In 2013, I flew tens of thousands of miles. Most of these trips were to represent CIVICUS at intergovernmental meetings in places like Geneva, New York and Washington DC. As the year went on, these “consultations” started to feel like “insultations” in which civil society was there just to tick a box.
Having read this year’s State of Civil Society Report, which documents a new wave of discontent around the world and some serious shortcomings in global governance, I fear that the world is wasting a lot of time, money and carbon without making a dent in the issues that matter most.
In this report, we argue that we need to redress a “double democratic deficit”. At the national level, growing numbers of people – including in countries that look democratic on paper and show excellent economic growth rates – are angry about a lack of voice, inequality, corruption, environmental destruction. This “second wave” of citizen uprisings - from Brazil to Turkey – is here to stay unless something is done to improve governance and accountability at the national level.
Meanwhile, in a world facing multiple crises, global governance is not working. Many of our international institutions and processes are out of date, unaccountable and unable to address present-day challenges effectively. This report shows that global governance remains remote and often disconnected from the people whose lives it impacts. There is an urgent need to democratise global governance, to support greater participation of citizens in decision making and to engender an environment that enables civil society to substantively engage in these processes.
In addition to surveying the year that was for civil society and our thematic contributions on global governance, this report also includes a pilot study in which we have tried to design a Scorecard to evaluate how well intergovernmental organisations engage civil society. We hope that, with refinement, this Scorecard will become a useful tool for measuring how accountable and responsive these organisations are.
I would like to express my thanks to our colleagues from within the CIVICUS alliance who contributed pieces to this report, and to the small but very talented CIVICUS team that put the report together.
I look forward to working with our members and partners to usher in a new era of accountability in the international arena.
Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
Foreword by Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, United Nations
We stand today at the threshold of significant opportunity – to realise our quest to end extreme poverty and put our planet on a sustainable path. Work to develop a post-2015 development agenda has begun through a truly open and inclusive process – involving governments, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the voices of more than 2 million people. There is a broad consensus that a business-as-usual approach is neither desirable nor feasible.
In today’s increasingly integrated world, the most important transformative shift is perhaps towards a new rights-based spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability. The post-2015 development framework must be conceived as a mutually reinforcing agenda, supported by a renewed global partnership with collective action and commitment from all; governments, as well as civil society, businesses, philanthropic foundations, academia and other local and international organisations.
Sustainable development demands substantially increased levels of accountability – not only for results in the short-term, but also for the long-term consequences of our actions. Although not legally-binding, one of the major changes the future development framework may bring is to include a framework for mutual – horizontal – accountability, which goes beyond accountability for aid and serves as an overarching principle for the effectiveness of development cooperation and partnerships.
In the transition to a new development framework, participatory decision-making will be essential to ensure people’s ownership of the current and future development goals. As part of a global movement for transformative change, CIVICUS and other civil society stakeholders can play a vital role in giving a voice to people living in poverty and in helping craft, realise, and monitor this new agenda. By making sure that government at all levels and businesses act responsibly, civil society can help create a high standard of transparency, monitoring, accountability and representation.
In negotiating and finalising the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, diplomats and world leaders will need to appropriately respond and stay true to the aspirations of ‘We the Peoples’ – the first words of the founding charter of the United Nations. Through open, inclusive and transparent UN-led consultations and as synthesised in A Million Voices: The World We Want report, we can discern that people the world over:
“…are indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities. They feel that the benefits of economic growth are distributed unequally, and so demand social protection, decent jobs and empowered livelihoods. They want their governments to do a better job in representing them – delivering key services, encouraging growth while regulating markets, and preventing insecurities associated with compromising the planet and the well-being of future generations. They want to enjoy their rights and to improve their lives and those of their families and ask that governments create opportunities for their full and equal participation in decisions that affect them. And they want to live without fear of violence or conflict. They ask that these issues be part of a new development agenda.”
Defining the post-2015 development agenda is a daunting yet inspiring and historic task. Building on the inputs and advocacy from civil society, private sector and other stakeholders, the UN system will continue to play a leading role in supporting the necessary transformative shifts and by refining and strengthening the concepts of effective partnerships and accountability that are central to the achievement of an ambitious and responsive sustainable development agenda for people and planet.
Foreword by Mo Ibrahim, Entrepreneur, Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Transforming global governance
In an ideal world, citizens and civil society organisations would operate in an environment conducive to progressive action - one that would allow them the freedom to create, share and enact a vision for society that is just and fair.
In order to achieve this ideal, we must concede that citizen action also requires robust and accountable institutions, from the local to the supra national level, to support citizens in this endeavour.
However, our global governance institutions are frequently opaque in their processes and remain focused on what certain states want rather than what citizens need. Their governance structures and geographical locations reflect 20th century geopolitical power dynamics and allow inequities between nations to be played out and amplified where they could and should serve to bridge them.
There is no question that we urgently need to transform these institutions. But for the overwhelming majority of the world’s populations, global governance remains steeped in mystery and the case for reform needs to be clearly made. Without broad citizen engagement and participation in this process, the self-preservation instincts of our elites will ensure the continuation of the status quo.
Therefore, civil society has a vital role to play in clearly and accessibly highlighting the inadequacies of current governance systems to the public. We need to equip citizen movements with the data, the tools, the belief and the support to tackle this task of paramount importance - creating a global governance architecture that is fair, inclusive, accountable and responsive and reflects the present and the future rather than the past.
This timely report by CIVICUS on the state of global citizenship in 2014 is a barometer of our progress. As I watch active citizens around the world, particularly the youth, demonstrating their engagement with politics online and offline, I hope we can all work together to ensure that global governance is the next issue to fall under the spotlight. Ultimately, we can only hope to resolve the biggest challenges of this century - from climate to povety - once we have reformed our global institutions to be accountable, democratic, empowering and people-centred.
Without reform there is a real threat of creeping paralysis and de-legitimisation of our global institutions.