Co-Building an Eco-Social World: Leaving No One Behind, Organizing a Robust and Protected Transborder and Transnational Civil Society

Keynote Speech delivered on June 30 at the Global People’s Summit on Co-Building and Eco-Social World held online from June 29 to July 2, 2022

by Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

Introductory Remarks

1. Thank you Priska for that introduction. Thanks to you and your organization—the international Federation of Social Workers which is a member of CoNGO—the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations was invited as a partner of this important global undertaking—a people’s global summit “to share…solutions to our joint challenges, so all people can
live with confidence, security, and peace in a sustainable world.”

2. The draft People’s Charter that will come out of this global summit characterizes a world that is imperiled by many challenges. The charter partly says, and I quote, “We recognise that the pledges made by governments after the second world war – on peace, development and human rights – have not yet been realized and in instances rights have been eroded. Inequalities and fractures have grown. Poverty sits alongside extreme wealth. Nature has been degraded, leading to climate warming and environmental destruction. Millions of people have been displaced as a result, adding to the millions more displaced by conflict and violence. The governments that made these commitments have prioritized competition over collaboration, sovereignty over solidarity. They have not yet served the people they represent.”

3. “They have not served the people they represent.” That’s a bold statement to say. It is a statement that also burdens this Summit which must identify as close and inclusive a global picture as possible, to the issues that keep people worried all day and awake all night. The draft Charter identified what it called “interconnected diverse values as a basis for forming a holistic, inclusive framework for our everyday relationships and actions.” The Charter enumerated the values as “reference points for the development of our shared futures.” I like this formulation—that values, while named and identified, cannot be exhausted in an effort as global as a people’s summit can undertake, and yet whatever we can already name—collaboratively and together—they are already available reference points for co-building an eco-social
world which we will live in in a shared future.”

4. The organizational mantra that serves as value orientation for the work of CoNGO says “Defining the present, shaping the future.” And as we launch into our 75th year anniversary next year, we have added the additional call, “Making the change, now”. This addition impresses upon us the urgency of now. Defining the present and shaping the future is all very well but making the change now is what matters to people and the planet.

5. I would like to share some thoughts on the general topic which is the theme of this People’s Global Summit—and that is “Co-building an eco-social world so that no one is left behind. Allow me to approach my contribution to elaborating on this theme around four subheadings:

a. First, the surplus of fear and deficit of hope in our world today.

b. Second, the need to revisit multilateralism as an arrangement of global collaboration and delivery mechanism for achieving global public goods and goals.

c. Third, the need for a robust, protected and transnational civil society that is co-constitutive with a robust multilateralism.

d. Fourth, what makes for an eco-social world that is worth building together so that no one is left behind?

The Surplus of Fear and the Deficit of Hope

6. On with the first—that there is in our world today a surplus, surfeit if you will, of fear and a deficit of hope which is imperiling the achievement of sustainable development goals for people and the planet. Co-building an eco-social world depends largely on the empowerment of the voice and agency of peoples as they identify their concerns and craft their futures. This is why decreasing fear and replacing it with increased hope augurs well into assuring people of their dignity and human rights and of the planet’s sustainability.

7. Today, this surfeit of fear and deficit of hope among the world’s peoples is putting humanity’s survival at stake in an ever more imperiled and unsustainable natural ecology. The health of peoples and the planet is endangered by intersecting crises not the least brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, global violence, forced migration, economic crisis, climate crisis, racial injustice, and more. Time is of the essence. We must decrease fear and increase hope in that eco-social world we are building together.

8. To decrease fear, we must reaffirm the fundamental principle that human dignity and human rights are non-negotiables. That human dignity is inherent in every person—persons being rights holders—and that human rights are buffeted and increased because they are the indivisible and interdependent protections we give to human dignity. To decrease fear among peoples, the pantheon of human rights we struggle to build upon daily must be demonstrable as effective instruments to check impunity of government, indeed state, agents who otherwise may conduct themselves with impunity as to violate and sully people’s dignity without fear of being accountable and punished.

9. To increase hope, we must build a common future for all the inhabitants of the earth and their natural ecology by promoting and safeguarding the common public goods and services indispensable to life. We must increase hope through arrangements that truly put peoples and the planet at the center of both the local and global public imagination of policy and legislation. And we certainly need today a cadre of leaders from grassroots, local, national, regional and international arenas to provide leadership for the much needed catalytic strategies and action for transformative change in social and ecological relations.

Multilateralism: Revisiting, Revising, Transforming

10. Second, the need to revisit, revise and transform multilateralism as an arrangement of global collaboration among a multiplicity of varied players focused on addressing collaboratively the production and development of common public goods, not the least the development of visible, viable and durable peace and prosperity which underpin an eco-social world responsive to the needs of peoples and insures the viability of the planet.

