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 an Eco-Social World held online from June 29 to July 2, 2022

by Liberato C. Bautista, CoNGO President

Introductory Remarks

  1. Thank you, Priska Fleischlin, 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 critical global undertaking—a people’s global summit “to share…solutions to our joint challenges so that all people can live with confidence, security, and peace in a sustainable world.”
  2. The draft People’s Charter that will emerge from 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 rights have been eroded in instances. 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, they are adding to the millions more displaced by conflict and violence. The governments that made these commitments have prioritized competition over collaboration and 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 of the issues that keep people worried all day and awake all night. The draft Charter identified “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 anniversary next year, we have added the 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 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: “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: First, the surplus of fear and a deficit of hope in today’s world. Second, the need to revisit multilateralism as an arrangement of global collaboration and delivery mechanism for achieving global public goods and goals. Third is the need for a robust, protected, transnational civil society co-constitutive with solid multilateralism. Fourth, what makes an eco-social world worth building together so that no one is left behind?

The Surplus of Fear and the Deficit of Hope

  1. 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 mainly on empowering the voice and agency of people 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 the planet’s sustainability.
  2. 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 people 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, and we must decrease fear and increase hope in that eco-social world we are building together.
  3. To decrease fear, we must reaffirm that human dignity and rights are non-negotiables. That human dignity is inherent in every person—persons being rights holders—and 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 government impunity, indeed of state agents, who otherwise may conduct themselves with impunity as to violate and sully people’s dignity without fear of being accountable and punished.
  4. To increase hope, we must build a shared 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 genuinely put people and the planet at the center of 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

  1. Second, the need to revisit, revise and transform multilateralism as an arrangement of global collaboration among an assortment of varied players focused on addressing the production and development of shared public goods collaboratively, 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 ensures the viability of the planet.
  2. As we know today, multilateralism will no longer suffice for that catalytic and transformative change. It must be revisited, rebooted, rewired, or 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.
  3. The challenge to multilateralism today is not only that the world’s problems have exponentially multiplied compared to the imagination of those who forged the Peace of Westphalia in mid 17th century. That provenance of modern multilateralism endowed 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!
  4. 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. Today’s international interest 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.
  5. Multilateralism works, but only if the intention to involve civil society moves from rhetoric to reality. By civil society here, I mean its broadest meaning—all the world’s peoples in their varied settings and configurations, including as citizens, people on the move, and 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. The reality here means allotting time for them to speak and be heard in 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 that cannot be ignored in the pursuit of common and global agendas—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

  1. Third, the recognition that the need for a robust and protected civil society is co-constitutive of strong multilateralism at the global and national levels. NGOs, CSOs, and grassroots organizations are placed on 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. The CIVICUS report identified five key current trends of global significance: A) Rising fuel and food costs 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.
  4. CoNGO, in its public statements, echoes CIVICUS’s refrain on 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. Still, 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 full access to United Nations bodies to allow the fullest contributions of their competencies, expertise, energy, and experience.”
  5. It is about time the UN and its member states are seized of the political will (of its people and citizens) to achieve the future we want and the world we need. Formulations of these are already being expressed multifariously by the world’s peoples in various 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) “We will leave no one behind…The peoples have to be at the center of all our efforts.” B) “We will place women and girls at the center.” C) “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.”
  6. 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. Their views are heard 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.
  7. What matters to me as an NGO leader—as CoNGO President in particular—is that NGO representatives can speak their voice, even in their language, and claim their agency in the settings that present the realities of their localities—be the grassroots, local, national, regional or global arenas. This includes the essential role of CSOs, critical social movements (CSMs), and other civic organizations vying for public attention and rallying for support for action on pressing social, economic, and political issues. 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 to multiply our collective power and potential to influence public opinion, affect policy formulation, and effect transformative change.
  8. 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 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 significantly that we employ methods of work that reflect the diversity of the transnational and transborder composition of who the world’s peoples are and how they struggle, organize and mobilize themselves for action.

Making Human Security and Planetary Sustainability Matter, Together

  1. 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, jobs are secured as much as justice is advanced, and land is secured as much as liberation is advanced. At its barest minimum, an eco-social world must be secure for people: a) Food and freedom, b) Jobs and justice, and c) Land and liberation.
  2. This formulation adheres to the indivisibility of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights. Easier said than done. Mainly because these are both human rights and human needs receiving the least 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 suppose these needs are not made available, and their human rights are not protected. In that case, people must have venues to air their grievances to act on their marginalization, oppression, and exploitation and, ultimately, feel their liberation.
  3. In the age of 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 ability to regenerate has been breached, and its integrity is 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?

  1. 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 changing world challenges. The spirit of Agenda 2030 requires the robust participation of the world’s people 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.”
  2. “The ‘Peoples’ who gave voice to the United Nations Charter and 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-centered, and gender-sensitive approaches to the systems underpinning our economy, society, and environment.”
  3. “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 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 centuries. Ending the scourge of war still is a blight in the multilateral undertaking.
  4. We are a human species in deep need today of the things that flourish life and undergird abundant living. Even more urgently, we need something that extinguishes 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?

  1. What can we do, what must we do, to make visible the change we want and need 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 well-being are primordial over activities that sever our human relations and deal with 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 historical 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.
  2. Let me come 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.”
  3. 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; we have a stake in that future now. Time is of the essence. At such a time and space as ours, we must act—with a determined voice and empowered agency. In an auspicious time and in a space where we can affect vigorously and positively, we must work collaboratively for the sufficiency and sustainability of the planet and peace and prosperity for all peoples.
  4. On this day, the fierce urgency of now admonishes us to recognize the things that make for peace and bring justice so that we recover better for a sustainable and equitable world and recover justly and peaceably. And safely for people and the planet. The human rights of people and the planet’s ecological health are at stake. And there is no time for delay.
  5. 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.
  6. The future of humanity is intertwined with the planet’s future. Now is the time to demand that we look at 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 the 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, and kindness demonstrates our interdependencies in life and living as one humanity on one planet.
  7. Collaboration at all levels is needed 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 frequently and vigorously for our health and that of others.
  8. However, that is not the same with social pandemics and injustices. We must not wash our hands 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 and peace from destruction. Let us recommit ourselves to an eco-social world that is just. Justice and just reparations for our relations with each other and the planet are doable now in mercy and compassion. Kindness is indeed 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 2023