Will business as usual trump transformational change at Rio+20?

Two of the fora I’ve participated in recently sought to shape new models for our species and planet. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland the theme , programme and presence of #Occupy protestors combined to ensure inequality, governance and popular uprisings were, at least, on the agenda. At the UN meeting on the changing context of development and its implications for cooperation and global partnership , on the other hand, these barely found mention. Despite that superficial difference, however, both events struck me as being completely out of touch with the scale, persistence and sheer outrage of citizens around the world and with the dire consequences of inaction on climate change. Continue reading

2012: A Civil Society Agenda

We’ve worn out all the clichés. Crisi-tunity, inclusive growth, sustainable development, green jobs, creative capitalism – the list seems endless. A year on from the start of the Arab Spring and the wave of people power movements from China to India, Spain, Israel and Chile to the phenomena embodied by Anonymous and #Occupy, what, if anything, has fundamentally changed? Are we in a new age of citizen engagement, radical transparency and accountability that transcends geography, demographics and causes? Have we established irreversible beachheads against tyranny, or simply traded old forms for new? Are we closer than ever before to achieving breakthroughs in the battles against climate change, poverty and inequity? Or are the forces of repression, control and elitism turning the tide against that wave? Are we on the cusp of a new paradigm of economic, political, ecological and social well-being or on the verge of chaos, conflict and meltdown of unprecedented planetary proportions? What ought we in civil society and all those who wish to advance democratic freedoms be focusing on at a time when demands for our support far outstrip the resources available for these ends? Where are the points of most dire need and those of maximum opportunity in a period of accelerated shifts in geo-political power dynamics? Continue reading

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

Darwin comes to Durban

“We’re driving in a car with bad brakes in a fog and heading for a cliff. We know for sure that cliff is out there. We just don’t know exactly where it is. Prudence would suggest that we should start putting on the brakes,” as is quoted Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Sadly, as the UNFCCC’s COP-17 kicks off in Durban, South Africa this week, it appears that some erstwhile champions of action on climate change and some emerging economies have joined the USA in resisting putting on those brakes.   Continue reading

Moving the Goal Posts

For many in civil society, attention this fortnight will focus on the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. The persistent global wave of protests against current economic models and the increasingly irrefutable evidence of accelerating climate change should provide the impetus and motivation for visionary leadership in Busan. This timely op-ed by Jeremy Hobbs (Executive Director, Oxfam International) reminds us all just how high the stakes are.

Moving the Goal Posts

Parents with young children will be familiar with the phenomenon – a game is going badly, little Daniel is losing, but rather than redouble his efforts he changes the rules of the game. He makes his goal smaller or tells his opponents only to kick with their left foot.

This can be amusing and endearing in children, but not when the richest, most powerful nations display it in their dealings with the poorest.

At the end of this month, Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton and ministers from around the world will gather in Busan, South Korea, for the fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. The rather dull title should not obscure the fact that this meeting will have important consequences for the world’s poorest people.

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Follow developments leading up to and during Busan on Twitter using #HLF4

The clothes have no emperor

I recently heard Al Gore use the phrase “The clothes have no emperor” to describe the current situation in global governance. A book with that title catalogued the presidency of Ronald Reagan accusing the American public and the media of “conspiring to pretend that an actor wasn’t playing the role of President of the United States.”

In the aftermath of the recent G-20 summit in France and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia – both noteworthy for the continuing lack of substantive action on financial sector reform, climate negotiations, trade and the reform of international institutions – the description seems increasingly apt. And nothing in the prognoses for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in South Korea and the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in South Africa, scheduled for later this month, suggests that the characterisation will need revision in their wake. Continue reading

Occupy: Reinventing leadership, governance and economic paradigms

Last week I had the privilege of addressing the Business Social Responsibility (BSR) conference in San Francisco. The conference, which brings together some of the leading players in the field of corporate sustainability, explored the theme ‘Reinventing Leadership.’ Al Gore kicked off proceedings with a provocative address including a vivid description of US legislators in thrall to business interests, a theme echoed in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman. Continue reading

The Commonwealth: On the brink of irrelevance?

Today I gave the following speech during the opening plenary of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Perth, Australia. The opening question is, I think, relevant to us all.

Where do we, civil society, find ourselves as we near the end of 2011?

The heady optimism of the 1990s following the fall of the Berlin wall and its promise of a global wave of democracy and freedom, and the growing power of citizen action symbolized by the protests at the WTO in Seattle were quickly followed by a decade of the “war on terror” used as an excuse by many governments around the world to restrict freedoms of information, expression, and assembly. Instead of the sweeping vision of the Earth Charter and the Millennium Declaration we settled, in the wake of 9/11, for the relatively minimalist, technocratic MDGs. Continue reading

People power for aid effectiveness

It is all too easy to get so mired in the minutiae of development jargon that one misses the big picture entirely. As many civil society organisations and networks negotiate, analyse and plan their way to the 4th High level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, this post by Hans Zomer, Director of Dochas Ireland, and a CIVICUS member, reminds us what cooperation for effective development is, or should be, all about.

The Busan High Level Forum follows up on earlier summits on aid effectiveness, in particular the 2005 Paris Declaration and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, which were organised as aid donors realised that the current donor landscape is not conducive to delivering on the MDGs. Continue reading