The Tale of two Lounges: International Mobility in post-Covid Times

30th April 2021 by Karl Steinacker

A few years back, arriving at Jomo-Kenyatta-International-Airport in Nairobi, my travel companion could not, when asked, produce proof of his yellow fever vaccination. While I could and was allowed to proceed and to pick up my baggage, my companion was whisked away towards men in white coats to get his shot on the spot. When I met him later and asked about the vaccination, he casually explained that he paid for it but didn’t get it. He preferred to have it done by a doctor he trusts.

Reflecting on the future of international mobility in the times of the Covid- 19 pandemic, it is hard to imagine my travel companion getting another chance to negotiate his way out of such a situation. The pandemic has severely impacted international mobility and there is no reason to believe that it will return to what it was before 2020. The best indicators for the changing times are the ever-increasing number of newspaper articles that announce the imminent arrival of smart vaccination certificates as a prerequisite for future travel. Sometimes also referred to as immunity passports, they are intended to provide credible proof that the carrier has been vaccinated, has had a recent negative test or recovered from the disease.

Expecting a bonanza, many technology firms develop digital certificates that can be accessed on smartphones by employers, airlines, restaurant owners and others. But more importantly, governments are reflecting on how to manage domestic and international travel in the future. Like 9-11, this pandemic is likely to bring about profound changes to international mobility.

The modern system of international mobility, developed after World War II, is based on passports and visas. For the countries of destination, the system’s main objective was to ensure that short-term visitors would not extend their stay and remain illegally. In addition, a valid passport ensured that there is a country to which the traveller could return to – voluntarily or involuntarily. Visa requirements added vetting procedures to minimise the risk of undesired entry and manage specific mobility types, such as work, study, immigration, or refugee resettlement.

Terrorist attacks up to 9-11 and after that added a strong security dimension to the management of cross-border mobility. Since then, electronic readable passports, biometrics, data collection and mining, the use of AI, were introduced to enhance control and security. Advanced electronic notification systems, such as ESTA, are being deployed to prevent persons from travelling considered to be security risks.

The Covid-19 pandemic adds a new dimension to the management of international travel: public health and the objective to protect the population in transit and at a destination from being infected by the Covid-19 virus or variants that have already or are likely to emerge in the future.

The above figure shows the complexity of what is to be certified: Is the carrier of the digital certificate identical with the person travelling? What kind of test or vaccine is used and is it valid at the destination and for how long? Is the issuer of the certificate accredited and can it be trusted?

Given the circumstances, in international travel, the clearance for travel has to be issued before take-off. Sending the person back on arrival for health reasons will not be effective since the journey might already have led to infections in the plane, in transit, or on arrival. This means that the country of destination must accept the certificate issued in the country of departure. While IATA, ICAO and others are working on worldwide solutions, it is unlikely that governments will subscribe to them quickly. Rather, we should expect bilateral or regional solutions between certain countries. The European Union, for example, is working on a Green Certificate, which will be valid for travel within the block.

The OECD countries are likely to work on solutions that privilege travel between them – similar to the visa waiver systems already in place. As in the case of passports and visas, airlines will be enlisted to enforce their rules. This revamped system will leave many countries and populations of the Global South out. It so happens that the Covid-19 vaccination campaign is, thus far, benefitting mainly the OECD countries. Hence, the question arises how global mobility will look like in a world divided into two travel lounges:

  1. The first-class lounge will assemble a few countries with the resources available to vaccinate and treat Covid-19 infections, as well as the digital infrastructure necessary for a certificate and an ESTA-type health notification system. 
  2. In the second-class lounge, we will find countries with low vaccination coverage and a high risk of new mutants of the virus emerging in the future, as well as a deficient digital infrastructure. Travellers in this lounge will face prolonged checks and procedures and, most likely, persisting quarantine obligations and travel restrictions. 