11. Multilateralism as we know it today will no longer suffice for that catalytic and transformative change. It must be revisited, rebooted, rewired, even repopulated beyond its all too nation-state centeredness. Not only must there be multilateralism where institutions for norms and standards-setting work robustly, accountably and transparently, but more importantly, a multilateralism where the common, just and equal flourishing of peoples and the planet are at the heart of its work, and not the self-preservation of the state in ways hitherto buttressed by national security formulations.

12. The challenge to multilateralism today is not only that the problems of the world have exponentially multiplied compared to the imagination of those who forged the Peace of Westphalia in mid 17th century. That provenance of modern multilateralism bequeathed us with the notion and reality of sovereign nation-states who contracted treaties and entered into obligations between and among them foremost to protect territories and resources. All in the interest of national security—meaning the protection of the inanimate nation-state!

13. The urgent challenge to multilateralism today, it would seem, lies in the urgency for these sovereign nation states to recognize how each of their people and their natural ecology are tied to the survivability and sustainability of all others, and that acting together globally is simultaneously in their local and national interest. The international interest today must be equally a national interest because the international interest is the interest of nationals acting upon global threats and challenges that no single country can address better except collectively—under the aegis of entities like those that make the United Nations System.

14. Multilateralism works, but only if the intention to involve civil society moves from rhetoric to reality. By civil society here I mean its widest meaning—all the peoples of the world in their varied settings and configurations including as citizens, people on the move as well as stateless persons. Their political and national affinities matter to the nation state. But being simply human means they are at the mercy of the perils of intersecting social injustices and harsh ecological realities. Reality here means allotting time for them to speak and be heard in all and every venue. As NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and CSOs (civil society organizations), we claim that citizens and non-citizens alike are indispensable parts of the national, regional and international governance architecture who cannot be ignored in the pursuit of common and global agendas—just to evoke language that the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has used in his latest recommendations now in the hands of the member states and for the upcoming General Assembly to consider.

The Need for a Robust and Protected Transborder and Transnational Civil Society

15. Third, the recognition that need for a robust and protected civil society is co- constitutive of a robust multilateralism, both at the global and national levels. NGOs, CSOs and grassroots organizations are placed in a momentous occasion to advance social consciousness and organize to advance human rights principles everywhere in the public square. But in many places in the world today the voices of civil society are increasingly muzzled in a public square that is shrinking and a public discourse that is curtailed.

16. The latest report of CIVICUS—the eleventh edition of its State of Civil Society issued a few days ago is alarming. This CIVICUS report “shines a light on a time of immense upheaval and contestation: war, conflict, rising fuel and food prices, climate change…” even as it also reported on where it found hope—”in the many mobilisations for change around the world: the mass protests, campaigns, and people’s movements for justice, and the many grassroots initiatives defending rights and helping those most in need.” The CIVICUS report identified five key current trends of global significance:

a. Rising costs of fuel and food are spurring public anger and protests at economic mismanagement

b. Democracy is under assault but positive changes are still being won

c. Advances are being made in fighting social inequality despite attacks

d. Civil society is keeping up the pressure for climate action

e. Current crises are exposing the inadequacies of the international governance system

17. CoNGO, in its own public statements, echoes CIVICUS’s refrain of these issues. “CoNGO is concerned about the shrinking space for civil society. Freedom of assembly, opinion and expression are inherent rights of every human being, but an increasing number of countries restrict these rights, treating civil society as a threat, rather than as a partner working to achieve common goals. Some governments imprison civil society activists or use force to quell peaceful assemblies and demonstrations. They formally accept the recommendations of the United Nations while ignoring them in practice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and relevant international conventions and covenants must be universally applied. The United Nations must ensure that NGOs have maximum access to United Nations bodies, to allow the fullest contributions of their competencies, expertise, energy and experience.”

18. It is about time that the UN and its member states are seized of the political will (of its peoples and citizens) to achieve the future we want and the world we need. Formulations of these are already being expressed multifariously by the peoples of the world in a variety of social forums, peoples assemblies and certainly peoples’ summits such as this. This global people’s summit and the charter that will come out of it should loudly and clearly state the high expectations of NGOs and civil society for the Heads of State and Government, assembled during the High Level Political Forum (July) and at the General Assembly (September)—to demonstrate political courage by making real their declaration at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN, among them:

a. That “We will leave no one behind…The peoples have to be at the center of all our efforts.”

b. That “We will place women and girls at the center.”

c. That “We will upgrade the United Nations. The world of today is very different from what it was when the UN was created 75 years ago…Our working methods need to keep pace and adapt.”

