Highlights of the Civil Society forum organized during the 56th Session of the Commission for Social Development
By Kaitlin Drape – Dianova representatives were present at the Civil Society Forum of the 56th Session of the Commission for Social Development that took place on Friday, February 2, 2018 on the topic, “Social Protection, Including Floors: A preeminent strategy to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development for all.” The Forum is a yearly opportunity for civil society from around the world to get together and renew our commitments to advance social development in the international agenda. With a mix of panel discussions and breakout sessions, the Forum was an excellent opportunity to interact with peers and with UN policy-makers.
Social protection has been a recurring issue when we discuss social development. Everyone, in every nation, regardless of their migratory status, gender, religious, ethnicity, age or any other criteria, deserves to live in dignity, with access to basic services and benefits such as health, education, unemployment benefits, housing, etc.
The importance of policy-making to ensure social protection
Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), spoke in the Forum about the importance of an integrated framework for establishing a cross-disciplinary policy structure that joins social, economic and environmental organizations. She pointed out that if we develop strong social policy frameworks nationally and internationally, then rights will be implemented both on a social, economic and environmental protections. Developing strong policies and norms will help ensure that we can succeed in establishing social protections, with civil society being a true partner in the building of this framework.
Ms. Bas key question focused on the integration of different areas of policy making into a unified framework. But because policy-making tends to be specialized and divided into disciplines, “no clear framework has emerged” which integrates many areas of specialization into unified policy making. This is the challenge facing governments, the United Nations, as well as non-governmental organizations. The 2030 Agenda “has given us a clear global action plan for social inclusion and eradication of inequalities” so that these disparities cannot continue increasing as, in fact, economies are growing.
Different problems require different approaches. For example, one part of the world is getting younger, as in Africa, while other parts are getting older, as in the western nations, and each condition requires different protections to be in place. It is important to emphasize the phrase “leave no one behind,” and take steps to fulfill it. Through a unified framework, “we can together deliver policy tools that can address social inclusion,” she said.
But there is a gap between policy-making and implementation of the policies as well as monitoring to determine where is it still weak and to see how the civil society can impact for the well-being of the communities. If an activist group finds a policy is not being implemented, she recommended, gather together the information, create potential options, and then be heard by policy makers by proposing a specific solution to the problem presented.
Engaging with the Private sector
Civil society should also work with the private sector, said Kerry Gibson, president of Ecocentury Technologies, a Canadian company specializing in ethical and sustainable technologies. She spoke enthusiastically about the potential relationship between NGOs and the private sector.
She acknowledged that there has been a “long history of sensitivities” between civil society groups and the private sector but said she believed it was possible to arrive at a new stage, and “figure out where the gaps are” in social development and how the private sector “can help with those next steps” and put a “business lens on a philanthropic purpose.”
She said that public-private partnerships can be a way of energizing NGOs as a way to guide social development, inclusion and poverty eradication.
Ms. Gibson spoke of Canada as an example of a country that has made a commitment to social protections. Prime Minister Trudeau has, for instance, recently made a pledge to the indigenous communities to make reparations for their treatment throughout Canada’s history. She gave an example of how civil society worked with the private sector in Canada to reduce the homeless population in one city by providing homes and an opportunity to rejoin society. In this case, government, NGOs, and the private sector came together to build houses and to encourage the homeless to get off the streets. The result was that they were brought into society, felt pride, and “became engaged and employed.” It provided a practical model for how this joint partnership can be accomplished.
She encouraged NGOs to not feel that by dealing with the private sector they are “selling out.” “Just negotiate,” she said. “Tell them what you want and tackle the problems together.” In the end, when the private sector feels good about what’s been done, the more they will partner with NGOs to achieve their common goals.