That is the question posed by the Dóchas CEO, Suzanne Keatinge, at an inspirational conference held in Dublin in May with the theme “Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty."
Suzanne opened the conference by reminding the attendees of the fundamental role the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are playing. She spoke powerfully about how the SDGs are a “positive, hopeful vision” that demand we work together. Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s), she said, must reflect on whether they are doing enough. And she emphasised the new Irish Aid global development policy A Better World, and the role CSO’s have in in assisting Irish Aid in delivering their ambitious policy.
Justin Kilcullen, former Executive Director of Trócaire, chaired the first panel which focused on how civil society can counter growing uncertainty to bring about social change, and the challenges and opportunities for international NGO’s.
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, touched the audience in her contribution. She said: “We all have to think deeply about three things…people, power and partnerships. We’ll leave no one behind but those working with those furthest behind find it under attack."
Ms Albrechtsen reminded the gathering that as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), we need to keep those who we serve in mind. “We represent the people, but do the people feel represented by us?” she asked.
As the Plan CEO delved further into the topic, she stressed how we must witness “social, economic, political revolution in next 13 years to achieve them.“
“It is evident that change is needed and a deep transformation is required. Any of us protecting the status quo will not be achieving the SDG’s.
If we’re not willing to do anything different today…we’re cementing the status quo and the SDGs remain a dream.’
She added: “We need to leave ego by the door – importance of partnerships highlighted in order to achieve this 2030 dream.”
Albrectsen spoke about the need to bring the public along through youth activism, global citizenship and stressed the importance of this when designing campaigns to engage and create global citizens.
Plan International have recently worked closely with youth activists to steer and design campaigns creating a disruptive approach that ensured young voices were at the forefront of the rollout. Interestingly, she declared that Plan left “their logo at the door” and admitted “we can’t do it alone”.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, described the radical transformation that is needed to tackle economic inequality, climate change, conflict and other major global challenges.
“We cannot do what we have always done.” said Byanyima, calling on CSOs to step up.
She agreed with Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen about the power of youth and pointed to the recent Climate Change marches. Youth are taking action, she said, and leadership opportunities must be there.
Main takeaways from this panel: Let go of brand arms race that can often define NGO campaigns and become alliances.
The second conference panel focussed on how CSO’s can bring the Irish public along with them in this time of uncertainty. Chaired by Grace Milton, Associate Director of the Public Affairs Strategy Division in Edelman, contributors included John Concannon, outgoing Director General of Global Ireland, Kate Norgrove from Purpose and Ciarán O’Gaora, Founder of Zero-G.
Speakers said that effective story-telling, using tangible stories with positive impact, will help bring public support for CSO ambitions. John Concannon said the Wild Atlantic Way, and the Governments Global Ireland policy, were good examples of campaigns with purpose. Key components of a successful campaign include always having action, making it personal, and having different levels of action too, he said.
Global Citizen and Youth Officer, Rachel Meagher from GOAL shares her learnings from the Dóchas Conference