SOS! Global civil society gathers to “Seek Out Solutions” to the world’s toughest problems

August 22, 2010

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What could a politician from Mozambique, a community leader from Nepal,a journalist from the United Kingdom and me possibly have in common? A whole lot it turns out! For one, we’re all here in Montréal, Canada with 700 more colleagues from 94 countries at the 9th CIVICUS World Assembly — a gathering of civil society leaders and our partners in governments and the private sector committed to positive social change.

The conference is an SOS! call to get serious about practical solutions to the interconnected issues of economic justice, development effectiveness and climate change — all issues close to Mercy Corps’ heart. It’s at once a sophisticated conversation about implementation of political agreements and a very human conversation about the impact of aid on real people’s lives. And that’s the point — that global civil society and its organizations bring proven local solutions and critical leadership to global relief and development decision-making.

The word “solutions” can be so daunting; it sounds long-term and all-encompassing, not something in the control of any one individual facing gigantic global challenges. Yet, as the CIVICUS Twitter feed shows, there’s a lot of learning, relationship building and real-time action having immediate impact as well as laying the foundation for longer-term efforts:

  • “Learning a technique to create political will and awareness on poverty and climate justice.”
  • “Excellent case study triggered discussion on building sustainable partnerships and developing solutions.”
  • “Just met someone from Indonesia who can advise on our climate work in Sri Lanka!”

The assembly’s venue in Montréal also offers the chance to learn from this city’s great models of collaboration between civil society and government. For example, in a workshop today on youth participation in governance, I learned about a $1.4 million annual fund in which public monies are managed by a youth network for youth-led (and youth prioritized!) programs in the city. Through this mechanism, the youth network and its grantees are learning the ropes of government reporting and constituent representation at the same time that communities get tangible benefits that could not have been dreamed up by anyone other than the youth groups themselves.

The young woman from Colombia I was sitting next to was furiously scribbling notes and literally ran up to the presenters afterwards to learn how she could adapt their idea back home. In the same session, people were eager to learn about Mercy Corps’ Global Citizen Corps program and the linkages between youth in the United States, United Kingdom, Middle East and elsewhere educating themselves for local action.

For me, I’m taking away fresh energy, best practice ideas and potential partnerships I’ll share with Mercy Corps colleagues around the world — from our Mongolia team’s leadership with policy makers, to our Jordan team’s work with disabled people’s organizations, to our Sudan team’s support to women leading community-based organizations. They’re the ones forging the real solutions.

Find out more about CIVICUS and watch sessions of the World Assembly at, or tune into the BBC’s “World Have Your Say” program aired live from the World Assembly on Monday, August 23 at 12:30pm Eastern Time at