Here's the second in our series of guest blogs, that will be published in the lead up to our conference, Reclaiming the Story, which will take place on Friday 12th May in the Croke Park Conference Centre.
We're asking leading figures across civil society 4 questions - around what they think of the challenges facing civil society, what NGOs need to change to fight these problems head on, how activists need to protect civil society space, and ultimately, how we can reclaim the story.
Today, we're delighted to feature Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer of Plan International.
Here are her answers to our four questions.
1. There is a sense of crisis in Europe and the US—that there is a major political shift going on that is challenging the concept of multilaterialism, of the human rights framework, and indeed the very idea of aid. Do you think that is the case, and if so, what is the most worrying aspect of that challenge?
There is certainly a worrying trend we have identified that appears to be riding a wave of populism. From the Mexico City policy to the shift away from individual rights within the highly conservative UN Human Rights Council resolution on Protection of the Family, we’re seeing progress on girls’ and women’s rights slowly rolling back. For an organisation that’s primary focus is on vulnerable children, especially girls, this is very worrying, and as a sector we need to challenge this rollback on rights every time we see it.
2. What do you think is the one most important change NGOs should make to adapt to this new political reality?
Anne-Birgitte answered questions 2 and 3 together
3. We know also that civil society space is shrinking wherever you look —what do you think is the most important thing we as activists should do to protect and defend it?
We need to work better together, take a stand on key issues as one voice, and support one another. The larger iNGOs like Plan International should use their size and scale to stand up for smaller NGOs, who are often more likely to be in the firing line. We should use our combined strength more often, and set aside thoughts of who gets their name and brand first on the ticket.
I also believe that the future lies in working better with our colleagues in the private sector. As the global world we live and operate in becomes increasingly fragmented and full of greater threat, the common interests of the civil and private sector will only grow larger. Populism sure does make for strange bedfellows.
But let’s be careful these discussions don’t become solely about us and civil society. We must continue to focus our efforts on those we represent.
4. We’re aiming to “reclaim the story”—what do you think INGOs need to do to more effectively tell our stories?
We must become a sector where transparency is a core value, or we will lose the trust of all those who give their support, and fail to build the new relationships crucial for us to survive. We must continue to let those we represent – in our case boys and girls – tell their own stories, work on the issues they raise (not what we think is important), and – critically – make sure they are part of the solution.