By Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR
Dubai is not the most obvious place to discuss the future of civil society. The future of skyscrapers and vanity engineering projects, maybe, but I arrived in Dubai for the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda earlier this month as civil society was under threat in many parts of the Middle East.
The arguably inauspicious setting did nothing to thwart a lively debate that illuminated both the threats facing civil society and also the remarkable opportunities the sector has before it.
The World Economic Forum has, for the past five years, convened more than 75 Global Agenda Councils in the United Arab Emirates to debate key questions on topics ranging from water to Japan to design. My Council was charged with the task of identifying crucial questions that will shape the role of civil society around the world over the coming decade.
Over the course of three days, three key questions emerged:
In my view, the latter position is crucial to solving the big challenges before us. As COP-18 unfolds in Doha over the coming days, we will again see evidence that governments are unable to “solve” issues like climate. In this context, a “pure” approach that fails to take advantage of opportunities for collaboration is not likely to maximize impact. It is certainly up to individual organizations to decide how they choose to balance collaboration and challenge, but what is most needed is a diverse ecosystem of civil society organizations that cover the full spectrum of strategies..
As it turned out, Dubai and the broader Middle East were a very apt location for this meeting. Change is sweeping the region, just the like the NGO world, with a desire for a more fluid social structure taking shape in fits and starts. Over the long run, successful NGOs will employ multiple strategies, become more global in perspectives, and need to figure out how to use social media to their advantage. Some will figure it out more quickly than others, just as newspapers, political figures and businesses have (or have not).
We are in an era when a sector committed to changing other institutions will also have to change from within.
KEYWORDS: People, Social Action & Community Engagement, BSR, Business for Social Responsibility, World Economic Forum Global Agenda, WEF, civil society, aron cramer, Dubai