Those at the bottom of the mobility hierarchy, persons without means of identification, refugees and displaced persons, migrants and informal travellers, will find no lounge at all. Who thought that (legitimate) public health considerations have the potential to become bricks in the Fortress Europe and Trump-style wall projects?

And while standardised digital vaccination certificates will play a key role in future cross-border mobility, even though it is unlikely that all countries will attach the same rights and procedures to them, certificates are also being introduced for domestic use. Here significant challenges await civil society too: How to fight exclusion by design and default and, instead, maintain the rights of those with limited or no access to vaccination, health and digital resources to public life, education, livelihoods and other socio-economic opportunities?

Time travel is a known feature of many sci-fi stories. It is still fiction. However, limited global mobility, for some much more limited than for others, is becoming a reality.

    Karl Steinacker

    Digital Advisor

    International Civil Society Centre

    Karl joined the Centre in June 2019 after a professional career in institutions of German technical co-operation and as humanitarian manager in the United Nations. He spent years in conflict zones, such as the Gaza Strip, the Great Lakes region in Central Africa, and in the Sahel. He led multi-sectoral teams on data management, refugee registration and biometrics. At the ICS Centre he works pro bono on issues relating to artificial intelligence, digital transformation, identity and trust as well as their impact on civil society in general and ICSOs in particular. Karl, born in 1960 in Germany, is a graduate of the Political Science faculty of the Free University of Berlin and studied Public International Law at Cambridge University.


    Call for Applications, Project Consultant Tender

    28th April 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

    The International Civil Society Centre is looking for a project consultant to support the Making Voices Heard and Count project.

    Specifically, we need a consultant to help us prepare a series of short publications focussing on insights, learnings and personal stories from the work of our partners with marginalised communities. The publication series is to be disseminated via the partnership’s website and the Global SDG Knowledge Hub, addressing the international SDG and development community.

    Making Voices Heard and Count is a collaborative project of the Leave No One Behind partnership, which is hosted by the Centre. It brings together international and national civil society organisations (CSOs), civic networks and platforms with the ambition to bring about a scalable solution for filling data gaps on marginalised groups in the monitoring and review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thereby, the project aims to make a key contribution towards fulfilling the Agenda 2030’s universal pledge to leave no one behind. The project fosters an inclusive model of SDG monitoring, supporting the collection, analysis and dissemination of community-driven data and giving a stage to data produced by the local target groups themselves – helping to make their voices heard and count.

    In our follow-up project, running over the coming years, the ambition is to reach 100.000 people in up to eight countries, demonstrating through our inclusive approach that there is a scalable and widely applicable solution to fulfil the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ in SDG implementation.

    For this purpose, the Centre is commissioning a consultant to:

    • Attend a virtual evaluation workshop that the partnership arranges on 19 May between 10.30-13.30h UTC;
    • Assess country reports to extract knowledge around specific learning questions;
    • Conduct interviews with the partnership’s country teams and global experts to extract further knowledge, where needed;
    • Develop a concept for publishing the above-mentioned article series, including:
      • Contextualisation: identify key themes, case studies, impact stories and/or personal stories. Balance between country / topic focus and cross-country knowledge.
      • Visualisation: make use of visual elements (e.g. graphs, illustrations, pictures, etc.) throughout the publications.
    • Write a series of articles of up to 1,000 words each (number of articles to be agreed with contractor);
    • Work in close collaboration with the global partnership coordinator.

    Find the full tender and how to apply here

    The Centre invites qualified individuals or organisations (“Offerors”) to submit a proposal for the requested services. The application needs to be submitted by 9 May 2021. Interviews of finalists will take place between 12 and 14 May.

    If you meet the selection criteria, please submit your application to Peter Koblowsky including:

    1. Proposal Narrative, no more than 3 pages, including:

    • A brief description of the Offeror’s experience and expertise in the field that illustrates overall qualifications and capabilities. 
    • A brief description of the Offeror’s understanding of the scope of services and proposed methodology for the work.

