More political influence to the WSF with more space for regional and local forums

Reflections from the meeting of the international council of the World Social Forum

Parma, Italy, October 10-12, 2006.
Laura Tuominen (NIGD and Finnish Left Youth) (external link)

I participated in the meeting of the international council of the World social forum alongside with Teivo Teivainen. The meeting was held in Parma, Italy on October 10-12, 2006.

On the agenda of the meeting there was information and debate on Nairobi 2007 preparation process, for example on the methodology and program of the WSF, the venue and territory in Nairobi, technical details, resources, registration procedures and mobilization towards Nairobi. There was also a lot of debate on the future of the social forum process.

I had received the general agenda of the meeting in advance. However, as the meeting started there didn’t seem to be a firm structure and timetable for the agenda proposed for the ic. The first day, Tuesday 10, seemed to me as a day of general debate on everything else besides the actual preparations for Nairobi, as the African delegation had not arrived yet. As Teivo Teivainen wrote in his Parma blog for NIGD, the first day seemed a bit chaotic and not very well organized. I found it very difficult to follow the debates, as there was a debate about the structure and timetable of the meeting and a general discussion about the contents of the topics going on at the same time. As the day went on I was able to build a better picture for myself about the activities that were about to take place in the upcoming days.

The biggest issues on the agenda, in my opinion, were the debate on the future of the WSF process, the results of the consultation concerning the methodology and the thematic terrains for the Nairobi event and fundraising for the Nairobi WSF. There were also other rather technical matters that are probably very important but as this was my first time in an IC meeting, I wasn’t quite able to follow all the debates very thoroughly because I was not aware of the prior debates and possible political differences between groups represented in the IC.


After a consultation process carried out among the groups taking part in the WSF-process, nine thematic terrains were brought to the IC as a proposal of the Brazilian group (secretariat?), which had been written after a dialogue with the Kenya Organizing Committee and the African Social Forum Secretariat. These terrains, which were defined as “objectives of action” for all WSF participants, are the following:

Building a world of peace, justice, ethics and respect for diverse spiritualities Liberating the world from the domination of multinational and financial capital Ensuring universal and sustainable access to the common goods of humanity Democratising knowledge and information Ensuring dignity, defending diversity, guaranteeing gender equality and eliminating all forms of discrimination Guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights, especially the rights to food, healthcare, education, employment and decent work Building a world order based on sovereignty, self-determination and rights of the peoples Constructing a people-centered and sustainable economy Building real democratic political structures and institutions with people’s participation on decisions and control of public affairs and resources

There was a lot of debate about these themes in the IC meeting. Many representatives considered these themes to be too vague and too broad. For example terrain number one faced criticism because the title in that form may give an impression that the whole theme is concentrated on diverse spiritualities and religions through which a world of peace and justice could be built.

Many people were also asking where the African approach could be found. For example, themes on migration, HIV/AIDS or debt are not very visibly present in these terrains. A member of the African organizing committee underlined that these terrains were a result of a consultation process, so they should not be altered much. He also said that the terrains were formed in a way that they could include most of the themes around which groups participating in the WSF are organizing activities. He claimed that themes of the activities already proposed for the WSF do fit very well within these terrains. Only about 2 % of the activities did not fit under the umbrella of those nine terrains.

What I was wondering myself was the absence of issues concerning the environment, for example climate change. I brought this up in the meeting of the methodology commission and I was given the answer that terrain number 8 (Constructing a people-centered and sustainable economy) includes also themes that focus on the environment. I was not very satisfied with that, because I think that theme 8 is really vague in that sense. In my opinion, “people-centered and sustainable economy” refers more to questions on taxation, distribution of wealth or public services. Environment is not only a matter of economy, it has a lot to do with peoples’ own actions, especially in the industrialized countries. When Leo Stranius and Annukka Berg, activists of the Friends of the Earth Finland, participated in the WSF 2005 in Porto Alegre, afterwards they made an initiative in the information newspaper of the Social Forum of Finland in 2005 to organize a World Environmental Forum. Their initiative was an attempt to start a debate within the social forum processes about the role of environmental themes in social forums. They also wanted to start a debate on how self-critical social movements can be regarding their own actions and political processes. I think that is a very important question to bear in mind in order to be truly proactive.

There was also a lot of debate on the possible transversal/cross-cutting themes of the WSF in Nairobi. I am not sure if I was able to follow the debate right, but I got the understanding that the IC agreed to having gender equality as cross-cutting all those nine terrains. At least it was pointed out, that already a few years ago the decision has been taken to accept gender equality as one of the key themes of the WSF.


A very important decision concerning global social processes was taken in Parma. The IC meeting agreed that the next worldwide World Social Forum event after Nairobi will take place in 2009. In 2008, there will be various kinds of mobilizations in different parts of the world around the time of the World Economic Forum. In Nairobi WSF there will be a special fourth day (day number four of the WSF) for initiatives for global action, alliance building and strategic planning.

I was given the information that the debate about the future of the WSF process has been going on for a few years in the IC. In this meeting there seemed to be a broad consensus on not to organize a worldwide WSF in 2008. However, some of the Brazilian “founding fathers” of the WSF had great doubts about this proposition. For example a risk of “committing collective suicide” was addressed to the IC members present in the meeting. After a commission had been given a task to make a proposition for the IC plenary the debate faded away. Everyone seemed to be pleased with the outcome or at least accept the will of the vast majority.

A representative of the organizing committee of the social forum of Americas was very pleased with the result. She said that they had already made a decision to organize the social forum of Americas every two years. Also others who were active in more regional or local social forums had the opinion that this decision will give more space for the other forums or other campaigns.

Even though I am not well informed about the prior debate about the future of the WSF, I think that the decision not to organize WSF seems quite good. In my opinion, WSF has reached its limits to grow. It is highly expensive to fly people around the world, so grassroots organizations have hardly any change of mobilizing themselves to WSF. Also logistics would become a huge problem if WSF were to become bigger: I have the impression that already now there are problems to fit all the activities in the different venues. Also campaigning on a local level will cause global action. This is what we saw in 2003, as millions of people around the world marched against the war in Iraq.

The WSF process could become more global and gain more political influence if the regional and local social forums could have more space. They have certainly not reached their limits yet. One step forward from Finnish perspective would be to explore the possibilities of organizing a common Nordic social forum in the upcoming years. I was part of a three-person delegation that took part in the Norwegian social forum on October 19-22. There we met with members of the organizing committees of the Norwegian and Danish social forums and with people who had been involved with the Swedish local social forums (they don’t have a national forum). We had a mutual feeling that cooperation between Nordic activists should be established and, with proper time for preparations and fundraising, there could be a Nordic social forum organized around the year 2010.