By Danny Sriskandarajah
Last weekend, I took part in two back-to-back meetings in Istanbul on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. It was an intense and, sometimes, tense few days, but I have a feeling that the two meetings mark the start of two initiatives that have the potential to transform the role of civil society in the post-2015 process.
The first was a convening of some 50 people representing more than 30 platforms and organisations that work on post-2015 issues, and was aimed at identifying what scope there was for a new global campaign over the next 18 months. We had a great mix of participants, ranging from large networks such as Climate Action Network International (CAN) and Global Call to Action on Poverty (GCAP) to individuals like Amina Mohammed (the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on these issues) and Richard Curtis (the acclaimed filmmaker who has been working on ideas for a new campaign).
There has been talk of a new global campaign on post-2015 for a while, including at meetings like the ones we co-hosted in Johannesburg in November 2013, but nothing firm had materialised. One of the reasons was that there had yet to be a broad-based conversation involving a range of civil society actors, including those from the worlds of development, climate and gender justice. This is why the Istanbul meeting was so important.
In Istanbul, there was consensus that civil society needed to come together urgently to ensure that the two processes culminating in 2015 (the climate negotiations and the agreement of a new set of development goals) deliver an ambitious and transformative set of outcomes that will serve the interests of people and planet. We agreed to build a genuinely global movement through which people would put pressure on our leaders to deliver; to be radical and radically inclusive. We agreed to build a light-touch governance structure that would help coordinate and amplify existing and planned initiatives, without centralised command-and-control functions. And we agreed to produce campaign materials that would be powerful enough to capture the imagination of billions of people around the world.
The Istanbul meeting was significant, both in terms of ends and means. If we manage to tap the collective energy and resources represented in the room (not to mention those beyond it), this could well be the biggest ever global peoples’ movement, backed by first-class campaign materials but also grounded in established social movements. The Istanbul group also embodied new ways of working – by connecting climate and development campaigners, by devising creative new coordination structures, and by being truly broad-based in approach.
The second Istanbul meeting looked at the so-called ‘morning after’ question - how will civil society hold governments to account for the promises they make in 2015? We have the luxury of knowing that there will almost certainly be a set of new goals from 1 January 2016. We also know that technology and the ‘data revolution’ should allow us to transform the ways we monitor progress in development. The 25 activists and experts who gathered for the second meeting looked at how best to promote people-powered accountability beyond 2015.
Again, there was a huge sense of energy and potential in the room. We examined creative ways in which civil society activists are using technology to monitor, in real-time and with amazing nuance, a range of things that official data just cannot tell us about. Whether it was corruption in Morocco or sexual harassment in Egypt, a new generation of activists are revolutionising the role of civil society. They have hit the development sweet spot, helping to generate new data (where/when harassment is occurring), helping to address need (providing counselling services), and helping to hold governments to account (how police were responding) – all at once!
In Istanbul, there was excitement around the possibility of harnessing the power of citizen-generated data to create new ways of monitoring progress towards the new goal of aggregating data generated from civil society initiatives across countries and across development issues. We recognised the huge challenges that will face us on ensuring comparability of this data and of ensuring that there is sufficient coverage, but we also agreed that this was an unstoppable trend. The MDGs 2.0 will generate citizen monitoring 2.0.
To me these two meetings embodied civil society at its best - bold, creative, and willing to work together. And I am certain that Istanbul was a key staging point in the birth of a new global campaign to push for an ambitious set of goals and a bold new scheme for people-powered monitoring of the new goals. It was also confirmation of the value that a global alliance like CIVICUS can add – to convene actors across issues, politics and geographies to support bold new initiatives that will promote citizen voice and action. We will keep members posted of how we get on!