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Re-organising power for systems change

[Marko Ulvila] At the end of April, more than two hundred representatives of progressive funders and their movement partners met in Barcelona to discuss an ambitious agenda of systems change. The gathering was the annual conference of the EDGE Funders Alliance, which brings together almost one hundred American and European foundations and other funders committed to justice, equity and the well-being of the planet. Siemenpuu Foundation has been a member since 2016.

The conference was titled Re-organising power for systems change and its content was built on EDGE’s past work around the concept of Just Transition. The conference explored the question of systems change in particular through the lenses political power, privilege and emancipatory struggles of the movements. The experience of Spanish and Catalan social movements was woven in the conference design.

Productive working methods and pertinent issues

The conference was organised so that the participants would meet three times with the same smaller group of people. These “engagement labs” covered different themes and were prepared beforehand by number of co-organisers. I took part in one that discussed movement building in the era of far-right populism.

The method proved very useful, because discussion advanced in each session. Though the root causes for the emergence of similar far-right tendencies all over the world did not become yet clear, a good set of recommendations to the funders emerged from the deliberations. They included more convergence both with both issues and geographical areas and more collective conscientization through popular education.

The engaging conference facilitation was a good experience. Professional facilitators were responsible for keeping the atmosphere convivial and productive, and were successful in their role. I was able to get connected to diverse set of new people and will be committed to keep such contacts alive also in the future.

Where next?

On the corridors there were discussions where the next annual EDGE conference should be held. This year it was the first one outside the US. There was support for shifting the location to somewhere in the South, and Brazil was mentioned. However, there are not yet any membership organizations there.

Towards the end of the conference suggestions were made for organising the next conference at the Standing Rock Indian reservation in Dakota, US. For couple of years, it has been the centre of struggle for North American indigenous communities and environmental movements demanding cancellation of oil pipeline. However, it is not only a struggle defending land and livelihood rights of the local community but also one questioning the dominant development model based on extraction of fossil fuels and other resources. Moreover, the indigenous communities offer lessons from their world view and practices as an inspiration for working a way out of the civilisation crisis.

Organising the next EDGE conference at Standing Rock could help the funders in a big way in developing their understanding of the present crisis and in working out the necessary systemic alternatives. It could become a landmark event similar to the one organised by the Zapatistas in rural Chiapas, Mexico under the title For humanity and against neo-liberalism in July 1994. From there the alter-globalisation movement gained whole lot of momentum that eventually led to the Seattle demonstrations in 1999 and birth of the World Social Forum in 2001. Now similar new momentum for a global movement for just transition to ecological democracy is truly needed.

Marko Ulvila, 10.5.2017
Writer is the Chairperson of Siemenpuu Foundation

Other reports and blogs from the conference:

Edge Funders blog

Alliance Magazine blog news from the conference

Conference report EDGE needs to be sharper still by Andrew Milner in Alliance Magazine