Former President Joanna Maycock talks about CONCORD, civil society organisations and what it means to be the first woman to lead European Development NGOs.
Interview with the President of CONCORD – Joanna Maycock
Q. WHAT ARE THE BIG ISSUES FOR CONCORD AND EUROPEAN NGOS IN THE COMING MONTHS?
We are at a really exciting time for CONCORD right now. Our impact, reputation and legitimacy as a representative of European development NGOs are all growing. We now have to use this new, growing influence to really shift the political agenda in Europe towards championing global issues on equality, justice and poverty.
“We need to look to strengthen our membership, so that civil society can be even stronger.”
At the same time, our membership as a whole is facing extremely challenging times in keeping these issues on the agenda. There are huge shifts in global power dynamics, and we need to recognize that the nature of poverty itself is changing. The vast majority of poor people now live in middle income countries, and increasingly in urban areas. A stronger emphasis on equality is needed by combining our commitment to gender equality and the Human Rights Based Approach.
It’s also important to engage with our members and reflect their concerns in our common advocacy work. Linked to this is the role of civil society, its effectiveness and accountability. We need to look to strengthen our membership, so in turn civil society can be even stronger. Partnerships with global civil society are also crucial, whether at international level with organized coalitions, broader social movements or forging stronger alliances with southern NGOs and their representatives.
Q. IN THE NEAR FUTURE, IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR YOU THINK CONCORD SHOULD FOCUS ON?
What we’ve done in the last nine years is really build a confederation which puts representative legitimate collective action at its core. And we can be proud that at CONCORD we have a very effective infrastructure for delivering joint analysis, policy work and engagement. However, too often our work is quite reactive to the political agenda. This doesn’t allow a lot of space for us to talk about the world happening around us. Therefore we need to be more proactive and build on our collective identity and put forward our own vision for the kind of world we want to see after 2015. And that goes the same for all our work; whether on CSO effectiveness, the Agenda for Change, or on the EU budget. I believe it all needs to be underpinned by a much stronger political vision for the world we want to see. We must also become better at telling the story. There are some really inspiring and positive alternatives that people around the world are building to secure a more just society. Let’s not forget to remind people that positive change can happen – and is happening.
Q. AND IN TERMS OF EU LEVEL WORK?
There are some big decisions coming up. The future of the EU budget is at stake and with it the place of development and funding for CSOs. This is of great important to our members, especially in this challenging economic environment. The EU has also put its development policy up for change. As CONCORD, we’ve made some strong analysis of the EU’s new ‘Agenda for Change’ plan. There are some negatives and positives, and we’ll keep a close eye on how it actually gets implemented.
“The future of the EU budget is at stake and with it the place of development and funding for CSOs.”
And we must make sure we are involved in making strong calls for social rights to be reinforced in any new EU proposal. Recently we took part in the latest European Commission policy ‘Communications’ such as those on ‘Social Protection’ and on ‘the role of CSOs in Development’. While we’ll always keep an eye on Brussels, we’re also seeing increasing mobilization amongst our members on the formal UN processes towards the post 2015 agenda. There, we will have an opportunity to directly interact with the European Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, who is part of the UN High Level Panel.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES FOR ANY NGO OPERATING IN THE CURRENT CLIMATE?
It’s not just about funding. It’s about legitimacy, accountability and how we organize to have impact. Firstly, we need to be confident, engage with European citizens and understand global dynamics around poverty and social justice. We also need to enhance our role as active European citizens: holding our governments to account and bringing public attention to stories where the EU has an impact on development. Positive or negative. Secondly, we need to look at our role in supporting poor people and civil society in developing countries. Ultimately we want to see them in the driving seat to create their own change. So it’s important to look at our own organizational and governance structures. We need to make sure we are helping our Southern partners, or whether we are actually holding on to too much of the power. Thirdly, we are going to achieve nothing if we don’t work much more effectively in alliance and coalition. In this regard, as CONCORD we have had extremely positive experiences of building our own collective work and identity. So we can have a role to play in sharing that experience with others: as well as learning from them!
Q. SO GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS WILL BECOME A CORNERSTONE OF CONCORD WORK?
There’s certainly a lot more we could be doing. Global partnerships are already increasing in importance. But one thing I see is that while there are many different parallel coalitions at international level, there isn’t such a thing as one strong movement for social justice. This is something we could strive for. We are already a part of international alliances and discussions, such as the Post Busan Agenda, the Beyond 2015 Coalition or the International Federation of National Platforms. And I believe that playing a strong, but respectful, role in those coalitions will really bring about change. As Europeans, we are going to have to become much better at listening to the outside world, and using our collective space to improve this. I don’t think CONCORD should be defensive, we are strong enough to be open and to listen to the voices of our partners around the world. At the last assembly, CONCORD approved its new policy on the transformation of the development agenda into an agenda for global human rights and global social justice. It’s now on us to listen to our southern partners and global coalitions to understand that we cannot take a charity approach or a resource transfer approach to development.
Q. NEXT YEAR WILL MARK 10 YEARS OF CONCORD, HOW DO YOU PLAN TO MAKE THIS YEAR SPECIAL?
It seems astonishing that 2013 is already the 10th anniversary of CONCORD. Looking back over the last 9
years, we have achieved a lot of impact in the sector. A real strength has come from our Members working together. All the working structures, task forces, working groups and forums really bring people together around issues that interest them. We need to continue improving this collective space, and strengthen mutual accountability over the next years. Looking ahead, I’d like us to use the 10th anniversary to take back the initiative for the way we see development and the way we see the world in the future. During the course of next year there will be a series of events that members can participate in. The events will allow us to tell the story of development as we see it, of people’s struggles for social justice and equality around the world.
“A real strength has come from our Mem-bers working together.”
Let’s really give voice to the alternative visions we all see in our day to day work around the world. We need to put forward a confident vision in the run up to the European Parliament elections in 2014, the changes in the European Commission and for end of the MDGs in 2015.
Q. YOU’RE THE FIRST FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT AT CONCORD, DOES THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE, AND IF SO, WHY?
For me, the answer is both yes and no. It is very important that we support women in leadership positions within civil society and society at large. We still see challenges for women to reach positions of authority and leadership, from Parliaments and Governments to executive boards of companies across Europe. It’s the same within our own sector. I believe very strongly that we need to have a variety of different people representing leadership within CONCORD which can enrich us with different organizational and regional perspectives. Ultimately this can help us make better decisions. In CONCORD we actually have a high level of participation of women in the working structures. And at the last General Assembly we had more women than men. But when it comes to decision making, men are still in the majority. So, yes, it is important for CONCORD to be consistent with its own gender equality and human rights values to have diversity in its leadership. A woman president is an important symbol in this context. I also think it is important in terms of our external credibility. By electing a woman, we are sending a signal that CONCORD is a modern, progressive, and forward thinking organization, crucial for our image today. Of course I’m not saying that having a woman President is better than having a man President, but I hope that I will show that women are just as good in leadership roles as men!