"The growing threat to multilateralism" - Deirdre de Burca

29 april 2019

This is the sixth contribution in a series of blogs that will be published in the lead up to the Dóchas Conference 2019 – Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty – on 2 May 2019 in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Find out more.

We are asking leaders, innovators and thinkers working in the areas of equality, justice and development to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference - the key challenges facing international cooperation and how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way.

Today, we are delighted to feature Deirdre de Burca, Advocacy Coordinator of Forus, an innovative global network empowering civil society for effective social change. Find out more.

Read the other blogs in this series.

Deirdre's Responses

What do you see as the main challenge facing international cooperation between now and 2030?

The main challenge to international cooperation between now and 2030 is the growing threat to multilateralism. This term traditionally described relations between nation states, but increasingly includes other relevant actors who have a stake in governance at the international level.

Civil society has become an important participant and stakeholder both outside of, and within, the multilateral system. Progressive civil society, while very active at local levels, is cosmopolitan in its orientation and increasingly forms a key pillar of the international system, supporting and defending democratic values, universal human rights, as well as facilitating and promoting the achievement of shared goals. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) understand the value of international institutions that have been created to enable nations and people to solve conflicts, to tackle issues that are transboundary and interdependent in nature and to anticipate challenges through an inclusive and rules-based system.

Unfortunately, the rise of populist, illiberal and nationalistic governments and associated civic groups in different parts of the world threatens to undermine the existing multi-lateral system and the progressive, politically liberal values underpinning it (e.g. respect for opposing viewpoints, the rule of law, regard for minorities, individual rights, freedom and respect for the media, etc.).

What role can civil society play in overcoming this challenge, and how will civil society need to change to achieve this?

CSOs increasingly operate through a developing global architecture of international, regional, sub-regional and national level civil society networks, which enable them to transmit information effectively, exchange learning, identify best practices and engage in collective strategizing. These capacities mean that civil society can play an important role in acting as opinion makers, working with governments, international institutions and other relevant actors to push back against the regressive and illiberal trends that have become evident in recent years.

There is no room for complacency on the part of progressive civil society, governments and other actors who wish to halt the undermining of the multi-lateral system. They must join forces with other stakeholders to resist these trends and to strengthen, consolidate, and reform the current international multilateral system. The Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an excellent framework for jointly achieving these aims.

For its part, civil society needs to mobilise, self-organise and promote its increased connectivity across all regions of the world and at all levels. It needs to work with progressive governments, international institutions and like-minded donors, with the aim of safeguarding and improving the international multilateral system. Civil society needs to develop a contemporary public narrative for itself in challenging times to reinforce the relevance and effectiveness of the sector, and to encourage greater public understanding, and support for the work of CSOs. Civil society must also develop its power, capacities, and future impact through identifying and learning from the successful strategies and approaches used by other influential sectors.

How do we bring the public along with us to believe in and champion the importance of international cooperation?

There is a clear need for civil society and other actors to promote greater levels of public awareness of and support for international cooperation. This will require building a coherent narrative framework to stimulate increased public interest in and engagement with international cooperation. The narrative could also emphasize the plurality of roles of international development NGOs, the broad scope of their activities, the values informing their work and associated public benefits. Much wider provision of global citizenship education by civil society could also help to increase public awareness of international development. In this regard, civil society has much to learn from new approaches to “hope-based communication”, which can help to engage the public in a much more positive way with international cooperation and the challenges surrounding it.  

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas.

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The Dóchas Conference 2019 - Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty - will take place on 2 May 2019, 2pm - 5.30pm, in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Registration from 1.30pm - 2pm. The Conference will explore the key challenges facing international cooperation between now and 2030. It will provide a space for discussion and new ideas about how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way. Speakers include Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, and Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, and more.

Find out more and register.

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