Global Perspectives 2022 brought together over 360 people from around the world on 30 November to participate in a range of panel sessions looking at transforming civil society futures. While we missed being able to meet in person, we found it even more rewarding that our free online format made it possible for so many of us to connect. These are some of the key takeaways that we still carry with us two weeks after the event and will take to heart in our work moving forward:
1.Anticipation-mode is a necessity for all, not a luxury of the few
Several sessions highlighted how CSOs are usually caught in – or even depend on – a perpetual sequence of crises. As current and future trends take hold, it is absolutely vital that organised civil society is both ready for different scenarios but equally holds a strong vision for the future. But being futures-ready (and -relevant) does neither come by itself nor should it be confined to an elite academic exercise by the few or a single department with an ICSO. Instead, we need to embed futures thinking widely and recognise that we’re all capable of the necessary signal scanning and building futures narratives. As our panellist, Barbara Weber from Amnesty International advised: Let’s build that anticipatory muscle by treating it like brushing our teeth – do it every day if you want to stay healthy.
2. Digital inclusion simply cannot happen if we don’t have internet infrastructure
Access to a data-driven world and data-driven development is key in a digitally transformed world and therefore, specialised CSOs are relied upon heavily to ensure inclusivity is taken into account when building digital tools for development. Many actors are lobbying heavily to make sure this is mainstreamed better across (international) CSOs so that organisations are pulling into the same direction, especially when it comes to the digital inclusion of Persons with Disability. But while there is a lot of focus on building capacity for digital inclusion, the most important ingredient is still called internet infrastructure!
3. Let’s reward experimentation!
Part of the puzzle of futures-readiness is innovation. It was claimed that there is little to no room for failure in our sector and that this is keeping us from learning – as it is only through failure that we learn the most and from each other. We need to create organisational cultures where experimentation is rewarded so we can challenge ourselves, find new ways of working and explore different scenarios to imagine and build the world we want. The third edition of our Innovation Report again shows us how civil society organisations reinvent themselves and experiment if the context requires it. They can be a great inspiration for all of us!
4. Transformation requires bravery and humility
As many organisations are seeking to become more locally led, it is imperative that they adopt a southern identity, and being a global organisation is no longer synonym for being a northern organisation. This is no small transformation for many organisations and thus requires taking bold steps and risks. Professionalised civil society organisations should be in the business of working themselves out of a job, so a certain risk is built-in anyways.
Equally, in the panel on south-south cooperation, Cecilia Milesi reminded the audience that the decolonising journey has been travelled by civil society in (formerly) colonised countries since independence and not since the Grand Bargain, realising southern chapters fair well independently during Covid, or Black Lives Matter. While all of this rightfully motivated many northern organisations to change, humility is still called for.
5. We’re the best in collaborating and we can make this count – if we stay connected
All sessions highlighted in one way or another civil society’s (perhaps not so) secret weapon: collaboration. Think Power Shift: Taking a route less travelled and partnering with local actors both as experts and interlocutors makes the difference and can produce different kinds of conversations and outcomes. Think Digital: only through collaborating with tech firms will we be able to both influence the tools generated for digital development and complement our capacities. Think Civic Space: by coming together as small organisations but in larger numbers, we are able to challenge powerful institutions, just like the example of the CSO alliance influencing the powerful Financial Action Task Force has shown.
But all of this can only work if we stay connected with the people in our communities, the (non-)citizens that make up civil society. It is to them that we are accountable. Only with them can we work towards the futures we want!