Friday 24th October 2014: How Can NGOs Build People's Power?

Question:  How can NGOs Build People’s Power?

·       How can we make the voices and actions of people be at the heart of our work as Civil Society Organisations?

·       How can we build open Civil Society Organisations that rely as much on the dynamics on our streets and in our villages?

·       How can we build global solidarity around freedoms of expression and self organisations? 


Constitutional Provisions

·       The Kenyan Constitution makes explicit provisions on the right to access information, expressed in Article 33 and 35:

·       Article 33 (1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression which includes:

·       Freedom to seek, receive, or impart information or ideas

·       Article 35 (1) Every citizen has the right of access to –

·       Information held by the state.

·       (3) The state shall publish and publicise any information affecting the nation.

Outline of Key Facts

Six decades after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, creating a global covenant affirming the fact that ‘all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights,’ the vision lies in tatters, made worthless by the ever-increasing chasm between haves and have-nots.

Today our world is polarised into the 1% who control the world’s resources and the 99% who are on the receiving end of an unprecedented pillage of people’s labour, their lands and livelihoods. The confluence of disasters and crises (including climate change, poverty, inequality, wars) has brought our planet and the human species to the edge of a precipice.

Around the world, ordinary people are losing trust in the global governance system.  They have little faith in elected governments and public institutions. They do not believe that big corporations tell them the truth. They see the international intergovernmental system as irrelevant at best and ineffectual at worst.  They experience it as a system established to regulate the rules that are beholden to powerful predatory economic and political elites.

Yet still they dream of equality and rights.  Indeed, beyond dreaming, many actively fight for it in their daily lives.  Across all continents, people rise up on the streets, in slums and villages and towns and cities, in protest to demand jobs and decent education and health for their communities.

They have done so to end corruption, they have marched to demand participation in the decisions that affect their lives and they have risen to demand basic services like water and sanitation. At the very heart of their struggle lies their refusal to accept the glaring inequality that sits at the heart of the new world order.

Sadly, those of us who work in civil society organisations nationally and globally have come to be identified as part of the problem.  We are the poor cousins of the global jet set.  We exist to challenge the status quo, but we trade in incremental change.  Our actions are clearly not sufficient to address the mounting anger and demand for systemic political and economic transformation that we see in cities and communities around the world every day.

A new and increasingly connected generation of women and men activists across the globe question how much of our energy is trapped in the internal bureaucracy and the comfort of our brands and organisations.  They move quickly, often without the kinds of structures that slow us down.  In doing so, they challenge how much time we – you and I – spend in elite conferences and tracking policy cycles that have little or no outcomes for the poor.

They criticise how much we look up to those in power rather than see the world through the eyes of our own people. Many of them, sometimes rightfully, feel we have become just another layer of the system and development industry that perpetuates injustice.

Our Resolutions

We need a meaningful commitment to a set of global organising principles and a model for the world we want. These must include:

  • Insisting that the voices and actions of people are at the heart of our work.  Our primary accountability cannot be to donors.  Instead it must be to everyone that is or has been on the losing end of globalisation and inequality and to the generation that will inherit a catastrophic future.
  • Consciously constructing our organisations around women and men of diverse ideological identities to fight corporatism within our own ranks.  This means re-balancing power dynamics towards the less resourced sections of civil society and away from large international civil society organisations.  It also means recognising the power and importance of informal networks and associations.  Our resources and might matter, but so too, does the wisdom of the street.
  • Lay the foundations to build global people-to-people solidarity from below and a united front of active citizens. Without organised peoples’ movements’ support, the institutions we build will lack understanding of the very people we claim to serve. Without a radical re-think of the way we organise, global campaigns will be denied the support they require to consolidate the new societies that we all wish to build.
  • Promote and protect media, civic and democratic space for citizens to self-organise, express themselves and take action.

Key Resources:

·       Open to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders:

·       The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

·       World Bank Poverty Estimates:

·       Inequality is the biggest threat to the world and needs to be tackled now: