Davos 2022: 4 leaders on the future of civic participation

  • The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos will bring together a variety of stakeholders, including civil society leaders, to discuss how to improve the state of the world.
  • Civic participation and the role of civil society will be key to the discussions.
  • Ahead of Davos 2022, leaders from Habitat for Humanity, DataKind, Reporters Without Borders and the World Resources Institute shared thoughts on the future of civic participation.

As our world is facing multiple, simultaneous crises, the need for civic participation across all sectors is more imperative than ever before. From climate action and responsible technology to media reform and humanitarian work, communities should have the power to advocate for and shape the meaningful, long-term impact our world needs to see.

Multi-stakeholder collaborations, which bring in the expertise, influence and leadership of civil society and marginalized communities, provide a route towards greater equilibrium and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters from 22-26 May 2022, the Forum reached out to four organizations working in these sectors to understand what they believe is the future of civic participation. As we look forward to five days dedicated to improving the state of the world, the leaders of these organizations outline their priorities for civil society, and how to protect the civic space.

‘The social sector sets out the dinnerware and invites the community in’

Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity

One of civil society’s critical roles is to bring people together. If you imagine the metaphor of a table, the social sector sets out the dinnerware and invites the community in. And people have never been more eager to take a seat at the housing table.

The pandemic has revealed, and exacerbated, the suffering of many who were already living in desperate situations. Government leaders are acknowledging that the supply of housing – and particularly housing that is affordable – is a crucial issue they must address. In several locations, the public sector has devised creative plans to include affordable units in their development plans. Public-private partnerships will be critical to solving this challenge, but they will not succeed unless the fourth ā€œpā€ – people – are included. And concerned citizens are eager to help make a difference in their communities.

Civil society has never had a better time to raise awareness about difficult issues and engage passionate supporters to help find solutions. In partnership with the public and private sectors, civil society organizations can – and must – create meaningful opportunities that enable people to bring about change.

With the rise of authoritarian governments, the space in which civil society can operate has narrowed alarmingly in too many countries. However, we are witnessing the incredible strength of ordinary people and the many ways that civil society organizations can help and support the voices of those facing dire circumstances.

Image: International Monetary Fund & Habitat for Humanity

Lauren Woodman, CEO, DataKind

Civil society gives voice to the communities critical to building societies and reflects the hopes, aspirations and needs of its citizens. As civil society leaders, our role must be to actively engage beyond our natural constituencies and across sectors. We must build understanding through dialogue, listening, empathy and advocacy. We have a responsibility to foster trust and partnership, protecting against threats to civil space and fostering inclusive participation, ultimately building a sustainable future for all.

The recent crises have had an uneven impact on the relationship between citizens and institutions, highlighting the need to address disparities that cannot be ignored. Specifically, the pandemic laid bare the need to close the digital divide to ensure that every community has access to health, education and trusted information. As a technology partner to the social sector, we see daily the immediate and cumulative impact these gaps have.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must come back stronger, invigorated and better equipped for the future. We must ensure that solutions are designed with, and not just for, the intended community. We must examine how organizations adapted, and share learnings for broader resiliency. To the extent that technology has helped us shift delivery models, we must evaluate whether those models are scalable, equitable, and ethical. And we must recognize that effective partnerships demand expertise and engagement from all of us – government, commerce and civil society – working together for the communities and citizens we represent and serve.

‘Protecting the right to information’

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General, Reporters Without Borders

To address the information chaos and violations of the right to information, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revised its mandate and its theory of change with the goal of achieving effective protection of the right to information. Naming and shaming needs to be complemented by direct engagement with the highest decision makers, with very concrete assistance in the field and, ultimately, with strategic litigation in courts.

Overcoming the information chaos also implies proposing structural, standard-based and political solutions for democratic guarantees to be adopted for the global space of information and communication. Accordingly, RSF initiated the Partnership on Information and Democracy. To date, 45 states have committed to create a civil society-led implementation body, and will launch an Observatory on Information and Democracy, which will be in the field of information what the IPCC is to climate change.

A market solution for the promotion of trustworthiness of news and information is the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), based on an ISO-style standard. This will create a certification process for trustworthy information sources to be rewarded for abiding by rigorous journalistic standards with facilitated access to corporations’ advertising funding, public and philanthropic funding and search engine amplification.

‘The climate crisis demands that we make space and shift power’

Ani Dasgupta, President & CEO, World Resources Institute

We know it is possible for countries to achieve lasting economic growth and development goals while taking climate action. We know that companies can save money and improve efficiency by following sustainable business models. It is increasingly understood that climate action is essential to economic and social well-being. And yet, despite louder and louder demands, climate action has yet to be fully embedded in our thinking. Why?

Not only is the responsibility for, and impact of, climate change unequally distributed, so too are the resources and power to do something about it. Those of us in civil society must work in partnership with those willing to be bold. And we must amplify – not filter – the voices of those who are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts.

It’s not enough to say we want to do better by people. Especially in Davos, civil society must make space at the table for the people closest to the problems, and ensure they are part of the solutions. Shifting power – and funding – to communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis is an essential ingredient to making climate action stick.

The World Economic Forum welcomes leaders and representatives from civil society to Davos-Klosters to engage with stakeholders from around the world on the most pressing topics. For further engagement and more information on the Forum’s Civil Society community, visit www.weforum.org/communities/civil-society.

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