    2. Resume or CV of individual or principals, in the case of a consulting firm

    3. List of Past and Current Clients

    4. Cost Requirements 

    The Offeror should include a detailed budget, which at a minimum includes the daily rate and level of effort for each person who will work on the services described above. All budgets must be in Euros (EUR). Please note that we expect the consultancy to encompass no more than 13 working days

    5. Proposal Submission: Proposals, including any attachments, should be sent electronically in PDF format to: pkoblowsky@icscentre.org. Be sure to include in the subject line: “Call for tenders – Making Voices Heard and Count

      Communications Manager

      International Civil Society Centre


      Some learnings for civil society after a year of the pandemic

      20th April 2021 by Wolfgang Jamann

      Over a year has passed since the WHO declared a global health emergency. COVID-19 has come upon the world and ever since affected everyone’s life and work. Needless to say, the work of civil society organisations has not been exempt from this.

      Corona diaries, high-level reflections on what has happened, and efforts to understand a post-COVID world are plenty – several valuable insights are linked in the below brief observations. They might help in the necessary efforts to prepare for the consequences – particularly for those already marginalised.

      Despite all the insecurities of analyses, some key observations seem to crystalise:

      Inequalities are sharply increasing, particularly around gender dimensions, employment (‘gig economy’) and human rights. Reports by organisations like Amnesty International or Oxfam International testify to the fact that the most marginalised bear the biggest burden of COVID-19 impacts. At the same time, emergent agency for civil society includes new roles, new actors and new strategies.

      Digitalisation is rapidly accelerating, in ambivalent directions (surveillance and data exploitation vs global connectivity). Yuval Noah Harari has three conclusions: data should always be used to help people; surveillance should go two ways, not just towards citizens but more bottom-up towards governments and corporations; and we must not allow high concentration of data with anyone – a data monopoly being the recipe for dictatorship.

      The international community’s ability to deal with crises has unveiled the faults in the system – powerless multilateral and UN institutions, lack of global collaboration and a renaissance of nationalism. 

      Societies are shaking. According to the latest Edelman trust barometer, confidence in governments and institutions is severely affected. The incredible willingness of people to sacrifice, act with solidarity and discipline and show empathy, has not been capitalised upon by political leaders. If there is one truth around the pandemic, it’s this: we are strongly interconnected. Yet, global solidarity is weak and yet to become a stronger glue beyond national borders.

      Societal divisions are happening between ‘old’ frontiers (liberal vs conservative worldviews) but show new, disturbing lines: identity politics and cancel culture are the downsides of the increased struggle for human and citizen rights. Extreme worldviews (conspiracy theories, anti-government and anti-elite sentiments) are becoming abundant and powerful. The attack on the US Capitol in January showed their imminent danger. 

      Dis-/mis- and malinformation accelerate these divisions. Digital communication and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming ‘fire accelerators’. According to the ICNL COVID-19 civic freedom tracker, civic space is more easily restricted due to the pandemic.

      Closer to home, civil society organisations, while badly needed in the global discourse, are often still in a reactive/crisis mode, partly constrained by restrictive donor policies, unsurmountable operational challenges, homemade problems, and colonial legacy. Their leaders are facing immense challenges, they have to deal with complexities and interconnectedness, and the large-scale nature of the crisis challenges established leadership and good governance practices. As a result, and while the increasing responsibilities (and opportunities) for civil society organisations and their leaders become clearer and clearer, too little is being done to address those responsibilities. 

      Here are some of them to be dealt with as priorities:

      • It is high time and overdue to intensify and radicalise partner support, power shift and locally-led responses while redefining mandates of internationally operating civil society organisations.
      • There is an urgent need to engage actively with overriding societal trends (intergenerational justice, climate change and planetary boundaries, culture and value clashes, gender equality) beyond the actual mandates that ICSOs are pursuing. ICSOs need to become a more powerful, desired and competent part of responses to global crises. 
      • Civil society organisations need to become more than merely just users, but navigators and co-creators of the policy dimensions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, actively participating in internet governance, ethical data use and doing digital work for the marginalised. 
      • On a global and global-to-local level, they should establish and role-model interconnectedness and active collaboration at eye-level.

