CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

CIVICUS World Assembly 2010: First day sets the scene

Posted by civilsocietyindex on August 21, 2010

Today, the CIVICUS World Assembly 2010 finally kicked off amid much fanfare. As the Youth Assembly drew to a close with a march through central Montreal for inclusion of human rights standards in poverty and the MDGs, the full Assembly opened in style at the Palais des Congres.

For a deeply jetlagged Civil Society Index team, the potential of the occasion was overshadowed only by the knowledge that calls to action and cries for change were nothing new. As Ingrid Srinath (CIVICUS Secretary General) and Mario Lubetkin highlighted in the opening plenary, the challenges and crises to which civil society looks today to respond are multiple and deep. And yet, here was another forum for talk, for discussion, and for exchange. Where, as Youth Assembly Chair Samar Mezghanni put it, was the action?

Well, the jury is still out on whether the CIVICUS 2010 World Assembly will really bring about the kind of action needed to make a meaningful dent in the armour of the economic or climatic injustices facing the world. Nor, indeed, does it look possible that the next few days will even begin to turn the tide. But there were two interesting things coming through as early as this opening plenary session, both of which gave cause for hope.

CIVICUS staff arrive at the Palais des Congres on Thursday

First, the momentum to define a new and fairer paradigm of human existence has not declined since the outrage which followed the financial collapse in 2008. This much was articulated by Ingrid Srinath who called, with what I’d like to think was tongue-firmly-in-cheek, for a shift from homo economicus to homo civicus.

One reflection of this desire lies in calls to put human rights at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) during the review summit this September at the UN in New York, led by the Every Human Has Rights Campaign and endorsed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay in a video message to the Assembly. But elsewhere too – even well outside of the World Assembly – exists this thinking. Indeed, only streets away, the Montreal-based International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity lie at the heart of recent attempts to integrate culture into, and humanise, development – most notably through the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, a landmark Convention often seen as originating here in Quebec.

Second, there is cause from optimism from the focus given to celebrating grassroots practitioners. Civil society’s  occasional tendency towards elitism, of course, has been well documented, but one particular example from today’s plenary stands out: Rosario Romero Banda, from Forum Solidaridad Peru, spoke of how the CIVICUS Civil Society Index and a CIVICUS Innovation Award in 2008 had inspired her towards participatory research with Andean women in a cross-border initiative with Bolivian partners. The testimony, it struck me, speaks volumes for the importance of participatory research not only by the richer organisations operating at the international level, but also among smaller grassroots organisations. In a workshop on Monday, Rosario and her colleagues will have the chance to further showcase their work.

So as the first day comes to a close, there is still much to hope for here in Montreal, and the quality of discussions will doubtless be high. Whether or not these discussions are enough to bring about serious action, only time will tell.

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