Director Olivier Consolo reflects on his 20 years working in the development sector, looking at CONCORD’s achievements in the last 10 years and the challanges NGOs face in the next years
A reflection on my ten years at CONCORD.
Twenty years is considered to be a long enough period to start assessing the past, achievements as well as failures. It corresponds almost to one ‘generation’. The last two decades tell us many things to learn about the state of the world and of the European Union (EU).
Twenty years ago Europe was marked by several important political developments: the official end of the period known as the Cold War, the re-unification of Germany, the beginning of the most ambitious process of European Union enlargement, and finally the new EU treaty called the Maastricht Treaty (which came into force on November 1993). This new treaty opened four major evolutions for the EU: The consolidation of the EU as an open internal market and the agreement on a joint approach regarding international trade, the creation of a new ambition regarding common external relations and defense, the perspective of integrating new Member States (from Eastern and Central Europe), and the launch of the Economic and Monetary Union which has led to the creation of the Euro (a reality 8 years later). In 2013 our European Union’s institutional and political environment is still deeply influenced by the Maastricht Treaty.
The international agenda
During the same period, the international community (led by the United Nations (UN) and the International Finance Institutions (IFIs) was looking to relaunch diplomacy and international negotiations to respond to a new era corresponding to the ‘post-Cold War’ situation. In 1992, the world summit in Rio known as the Earth Summit embodied unprecedented hope for thousands of activists, NGOs and diplomats. When reading again the preparatory documents or the outputs of Rio twenty years ago, activists will realize that the roads we are following today were already drawn and well apprehended in their complexity, scale of inter-relations and global ambition.
Since then, the international agenda has been strengthened by a series of other international negotiations which reinforced the feeling that the world wanted to move towards a new “progressive” and humanist agenda: Cairo Summit on population- September 1994, Social Summit in Copenhagen- February 1995, Beijing Women Summit- September 1995… Almost a decade which ended with the Millennium World Summit- September 2000. It also marked the launch of the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda (MDGs).
At the same period, activists managed to make their voices heard to stop unfair ongoing trade negotiations. It is the beginning of a new stage for the alter/anti-globalization movements and the creation of the World Social Forum. 2003 marked also the failure of the Cancun 5th Ministerial negotiations of the World Trade Organization.
In summary, the first decade (1992-2003) has been characterized by many initiatives from governments, the UN and civil society across the globe, opening new spaces for international deliberations, alliance building, new agreements and what we believed were to be new ambitions for a better and just world.
The member led confederation
CONCORD was founded by its members in early 2003 after 3 years of internal and institutional discussions and strategic decisions. For its 10th anniversary, CONCORD today is trying to look with honesty at the last 10 years and more importantly trying to invent the next 10 years. I like to say ‘invent’ because at the end of the journey, it is women and men, institutions and politicians, organized civil society and grass roots organizations and communities who build (or destroy) the world we live in.
Over the last 10 years CONCORD has made real efforts to be a member-led confederation. We intended to be a fair and active partner with our colleagues from Civil Society in the EU, as well as in other parts of the world, especially in the so-called ‘south’. As a European actor we tried to assume our responsibilities as a regional partner within global coalitions and alliances (GCAP, Better Aid, Open Forum on CSO effectiveness, and more recently in the framework of the Post-2015 agenda). Vis-à-vis European Institutions and national governments of the EU, CONCORD has maintained open critical dialogue and engagement.
Regarding the main achievements of the international community over the last 10 years, it seems that the level of ambition and concrete outcomes of the European Union as well as of the international community (mainly based on inter-governmental dynamics and arrangements), have been relatively modest!
Looking at the 50% full-glass-of-water, we (civil society and a few institutions, including the EU) managed to safeguard key principles like the fight against and eradication of poverty as the main objective of the Development Cooperation Framework. Southern actors and governments called for truly equal partnerships (which has been partly translated into the Aid Effectiveness agenda). Civil Society engaging in the development agenda managed to rebuild confidence from institutions and donors on the role we play as development actors in our own right. CSOs engaged in an open process about our own effectiveness and transparency that led to the Istanbul Principles.
During the last ten years, many regional and world social forums contributed to connecting thousands of organizations, experiences and good practices across the globe. CSOs and some institutions intended to build alliances and coalitions across the silos we used to work in: on climate and ahead of Rio+20 our sectors managed to partially overcome the traditional divides and competitions. More importantly, millions of local actors have been developing solutions and creating innovations regarding all kinds of problems and challenges everywhere on earth. This last trend represents the greatest potential for the future.
But the 50% empty-glass-of-water encompasses the following failures and challenges: the lives of billions of people remain under the minimum standards of dignity, rights and prosperity. Almost 5 billion people are living today in poverty in the developed and developing world, lacking access to basic services such as health, justice or education, struggling for democracy or being threatened by conflicts and wars. The
planet is sick because of our current extractive and financial short-term economic model. Climate change awareness did not lead to a real change in production and consumption patterns for the so-called middle class all over the globe. Local and regional conflicts have replaced the ‘high intensity’ world wars of the 20th century, contributing to the invisibility of the suffering of millions and millions of men, women and children in all continents.
Nearly all international negotiations have failed during the last decade. People are increasingly doubtful about our current models of democracy and institutions, including in the EU. The political space for civil society is shrinking everywhere, including in Europe. The world has never been so wealthy (+220% over the 20 last years) but no significant new resources have been allocated to eradicate poverty, respond to climate and environmental challenges or to invest in a great transition toward more sustainable societies.
This short assessment is a call for increased mobilization and joint action to achieve real strategic and sustainable changes in the real life of billions of real women and men affected by the current politics, policies and status-quo of the international community. There is an increasing feeling and perception among public opinion that the international ‘affairs’ are led by an undemocratic economic, institutional and political leadership who resist to pursue the interests of the many, of the majorities (the famous 99%), who call them to respond to the challenges of the planet and to the rights and needs of the present and future generations.
Civil society across the world and CONCORD (as a modest but determined part of it), call for a next decade that delivers promises and expectations of the four fifths of the world population. For the first time in history, human societies have reached the level of knowledge, resources, experience and interdependent relations (networks and collective actions) that allow us to solve the problems the planet and humanity face. This new ambition will also require from CSOs that we fairly review and adapt our strategies for change.
And one of the best ways to achieve these changes is to invest and trust in people’s capabilities, aspirations and rights with a clear option for women!
Olivier Consolo – Director of CONCORD