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This is a report of Forum International de Montréal’s (FIM) Annual Forum "Civil Society’s Impact on the Multilateral Sphere: Lessons Learned and Future Directions", held in March, 2007 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Forum objectives were to: define the challenges and opportunities facing future Civil Society Organization/Non Governmental Organization (CSO/NGO) relations with multilateral bodies and systems; identify the present and emerging governance issues and priorities arising from these challenges and opportunities; and identify concrete means by which CSOs/NGOs can address these issues in the coming five years.
For two days, leading civil society practitioners and academics focused on these objectives. They examined the challenges and opportunities for civil society relations within the contexts of the changing, often nebulous and opaque, “post-911”, global and regional multilateral systems and of emerging new phenomena such as the rise of a global civil society, resource capture, and politics of identity. Important patterns of change were discerned in these discussions, including: the growing rich/poor gap; the power of information technology to change global civil society; the growing priority of climate change; the erosion of global multilateralism; the rising southern powers; the new, more visible, role of Islamic civil society; and the emergence of China as a superpower. Participants identified two major interrelated issues critical to successful CSO/multilateral engagement: closing the existing knowledge gaps on all aspects of multilateralism and civil society and strengthening issue-based, proactive CSO leadership. These two means of engagement were seen to be critical for strengthening CSO legitimacy and accountability.
In their efforts to see beyond the horizon, participants were able to put into focus some quasi-invisible trends that are bound to shape FIM’s work in the immediate future and beyond.
Three major observations stand out. First, international civil society is increasingly moving its advocacy from global multilateral bodies to regional bodies, a shift which FIM will investigate more closely in preparation for next year’s Forum in Addis Ababa. Second, there is a growing need for stronger civil society leadership, an issue many NGOs are reluctant to face, but which is a clear prerequisite for dealing in a complex and changing environment. Third, the entry of China into Africa, coupled with clear evidence of a burgeoning and autonomous civil society within China, opens up new concerns and opportunities for FIM and similar bodies.
Source: Montréal International Forum