      Lastly, there are increasing demands for systems change. Systems thinking is necessary, the intersectionality of trends needs to be understood, yet civil society will have to go for smart and scalable answers without lowering ambitions.

      Wolfgang Jamann

      Executive Director

      International Civil Society Centre

      Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.


      New civil society collaborative launches to understand the true scale of COVID-19’s impact on marginalised people

      14th April 2021 by Kate Richards and Peter Koblowsky

      Announced today, the Civil Society Collaborative on Inclusive COVID-19 Data will work alongside marginalised communities and activists to understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and collectively advocate for an inclusive recovery.

      With COVID-19 pushing up to 150 million people into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, the urgency to understand and meet the needs of the world’s most marginalised people has never been greater. However, pervasive gaps in official data and statistics are hindering efforts to protect and support those being left behind. To address this, over 15 civil society organisations (CSOs) are coming together and launching a collaborative that will combine their data-driven insights to create a more intersectional understanding of the pandemic’s effects.

      From women to persons with disabilities to refugees, the pandemic has highlighted and deepened long-standing inequalities. But the true scale of the pandemic’s effects is obscured by data gaps. Many millions of people are invisible in official data and statistics, their lives and needs uncounted in policy decisions. An equitable recovery from COVID-19 requires better data on the lives of marginalised people, collected with their knowledge, consent, and participation.

      Civil society is uniquely positioned to generate data and insights with marginalised people that can complement official statistics and fill data gaps. From citizen-generated data to rapid needs assessments to programmatic data, the collaborative is harnessing existing data collected by CSOs over the past year.  

      The collaborative will work with communities and activists to develop a data-driven report and advocacy campaign, launching in July this year at the United Nations High Level Political Forum. 

      Alongside new insights on the effects of COVID-19, the report will highlight CSOs and citizens’ learnings on inclusive and participatory data collection methods, and offer recommendations for improving collaboration and coordination between official data producers, civil society, and citizens.

      The collaborative is led by a Steering Group, involving Action Aid (Denmark), Christian Aid, Development Initiatives, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, International Civil Society Centre, Plan International, Restless Development, and Sightsavers. 

      A diverse and growing range of CSOs are engaged as partners, including Africa’s Voices Foundation, CBM, CIVICUS, Consortium for Street Children, HelpAge, Institute for Global Homelessness, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Save the Children, VSO, and World Vision.

      The collaborative is an open platform for civil society, communities, and activists. If you would like to learn more about engaging, please contact Kate Richards, Inclusive Data Charter Outreach Manager.

      The collaborative is made possible by the Steering Group’s contributions and convened by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the International Civil Society Centre. 

      Kate Richards

      Inclusive Data Charter Outreach Manager

      Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

      Kate Richards is the Outreach Manager for the Inclusive Data Charter, an initiative of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. She leads on engaging new Inclusive Data Champions, as well as developing and implementing communications and advocacy strategies that catalyze action on disaggregated and inclusive data. She previously worked at Dalberg, advising leading foundations, multilaterals, and NGOs on strategic communications and advocacy, and at Oxford University. Kate has an MPA from the London School of Economics and is based in London.

      Peter Koblowsky

      Senior Partnership Manager - Leave No One Behind

      International Civil Society Centre

      Peter joined the Centre in January 2013, back then as a trainee. He completed the traineeship in the advocacy & campaigning office of World Vision Germany. Peter now coordinates the Leave No One Behind project and contributes to the development and implementation of various other strategic formats. Before joining the Centre, Peter worked for various organisations and think tanks in the development sector, being an expert in multi-stakeholder processes. He studied at the University of Bonn and graduated with an MA in Political Science with a focus on multi-actor advocacy for climate policy.