19. Beyond the multilateralism we engage in today, we need arrangements that enable civil society to claim spaces and position themselves at political platforms where their presence is visible and their views are heard so as to impact decision making. At the level of NGOs that advocate before the United Nations under consultative arrangements, Article 71 of the UN Charter and ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 already provide modalities and platforms that must be reinforced and not rolled back to the peril of democratic exchange and participatory decision making.

20. What matters to me as an NGO leader—as CoNGO President in particular—is that NGO representatives are able to speak their own voice, even in their own language, and claim their agency in the settings that presence the realities of their localities—be they grassroots, local, national, regional or global arenas. This includes the critical role of CSOs, critical social movements (CSMs) and other civic organizations vying for public attention and rallying for support for action on critical social, economic and political issues on the ground. The dynamic of co-building an eco-social world such as that propounded loudly by this people’s global summit points to the need to coalesce and forge alliances and networks so that we as peoples can multiply our collective power and potential to influence public opinion,
affect policy formulation, and effect transformative change.

21. CoNGO’s working modalities, especially its more than 30 substantive NGO committees organized in New York, Geneva, Vienna and in four other political regions exemplify the importance of harnessing collective energy and influence for impact, if not relevance. This organizational mode that gathers NGOs to work on substantive issues and act upon them to make the transformative change today demonstrates what I have called as the power of co—the power of consultation, collaboration and cooperation. The burden of this global people’s summit is not only to address the substantive issues that make an eco-social world. It matters equally and importantly that we employ methods of work that reflect the diversity of the transnational and transborder composition of who the world’s peoples are and the way they struggle, organize and mobilize themselves for action.

Making Human Security and Planetary Sustainability Matter, Together

22. Fourth and last of my subheadings is about an eco-social world we must co-build so that no one is left behind. That eco-social world is where food is secured as much as freedom is advanced, where jobs are secured as much as justice is advanced, and where land is secured as much as liberation is advanced. In its barest minimum, an eco-social world must secure for people:

a. Food and freedom,

b. Jobs and justice,

c. Land and liberation.

23. This formulation adheres to the indivisibility of social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights. Easier said than done. Especially because these are both human rights and human needs receiving the least of the resources that national budgets provide. But nothing to complicate what the world’s peoples want and need. People need food, shelter, clothing, education, health and so much more in ways already enumerated by the goals and targets under each of the 17 SDGs. And if these needs were not made available and their human rights to them are not protected, people must have venues to air their grievances so that they can act on their marginalization, oppression and exploitation and in the end feel their liberation.

24. In the age of what is called the Anthropocene, we need to assert the integrity of the ecological system—and as responsible human beings fight for the right of nature to be integrally sustainable. And do this as robustly as we fight for human rights. The anthropocentrism of how our human rights principles have developed must come to terms with the planetary requirements of human survivability. In the age of the Anthropocene we have tinkered so much with nature that nature’s own ability to regenerate has been breached and its integrity imperiled unless human intervention is curved and put in check. And those who have contributed the most to its peril have the greater responsibility—morally and resource-wise—to address such matters, not the least that of climate change.

What Needs to be Done?
25. In its previous statement, CoNGO has called upon the United Nations and Member States “to enter into a dialogue with civil society to create innovative partnerships that respond to the challenges of a changing world. The spirit of Agenda 2030 requires the robust participation of the peoples of the world so that the benefits of multilateralism are felt in their daily lives. Everyone must work in concert so that the United Nations we need for the world we want prospers in a rules-based international order. We call upon Member States to recognize the vast potential of civil society as an essential element of the international system, defining the present and shaping the future. We must dismantle the hurdles to physical and political access to United Nations processes, to achieve internationally agreed development
goals and social justice agendas….Humanity cannot wait.”

26. “The ‘Peoples’ who gave voice to the United Nations Charter and who see the Member States as their representatives are demanding that the world body rise to its commitments and bring about transformative change. Peace, justice and development depend on holistic, human-rights based, people-centred and gender-sensitive approaches to the systems underpinning our economy, society and
environment.”

27. “We must increase momentum to transform the world and ensure that no one is left behind.” This means addressing those issues or concerns that worry “We the peoples.” These are concerns invariably and clearly identified or alluded to in the draft and hopefully final People’s Charter coming out of this Summit, issues such as:

a. Climate Change: issues around global warming, its effects on the relations of people and planet, sustainability and viability of civilizational life itself.

b. Global Migration and massive displacement and movement of peoples: realizing that migration today is globalized but xenophobically nationalistic, securitized and militarized, ethnicized and othered, gendered and sexualized, commodified and commoditized, homogenized and hegemonized.

c. Global Violence: recognizing that the world’s peoples are not only wary and weary but frustrated and dying in this warring world, arming to the teeth, militarizing not only our borders but our social relations, putting people and planet encircled and occupied, endangered and in many different manners in death’s way. The aggression by Russia against Ukraine is but one of many wars of aggression and occupation that colonizers and imperial powers have fomented and subjected other peoples and lands over the course of centuries. Ending the scourge of war still is a blight in the multilateral undertaking.

