Civil society finds its voice

Marcie Shaoul

The Commonwealth People’s Forum provides a unique opportunity for citizens to directly engage in discussions on today’s pressing issues with each other and the policy-makers who shape the international agenda.

It’s not every day that as an active member of civil society you have the opportunity to sit down with foreign ministers and tell them exactly what is wrong with society and why it needs changing. It’s not every day that they sit opposite you – at the same table, in the same room – and respond to the issues that are inhibiting international development. It’s not every day that you get a real chance to change the world.

That’s exactly what happened at the 2011 Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Perth in October. Over 300 delegates from around the world took part in workshops on issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, education, trade and culture. Working with others from across the globe highlighted the similarities and differences civil society practitioners face in their own regions. The participants worked together to develop proposals and recommendations that would be most beneficial to Commonwealth member states.

For the first time in its history, the CPF branched out tentatively into social media, makin the 2011 Forum more relevant and reaching out to a new audience. It is this kind of outreach that must be capitalised on when looking ahead to the 2013 People’s Forum. With a virtual link across the Commonwealth, think how many people could be represented in that room with ministers. And think how powerful that could be.

Being involved in a recorded dialogue with representatives from 42 foreign ministries was a significant nod to civil society and the CPF. It is hoped that governments will indeed address some of the matters that make a difference to ordinary people’s lives. But the CPF is not just about a ministerial dialogue, it is an opportunity for Commonwealth citizens to increase their networks and be seen, heard and understood.

About the author:

Marcie Shaoul is Head of External Affairs at the Commonwealth Foundation


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