Over five continuous days, more than one thousand participants from 135 countries around the globe, representing various social organisations in an international civil society gathering met in the city of Glasgow in Britain. The meeting was sponsored by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. CIVICUS is an international organisation, established in 1993 for the protection and the support of community participation in public affairs. The annual meeting aims at exchanging expertise and experiences between civil society organisations around the globe as well as coordinating their efforts to find solutions for the issues that confront humanity through activating the citizens' role and involving them in contributing to solve some of these urgent global problems.
This year, the meeting focused on the concept of "accountability", that of NGOs and governments, and included the dimensions, implications, impediments and implementation of accountability mechanisms.
One of the events at the Assembly was the Poverty Requiem, performed by a mass choir to highlight the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) and the Millennium Campaign’s efforts in the fight against poverty as one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals’ aims is the reduction of poverty by the year 2015. Governments and major companies are being asked to take effective responsibility in facing this global humanitarian issue on all levels. As statistics indicate, one person out of every five individuals in the world lives in extreme poverty, most of whom are in Africa and Asia. There are also 77 million children who cannot go to primary school, and 218 million children are forced to work for a living. The conference participants suggested several projects and programmes which are - through testing - believed to be more effective than the traditional programmes of the United Nations or governments, and demanded that there should be active civic participation to address this issue.
Another significant even at this special meeting was the launch of a report about the state of civil society in the world, including 54 countries studied in the latest version. The report is considered one of the most precise reports in the world in monitoring and studying the state of civil society. Specialists from different social levels such as academics, media-figures, researchers and social workers collected and analysed detailed information through dialogue sessions and research which included civil society organisations in the countries concerned. The result is a detailed and comprehensive report which also contains proposals and recommendations for the development of civil society in that state.
The participating NGOs were very varied and numerous and provide a huge variety of services for the people in their communities, where volunteers work hard to ensure no gaps are left unfilled in benefiting their target groups. Some of the issues covered by these organisations included:
Caring for the elderly
Migrants and refugees
Ethnic and religious diversity
The meeting was attended by very few Arabs, which was a pity and reflects the lack of effectiveness of the civic community in most Arab countries. Even though there was a significant presence from several developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Middle Eastern participation in the forum did not exceed 5% of the total participants, while 24% were from Asia, 34% from Europe, 19% from Africa and 10% from Latin American.
In the opening session, participants stressed the importance of moving from the stage of formulating international agreements with governments since that did not limit the violation of public freedom and human rights, stressing the fact that significant growth in the role of civil society institutions will contribute to limiting these violation and abuses.
A debate was held on the concept of "accountability", its legal, administrative, financial, social and political aspects as well as monitoring the evolution of this concept in the last decade where it clearly came to concern larger segments of institutions and civil society organisations.
In a meeting devoted to the relationship between the media and civil society, the participants stressed the rise in the use of modern technology and alternative media such as the internet, mobile phones and others that have proven their ability as instant conveyors of a message or image. They also stressed the need for civil society organisations to provide honest and objective material for the media in order to create positive cooperation between these institutions and the media instead of perpetuating the incompatibility between them.
Other meetings in the conference addressed issues of financing for civil society institutions, their relationship with their donors and developing mutual cooperation between them. They brought up the issue of so-called "Smart Financing" through the use of modern technology to facilitate the process of disbursing and accounting for funds. They also pointed to the importance of effective accountability in these relationships, which is considered one of the most sensitive areas between donors and the beneficiaries.
Another meeting concentrated on the effectiveness of local government and how people and groups can contribute by following up and monitoring the administrative, organisational and political decisions. The participants also discussed the administrative obstacles that are imposed by central authorities or the inefficiency of the local authorities and need for the community to ask for guarantees in regard to the continuity and sustainability of development projects.
The meeting ended with serious and important dialogues on the future role that could be played by civil society organisations at the global level, not without self-criticism of the organisations that bear some organisational and planning problems and are unable to promote "accountability" from within.
But many voices called for the creation of effective and transparent partnerships between public and private organisations as these are required to develop strategies aimed at activating the participation and oversight capacity at the local level.