28. We are a human species in deep need today of the things that flourish life and undergird abundant living. Even more urgently, we need things that extinguish the power of death and death-dealing forces and instruments that peddle violence. Ending the scourge of war, and the proliferation of implements of war, is urgent and necessary even as it is also the greatest failure of the multilateral undertaking.

And what can we do, to make the change, now?

29. What can we do, what must we do, to make visible the change we want and need, and now? Can we redo civics education so that it is relevant today? How about glocal civics education that engenders glocal citizenship? What would it entail to ratchet up the co-building of an eco-social world where no one is left behind? Let me suggest three areas that reimagine and transform civics:

a. Cultivate CIVIC VALUES, where obligations generated by the multiplicity of relations between and among peoples and nations go beyond traditional notions of national security and sovereignty, into ones that foster people’s security, human rights and global peace. Here we have to start fortifying our calls and acts for food security, water security, climate security, and the like.

b. (En)gender CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, where citizenry goes beyond national allegiances and sovereign assertions. In a global world and cosmological existence, we need global citizenry and human solidarity where human welfare and cosmological wellbeing are primordial over activities that sever our human relations and deal death rather than life—activities such as wars and extractive mining that generate other death-dealing activities and natural catastrophes and human-induced vulnerabilities, including climate change,
and contemporary manifestations of the historic evils of slavery, colonialism and racism.

c. Foster CIVIC ACTION, which is oriented towards social justice, so that every activity—from grassroots, local, national, regional, to international—by peoples, governments and multilateral institutions—redound to the improvement of the relations of peoples and nations, thus providing the possibility of (re)constituting ourselves—our relationships, associations, and communities—and readying all for catalytic leadership and transformative change.

30. Let me circle back to my initial statement that in our world today there is a surplus of fear and a deficit of hope. And the urgency to reverse this is acute and necessary. In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech of August 23, 1963, at the Lincoln memorial on the Washington, DC National Mall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exclaimed:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

31. That fierce urgency spoken of by Dr. King is a moment for us to seize—because the future is upon us now. The future is today. And vigorous and positive action is expected of us. That us is everyone. Each one of us has a stake in that future which is now. Time is of the essence. At such a time and space as ours, we must act—with determined voice and empowered agency. In a propitious time, and in a space where we have the capacity to act vigorously and positively, we must act collaboratively for the sufficiency and sustainability of the planet, and for peace and prosperity for all peoples.

32. On this day, the fierce urgency of now admonishes us to recognize the things that make for peace and brings justice so that we not only recover better for a sustainable and equitable world but recover justly and peaceably. And safely, for people and the planet. The human rights of peoples and the ecological health of the planet are at stake. And there is no time for delay. Because the future is now, we must make the change now.

Just peace, now.
Climate justice, now.
Health justice, now.
Vaccine justice, now.
Racial justice, now.
Economic justice, now.
Gender justice, now.
Migration justice, now.

33. The future of humanity is intertwined with the future of the planet. Now is time to demand that we look at both the pillage that social pandemics have visited upon us and address the lingering social, economic, political and cultural inequalities that trouble our peoples and lands. Now is time to be kind to one another—in or out of pandemics. Kindness is hard currency when fear is in surfeit and hope is in deficit.Let us make kindness available in all the ways we can as much as we can. Kindness is co-constitutive with solidarity. Kindness demonstrates our interdependencies in life and living, as one humanity in one planet.

34. Collaboration at all levels is needed if we are to triumph over crises across locales worldwide. Greater humility is required knowing that collaborative thinking and working far outweigh individual proclivities and comforts we have individually valued. In the time of the CoVID-19 pandemic, and the like, we must wash our hands, and wash them frequently and vigorously for our health and that of others.

35. But that is not the same case with social pandemics and injustices. We must not wash our hands as to diminish our complicity and entanglement with the injustices and unpeace that have sullied our human relations and endangered our planetary existence. Hope may be what holds life from death, peace from destruction. Let us recommit ourselves to an eco-social world that is just. Justice and just reparations
of our relations with each other and with the planet is doable now, in forms that are about mercy and compassion. Kindness is truly next to godliness. Let us be kind even as we limp our way to recovering better, justly and peaceably, towards a sustainable and equitable eco-social world.

Lisbon, Portugal
30 June 2022