numbers determine the rules that affect our future generations.

    In this context we invite you:
    To reflect on the significance of this call for the organisations you serve. It means passing it on, discussing it with colleagues, partners, allies and friends, debating it, defending it or rejecting it, but engaging with it regardless.
    Set the path for a radical re-haul of civil society in order to get back to our roots and organise to build people’s power and define a future based on local initiatives and organising.
    Challenge the business as usual approach. Prioritise a local community meeting rather than the big glitzy conferences where outcomes are pre-determined. Demand diversity in these conferences if you attend.
    Share your views on this statement at http://blogs.civicus.org/civicus/
    In the days leading up to International Civil Society Week, 19-25 November 2014, hundreds of activists from around the world, including youth, from a wide range of backgrounds, will meet in South Africa to discuss these issues, build solidarity and design actions. A draft manifesto and programme of action will be presented to the delegates taking part in the CIVICUS World Assembly on 24 November 2014 and we hope to emerge with a popularly-accepted and pragmatic programme of action.

    Together we can radically and pragmatically transform our policies, practices and relationships to match the imagination and expectation of the billions around the world that are currently voicing their discontent. To continue in the manner we have done thus far would be irresponsible and represent this generation’s lost opportunity.

    We welcome a frank and brutally honest dialogue. Time is running out. The space that humanity finds itself in today requires us to stop patting ourselves on the back and to urgently do something to avert the impending long-term disaster. We need to tell the truth. We need to come up with solutions. And then, we need to act.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Subhash Mehta

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