World leaders of citizen action gathered in Montreal have laid the groundwork for a new social contract, aimed at improving on the conventional political approaches that have failed in the face of today’s challenges and crises.
Representatives of international civil society, who came from around 100 countries all over the world, had converged on Montreal for the 11th CIVICUS World Assembly, organised by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM). The event was held at the Palais des congrès from 3 to 7 September and had as its theme Defining a new social contract–making the future together.
According to INM Executive Director Michel Venne, who has been the Assembly’s co-host over the past three years, “The CIVICUS World Assembly took place in Montreal at a critical time for civil society, not least for Quebecois and Canadian citizens, as we have seen great waves of people’s protests recently, but also recent cuts by the federal government for organisations in the areas of international cooperation, advocacy and the environment.”
The 2012 CIVICUS World Assembly was held in the same week that the people of Quebec elected their first woman prime minster, in the wake of a turbulent year marked by an unprecedented social crisis in which civil society played a major role. “It’s important to remember today that democracy has changed. It’s now very clear that citizen participation is an essential complement to representative democracy. Citizens want to be consulted – and must be consulted – between elections,” Mr Venne said.
“There is a pressing need to overhaul our models of decision-making,” added CIVICUS’ Outreach Director Henri Valot. “Recent events like the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring and the Maple Spring clearly demonstrate that a growing number of people want to be heard and understood so that we can make the world more just and address issues like inequality, poverty and corruption. This 11th CIVICUS World Assembly represents a decisive moment for achieving progress towards making the world a fairer place.”
The event brought together a number of important public figures. The morning session on 5 September- the day after the Quebec election – featured rising star Léo Bureau-Blouin, former student protest leader and now youngest ever member of the Quebec national assembly; renowned environmental activist and former Brazilian Minister of Environment Marina Silva, who had the honour of carrying the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics; and Forum des Alternatives President Kamal Lahbib, who was sentenced to five years in prison for belonging to a secret revolutionary organisation during the former regime in Morocco.
The international summit was an opportunity for young protestors, activists and the instigators of movements such as Occupy, the Arab Spring and the Maple Spring, to meet prominent individuals who have the power to influence international policies. Leading speakers included Caroline Anstey of the World Bank, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, Ana-Maria Garzón of the Sustainable Agriculture Network – Rainforest Alliance, and Olav Kjørven of the United Nations Development Programme. Many prestigious organisations were represented at the summit, including Amnesty International, the Rockefeller Foundation and ActionAid, as well as a number of Canadian organisations such as the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the Coalition pour la souveraineté alimentaire and Équiterre.
Montreal principles to guide civil society’s role in defining a new social contract
In order to help forge a new social settlement that is inclusive, democratic and just, we in civil society should:
§ Link, network, connect: form horizontal and consensual alliances, and unusual and smart partnerships.
Make connections between formal civil society organisations and new social movements and groups.
Mainstream social and communications technologies: prioritise making connections between online activism and offline action and excluded communities.
Encourage local participation and voluntary action as a first step for people’s real engagement in civil society.
Maintain community connections as a primary reality check and touchstone: regain and refresh the roots of civil society.
Be constantly aware of and address marginalisation of all those socially and politically excluded, particularly focusing on women, young people and minorities. Ensure safe spaces and accessible processes, promotion and advancement.
Promote the value of international solidarity for encouraging domestic and local action, and the protection of spaces for civil society.
Work within a human rights based framework and focus on the rights that enable people’s demands for dignity, freedom, justice and equality.
Be knowledge-based: develop communities of thought, as well as practice.
Integrate issues of sustainability: redefine what prosperity means and prioritise bio-diversity and the protection of nature.
Be demand driven, rather than supply driven, and accountable to citizens, not donor structures.
Limit our dependency on governments and be transparent about our funding compromises: seek alternative models, like social and crowd sourced funding.
Be innovative, strategic and have an assets-based approach: focus on entry points, tipping points, points of leverage.
Better understand and take account of the roles – positive and negative – of the private sector.
Develop our capacities for negotiation and analysis of power.
The 2012 CIVICUS World Assembly marks the end of a three-year cycle in which this prestigious international event was held in Montreal.
“For the INM, partnering with CIVICUS in organising these three world assemblies has been a huge success,” added Venne. “Over three years, Montreal has welcomed over 2,500 representatives, and the economic impact of the three events has weighed in at over $3 million. Even more importantly, organisations from Montreal, Quebec and Canada have benefited from discussions with similar organisations from around the globe, while demonstrating the expertise developed by our own civil society. The INM is particularly thrilled to have succeeded in strengthening collaboration between CIVICUS and Francophone organisations from civil society. The French language was more present than ever within the movement this year.”