After five years of activity, Beyond 2015 close doors on 31 March 2015. It came a long way in five years – started with five members in 2010, it ended up with over 1500, in almost 150 countries. What can we learn from this global campaign? What is the legacy left behind? Discover the intersecting perspectives from Seamus Jeffreson, CONCORD director and Leo Williams, Beyond 2015 project Coordinator. Both will agree: we have a lot to take from this experience!


What has been Beyond 2015’s biggest achievement?

Leo Williams: The project managed to build high levels of influence over the post-2015 agenda, helping to:

  • secure a UN-led process for Agenda 2030, rather than one led by other multilateral organisations
  • secure a universal Agenda 2030 which applies to all countries, everywhere
  • operationalise a transparent, participatory and inclusive process at the UN, by increasing space for civil society engagement and dialogue with governments

Seamus Jeffreson: It was a welcome evolution in north south power relations! The aspect of the Beyond 2015 global campaign that struck me the most since becoming CONCORD Director two years ago was the way we interacted together as civil society organisations internationally.  NGOs and what one might call ‘organised’ civil society have a tendency to gradually resemble the institutions we are lobbying.  This perhaps makes us more effective as we understand better and operate more effectively in the UN and intergovernmental machinery to get our policy aims met.  On the other hand, we can quickly become cut off from those who we claim to represent.  Beyond 2015’s working methods always struck me as being refreshingly organic.  A rather asymmetrical collection of loosely allied organisations of different sizes and categories united around some basic objectives and common principles. From Transparency International to the Save Matabeleland coalition, it seemed to work.

What has contributed to the success of the campaign?

Leo Williams: One of the defining features of Beyond 2015 has been the ‘virtuous circle’ – when the objectives of a campaign and its members are aligned, the momentum created is impressive. Members are keen to contribute to campaign work, as it helps them deliver on their own objectives. The campaign can count on more engagement, more expertise and more ownership from its membership. This is a model which should be replicated in the future – this virtuous circle really enabled us to make a huge impact on Agenda 2030.

Seamus: Appropriately for an alliance pursuing a framework of universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (ie applying to all countries), the balance among participants in the Beyond 2015 seemed to be carefully considered and nurtured. The shadow of historic power imbalances needs to be acknowledged in our global relations. The Beyond campaign seemed to take particular efforts to try and address this fact.  While resources, perspectives and capabilities were not the same among participating organisations, conscious efforts were deployed by the campaign to ensure greater north/south balance (e.g. joint leadership through the appointment of co-chairs and Executive Committee members from the north and south; funding for southern members to represent the campaign and participate in events at the UN).  In some senses this was as important, if not more so, than the content of the campaign itself.


What was the link between CONCORD & Beyond2015?

Leo: It is clear to me that much of this success is due to the early trust placed in the campaign by Concord – specifically by the Board in 2011, and the former Director Olivier Consolo, who took a chance and a financial risk in hosting the fledgling campaign, providing financial support, ‘opening up’ its network, being the fiscal agent for two years, providing the European Coordination and hosting part of the international secretariat… For this support, everyone in the campaign is extremely grateful! But we recognise that this support was mutually beneficial. Concord had an outcome in its 2011 strategy to deliver A CONCORD manifesto, strategy and vision for shaping the development agenda beyond 2015”. Five organisations, CONCORD members, or members of CONCORD members, then proactively approached the confederation with a proposal for how to realise this outcome – by helping develop Beyond 2015!

Seamus: CONCORD’s role in Beyond 2015 began as an administrative incubator for the global campaign. This successfully passed to an African organisation – the African Disability Alliance –  which smoothly took over as the administrator or ‘fiscal agent’.  Meanwhile, CONCORD went on to host the regional coordination of the campaign in Europe.

What are the learnings to take from this campaign? What is the legacy of Beyond2015?

Seamus: No campaign is like the last – and the fight to ensure Agenda 2030 is implemented according to the spirit in which we lobbied for transformative Sustainable Development Goals will be different from Beyond 2015.  But perhaps one of the key lessons to draw is the importance of the way we work as well as what we work on. Mutual respect among partners, attention to ensuring balanced participation, tight, inclusive and innovative working methods and space for organic, bottom up energy to infuse our efforts, would seem to me to be key elements. Hopefully this will promote an environment in which we respectively share, listen and draw inspiration from our CSO colleagues, north and south, east and west.

All the efforts at ensuring balanced participation of organisations irrespective of their size and capacities did not mean things were disorganised however.  Indeed, Beyond 2015’s working methods needed to overcome all the challenges of different levels of knowledge (of the campaign and UN processes for example).  The campaign partners also had to face the difficulties of working across different time zones, contrasting cultures and multiple languages.  This called for and resulted in innovative working methods; well-prepped meetings, clear division of responsibilities, agreed follow up and tightly chaired meetings. Democracy can be messy, but insisting on good basic practices and the right tools are a must to have effective participatory processes.

Leo: One piece of legacy is the Beyond 2015’s evaluation (Eng, Fr, Sp): it is a wide reaching piece of research, based on dozens of interviews with advocacy targets, campaign members and partners, as well as the results of a campaign questionnaire and an extensive literature review. I would like to pick out two lessons and questions which I see as key for European civil society as we get into the meaty business of the implementation of Agenda 2030, and hopefully stimulate some thinking on these issues!

  1. B2015 Europe needed to ‘move quicker’ than B2015 global. Understandably, European colleagues couldn’t always wait for global campaign positions, because they needed positions to use with their European advocacy targets. However, we should consider what cost this has for a global campaign, which was often perceived as being northern led. This leads us to a key question for global campaigns– what is the right balance to strike between leadership and participation? Should this balance change at different times? How best to manage this process?
  2. The universality of Agenda 2030 still presents a challenge. If we are serious about universality, what does this mean for European civil society, especially those who have been involved in the post-2015 world over the last five years? It is clear that major changes need to be made in European countries, in terms of inequality, consumption and production patters, tax, trade. However, European civil society has a crucial role to play in leading this change. A major challenge for the NGOs who were largely involved in advocacy on Agenda 2030 is how to effectively engage civil society in their countries who already have a national focus. The evidence to date suggests that Agenda 2030 is no less of a hard sell to nationally focused civil society than it is to wealthy governments. This is the time to reach out to nationally focused civil society in Europe, and build innovative partnerships to make our world a better, fairer place to live.


What’s next? What are the opportunities for the future?

Leo: To my mind, the lessons learned by Beyond 2015, the ‘space’ that is currently open and the policy implications of Agenda 2030 have the potential to create another virtuous circle, which CONCORD and its members could exploit to redefine relationships with more ‘internally’ focused civil society in Europe, building a truly powerful movement to push individuals, businesses and governments to create the changes our societies so desperately need.