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The Changemakers Program at The World Forum for Democracy

November 30, 2022

‘Democracy: A New Hope?’

A Call to Support Civil Society at The World Forum for Democracy 2022

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

Democracy is having a hard time. There is legitimate concern that it is increasingly under threat as its promises and values continue to conflict with a ‘back with a vengeance’ capitalism that has stolen the show for the last three decades.

In the summer of 2022, The World Forum for Democracy called out to the world’s NGOs to submit their projects and ideas to tackle global democratic backsliding.

Out of over 400 submissions, a selection of initiatives were invited to present and discuss their democracy-saving plans at the upcoming World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. The name of the event, ‘Democracy: A New Hope?‘, left no doubt about what the council of Europe would be talking about.

We were honoured to be selected and on the 8th of November 2022, The Hague Peace Projects presented their Changemakers Program.

Chale Guadamuz presents at The World Forum for Democracy 2022 (PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022)

Carlos ‘Chale’ Guadamuz, director of The Hague Peace Projects, introduced himself as the proud owner of the most important but worst-paid job he had ever had: a defender of human rights and democracy.

He stood before the 10th World Forum for Democracy as a voice for all of those currently fighting for democracy and its values, regardless of which corner of the world they call home.

He spoke on behalf of people you haven’t heard of, yet lead the fight in communities around the world for freedom and against intolerance, impunity, abuses of power, and the dangers of authoritarian rule.

Support what is Working

The speech was important, emotional even, causing Benjie Aquino, youth delegate of the Philippines, to almost tear up when it was his turn to follow.

Chale’s message was simple though. The Changemakers Program supports and empowers the good work that is already being done.

In real terms, this means giving money and support to members of civil society who are actively defending it today.

Members of society that we call Changemakers.

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

Civil Society

Unfortunately, the civic space in which Changemakers work is being targeted and attacked, instead of supported and protected.

Over the past decades, the UN Declaration for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and civil society has seen a flagrant disrespect by many countries.

For many, it has become a dangerous occupation to stand for and lead positive change. These activities cost significant time and money, and it can be no surprise that defenders of human rights are often forced give up their work in order to sustain themselves with something that rewards them economically.

Their work is not only getting more dangerous, but their ability to function is unsustainable without basic support from those who can give it. The high (safety and financial) risks that human rights defenders contend with is all too evident and on the rise.

As a result, civil society actors that we should cherish the most are forced to stop their human rights work every day.

That, is the sound of democracy losing.

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

The global military expenditure figures presented during the speech left no room for doubt that the money we actually spend on peace is comparatively non-existent.

The total expenditure on grassroot peacebuilding support in the world is approximately 0.001% of our global military budget. The total amount we spend on peacekeeping is not much better at 0.3%.

There is clearly more room for funding when it comes to supporting grassroot defenders of peace and democracy.

The Changemakers Program addresses the need for the creation of economic value for activities which we collectively want to sustain and reward.

It would seem simply a matter of priorities, but with so many complex problems being addressed at the Forum, no one actually managed to address the elephant in the room.

Why are the most important jobs in the world so often the worst paid?

Figure: Global Yearly Budget figures – source United Nations

Aside from institutionalized sexism which consistently undervalues the work of (more often than not) female majority work sectors, in light of today’s capitalism on steriods the answer shouldn’t seem that strange.

Basic forms of human security and validation are being sold-out in favour of the singular task of satisfying the demands of an increasingly small handful of investors in the world.

The dynamics of such, systematically undermine the role of institutions and the voice of the civic space that articulates democracy’s visions and desires.

In other words, there is no profit in human rights and the investment mechanisms that determine our work and freedoms dance to the tune of another vision.

Private wealth maximization, whichever form it takes, is no guarantee for our best interests. And though this is not a mechanism that could or should be stopped entirely, it is one that should be curbed and deserves a much smaller claim to our actual interests.

Cue the people-power speech and music.

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

Apart from its much-needed practical support modules, this is what lies at the heart of the Changemakers Program – the start of an attempt to stimulate some alternative form of peer-to-peer value creation that rewards our human rights and democratic interests.

Essentially, to reward the activities that we want to see rewarded, financially. To reward the role that we, as active citizens, can play in shaping our own future.

(Note: Lab 2 at the Forum was about providing civic education to understand this role – The Changemakers Program is about sustaining the activities of those already in it).

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

Democratic Traction

This means a greater commitment by our governments and institutions to give economic value to time spent on social welfare maximization activities as opposed to the sole facilitation of private revenue maximization.

The Changemakers Program makes an effort in this direction by plighting for income support for its participants. It argues that their work is a valid occupation and deserves economic recognition in-line with its democratic recognition and desirability.

However, whether such a cerebral approach will gain enough traction among the status-quo and the ‘animal’ instincts of profit and private equity politics, remains to be seen.

PHOTO © PASCAL BASTIEN – Courtesy of WFD 2022

Democracy vs. Scarcity

The Russian invasion of Ukraine received plenty of attention and served as a prominent example of a failing democracy and the dangers of authoritarian rule.

It seemed that each country faced its own struggles in living up to the ideals of democracy and battling an authoritarian backlash of one form or another.

The difficulty of rhyming democracy with a global fight for scarcity, and dealing with the (inter)national insecurity that this propogates, appears to be a driving mechanism against democracy itself.

With minimal attention for the underlying causes of democratic backsliding, many initiatives amounted to well-intentioned band-aids that are much-needed, yet unsustainable without eternal charity in our current form of unfiltered capitalism.

Out of the many worthy programs presented at the World Forum for Democracy, the winner was an initiative from Zimbabwe by Astrea Justice. The Changemakers Program received its due applause and coverage, and continues to steadily take on the world.

There is though, reasonable cause for optimism. I remain hopeful that if you were somehow able to ask everyone in the world, that a resounding majority would favour democracy and humanity. This is even more probable if people are able to escape (financial) insecurity and find themselves in a better position to care for, and believe in these things.

Democracy is on our side if it works.. and if social media portrays it correctly (cue anti engagement-algorithms speech).. but that’s another story.

Steen Bentall

The Changemakers Program was presented at the Forum Lab 9 on Protection for Activists and Human Rights Defenders on Tuesday 8 November, 2022.

Click here for more information about the Changemakers Program and its support modules for Human Rights Defenders.
Click here for more information about WFD 2022.

Click here if you would like to donate to the Changemakers Program.

Supporters of The Changemakers Program

We would like to thank the Haëlla Stichting for their support of The Changemakers Program. Without the generous support and investment in positive change by organisations such as these, our work would not be possible.

We would also like to give a special thank you to all of our donors who choose to support our Changemakers by sharing what they can.

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