These Are Civil Society’s Top 3 Priorities In Davos For A World In Crisis


By David Sangokoya, Head of Civil Society Impact, World Economic Forum, and Louise Thompson, Community Lead, Civil Society , World Economic Forum

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, geopolitical fracturing and now a recession, civil society leaders continue to tirelessly serve those who need them.

From advocates for racial and gender-based freedoms to nonprofits groups helping their communities keep the lights on and food on the table, their resilience is difficult to overstate — particularly as they themselves often face the very same issues they are working to resolve for others.

This resilience is a testament to the courage of civil society leadership around the world, enabled by the actions of governments and businesses that recognise the importance of civil space and investing in the future of civil participation.

Strengthening resilience and finding cooperation in a fragmented world is central to this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.

Civil society brings inclusion to the heart of multi-stakeholder cooperation, ensuring business, government and coalitions deliver meaningful impact and equitable solutions.

A shared agenda for Davos 2023

Despite the diversity of their missions, the civil society leaders attending the Annual Meeting share some similar outlooks for making social progress in the year ahead, and are bringing three shared agendas to the table in Davos:

1. Pursuing equity in the face of multiplying crises.

If the past three years have taught us anything, it is the importance of pursuing racial, climate and digital equity — and not necessarily in a siloed way. The civil society leaders attending Davos this year know this.

In the US, Black families still earn about 13 cents for every dollar held by white families. When it comes to income, health, education quality and incarceration, Black Americans have only seen an improvement of 0.1% since 2020.

Issues of racial inequity are not unique to the US, and they frequently overlap with climate justice and the digital divide. Society’s most vulnerable are often most affected by climate events and are less digitally included — that’s why tackling one of these issues often means tackling them all.

The announcement at COP27 of a new loss and damage fund, following years of significant civil society mobilisation, was a positive step forward on the climate front — but without concerted action to phase out and end the use of fossil fuels, climate justice can only go so far in protecting the vulnerable.

Over 46% of the world’s population lack reliable, affordable access to the internet. From education, to health to finance, access to the internet is an essential part of civil life. Without it, marginalised communities fall further behind, racial or identity-based inequalities are entrenched and climate resilience is hindered.

Opposition to racial, climate and digital inequity is a shared foundation of all civil society leaders attending Davos. During the meeting, they will join efforts such as the Global Health Equity Network, the Inclusive Trade and Investment Initiative, the Nature Action Agenda, the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship and the Advancing Indigenous Knowledge and Leadership Network, as well as a number of sessions focused on addressing social vulnerabilities.

2. Safeguarding meaningful economic futures for all.

Roughly 70% of CEOs in the United States agree that environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles improve financial performance. However, as inflation persists and recession looms, 59% of CEOs are planning to either pause or reconsider their ESG commitments and 51% are planning employee layoffs.

The pending 2023 recession will test the private sector’s commitment to social responsibility. Civil society, consumer groups and corporate citizenship champions continue to push for worker-centric protections similar to the beginnings of the pandemic, greater corporate environmental responsibility and consumer-inclusive solutions to resolving the energy crisis.

Civil society mobilisation during the COP27 and COP15 meetings underscored the need for accelerating just transitions across economies. Quality jobs and social inclusion from the shift to net-zero will not materialise by default or by one actor alone; trade unions, consumer groups, indigenous leaders and other local communities are key stakeholders that will define these transitions and avoid “just transition washing.”

This is critical in emerging markets and developing economies, many of which face limited resources and access to investment.

Civil society leaders attending Davos are united in their focus on economic equity — whether that means reskilling and upskilling or providing new, quality jobs where those that need them live.

In Davos, civil society leaders will join efforts including 100 Million Farmers, the Jobs Consortium, the Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative and a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives on climate action, biodiversity loss, food systems, just transitions, oceans and water.

3. Upholding civil freedoms and human rights.

According to the recent CIVICUS State of Civil Society report, there has been both progress and pushback on civil freedoms and human rights in the past three years.

Women’s movements have pushed significant policy changes in San Marino, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico on sexual and reproductive rights — in stark contrast to developments in the US and Poland. Civil society activism also led to repeals in laws discriminating against LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica, Singapore and Chile. The easing of COVID-19 restrictions brought considerable regional and global visibility for human rights movements as activists came back on the streets, even in places where the freedoms of association, expression and assembly are under threat.

However, the recent brutal deaths of Mahsa Amini, Mar’Quis Jackson, Claudia Díaz Pérez, Edwin Chiloba, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini are tragic reminders of the ongoing threats that all excluded groups — including women, LGBTQI+ people, indigenous people, migrants and refugees — continue to face.

Civil freedoms and human rights for all, no matter an individual’s identity, are fundamental to the ideals of all civil society leaders attending this year’s Annual Meeting. During the meeting, they will contribute to several sessions, including Gender Parity for Economic Recovery, Driving LGBTQI+ Resilience through Equity, Taking Stock of 75 Years of Human Rights and Keeping Faith, in addition to their ongoing engagement on these issues across the Forum’s multi-stakeholder initiatives.

Civil society in Davos and beyond

Leaders from NGOs, media, social enterprises, academia, trade unions, indigenous community, faith-based and religious groups will represent civil society in Davos, joining other leaders to find meaningful steps forward in the midst of overlapping crises.

From racial justice to economic empowerment, and from the climate crisis to health equity, these leaders’ shared outlooks and agendas will bring a powerful message at this year’s Annual Meeting.

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