Tanya Cox, Director at CONCORD Europe
I read the most interesting and inspiring book this summer, which I am going to unashamedly base my blog on this month. It gave me so much food for thought for our work as CONCORD. For our work as civil society. It goes to the core of two subjects close to our hearts: participation and power. And if we put the two together: how to make change and reach scale.

Get on with it, you’re probably thinking, which book? Well, it’s called New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. Simply put, it’s about the power of social movements, internet platforms, and how to channel the power of people. To bring people together, and to mobilise them to create change.

I won’t be telling you anything you don’t know already when I say that we live in a hyperconnected world. Many of you may be hyperconnected. Most of us – even me – are becoming increasingly connected. Just think of LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, which are perhaps the most well-known…

But, I began considering this summer whether any of us, in our organisations and especially our combined force as CONCORD, are making the most of this hyper-connectedness. The outcomes of our mid-term review last year – other than a reorganisation of working structures and taking on a new, very systems-focused piece of work on creating a sustainable economy – led us to commit to becoming more engaged, more innovative and more challenging. As we head towards 2021, I’d like to reflect on how we can link these aims to the new power discourse to support our work.

We want – and need – to engage and reach out more beyond our own circles to hear other peoples’ perspectives, especially from the Global South. We want to be more innovative and flexible in our ways of working through the use of different tools, or through running some experiments. We want to be more challenging – not just of the EU, but also of ourselves as civil society. Because if we don’t challenge ourselves, we won’t be able to open up what feels like a fast-shrinking space. Now, that probably means we’re also going to need to gradually evolve. CONCORD is a typical ‘old power’ actor, and has been eminently successful in bringing civil society together on issues of international cooperation about which we care deeply. But, if we look at all the ‘new power’ opportunities and the power of social movements, such as #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter, we should ask ourselves if we might not be missing a trick?

Essentially, the difference between old and new power is that the latter is about collaboration, not competition. It promotes openness and transparency, not secrecy and confidentiality. Most particularly, it is ultra-participatory and does not belong to any one person or group of people.

As Heimans and Timms put it, “[t]he battle ahead, whether you favour old or new power values, will be about who can control and shape society’s essential systems and structures.” This goes again to the core of CONCORD’s mandate since we are calling for systemic change in order to respond to the challenges faced by the world’s least powerful people, those who are marginalised and excluded by the current systems. We want to build a new narrative, one based on equality, hope and justice. What better than to introduce new power techniques to support us in this?

If we are to engage, innovate and challenge more, maybe we need to think about opening up. Opening up our thought processes, opening up our ways of working, benefitting from the value of co-creation, sourcing our ideas more widely. We should also reflect on how to make our ideas spread further and put greater pressure on policy- and decision-makers. Three key ingredients that Heimans and Timms identify are that ideas must be “ACE”: Actionable (make people want to do something); Connected (the idea promotes a connection with people who care about the same issues and triggers a ‘network effect’); and Extensible (the idea can be customised).

Policy-makers pay a lot of lip service to the importance of civil society – maybe they do mean it – but actions speak louder than words and even in Europe, civil society is being sidelined, harassed, and undermined. But at least as CONCORD, we can still speak out freely, without fear of repercussions. Surely we should therefore harness the so-called ‘new power’ to participate, to agitate, to make ourselves heard. I think we have the obligation to do so. The obligation to stand up also on behalf of those who can not.

I encourage you all to read the book and to let me know your thoughts about how CONCORD might be able to adapt and harness what ‘new power’ has to offer.

Tanya Cox,
CONCORD Director