Improving Global Governance through Engagement with Civil Society: The case of BRICS

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This paper presents a set of recommendations to increase the effectiveness of global governance forums by incorporating the experience, views and expertise of civil society. These recommendations are based on a research study, commissioned by Oxfam GB in Russia, which documented and analysed the experience of the Civil BRICS Forum 2015 and the views of organizers and participants. The recommendations are presented together with an overview of the lessons learned.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING NOTE MARCH 2016 IMPROVING GLOBAL GOVERNANCE THROUGH ENGAGEMENT WITH CIVIL SOCIETY The case of BRICS This paper presents a set of recommendations to increase the effectiveness of global governance forums by incorporating the experience, views and expertise of civil society. These recommendations are based on a research study, commissioned by Oxfam in Russia, which documented and analysed the experience of the Civil BRICS Forum 2015 and the views of organizers and participants. The recommendations are presented together with an overview of the lessons learned. www.oxfam.org   1 INTRODUCTION This paper offers a set of recommendations to the BRICS countries on the design and incorporation of an effective civil society engagement process relating to the annual BRICS Intergovernmental Summit. As with other global governance forums, the BRICS grouping has faced the challenge of how to improve the legitimacy of its policy making and implementing mechanisms – specifically how to enable the process to become more grounded and linked to the experiences and aspirations of the people represented by member states’ governments. Over recent years, BRICS governments and civil society have sought to ensure more effective participation of civil society sectors in BRICS processes. Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) was engaged in discussions about the representation of civil society at the BRICS summit in 2011, as part of the Civil Society–BRICS engagement initiative of the Forum for Democratic Governance in Montreal, Canada. The South Africa BRICS Think Tank together with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation hosted a series of meetings with civil society groups in 2014 and 2015 to discuss the development of a South African strategy for BRICS engagement. In Brazil in October 2015, REBRIP (the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples) produced recommendations to create a permanent BRICS civil society consultative forum to facilitate civil society engagement in each of the five BRICS countries. All of these initiatives have been conducted in close interaction with, and often with full support of, the Sherpas in the BRICS member states. 1  These initiatives, together with other experiences of civil society participation at global forums, have prompted Oxfam to analyse examples of good practice and the challenges posed by civil engagement processes at global level. The first official Civil Society Forum of the BRICS countries (henceforth Civil BRICS Forum), held in Moscow from 29 June to 1 July 2015, presented a good opportunity for such analysis. This paper draws on a research study, commissioned by Oxfam in Russia, which documented and analysed the experience of this first Civil BRICS Forum, with the aim of assisting BRICS governments to develop an appropriate space for their civil societies to engage meaningfully with the BRICS processes. The research was based on a review of official and related documents and a series of interviews with key stakeholders, including those involved in the organization of the forum in Russia and members of civil society from each of the BRICS countries. 2  The paper presents details of the forum and an overview of the lessons learned, which provided the basis for the recommendations below. These recommendations are targeted at the three main groups of actors with an interest in the involvement of BRICS civil society organizations (CSOs) in BRICS processes and policy development: the BRICS governments; the government and civil society of the country hosting the annual BRICS summit and related forums; and the civil societies of the BRICS countries. Oxfam hopes these recommendations will be useful to both policy makers and civil society in developing representative, transparent and inclusive processes. 2  2 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ALL BRICS GOVERNMENTS ã  An effective Civil BRICS process will depend on an agreement of the definition of civil society and of the benefits of supporting inclusive involvement of civil society groups in such a process. Furthermore, it should recognize the specific value of giving BRICS CSOs an opportunity to share their experiences, expertise and knowledge, and to lobby on behalf the citizens of BRICS countries. ã  A BRICS civil society consultative body should be established to coordinate and represent the civil society of each BRICS country. This body should be designed by civil society itself, reflect the diversity of each country’s civil society, and be balanced in terms of gender and other social strata to ensure inclusive participation. ã  Institute a dialogue, similar to that established by the G20 and G8, whereby a ‘Troika’ – a three-party group made up of representatives from the previous, current and future host governments and their civil societies – gather to discuss strengths and weaknesses of the recent processes so they can incorporate learning and make adjustments for the current and future processes as necessary. This should involve both government and civil society representatives in the same unified dialogue. ã  Support processes at national level to enable civil society to respond to the host-country call for participation in a Civil BRICS Forum. ã  It is profoundly important for all BRICS governments to welcome gender organizations as legitimate actors in their country’s civil society, and to provide space and assistance to support their participation in the Civil BRICS process. ã  The status of any recommendations from Civil BRICS Forums should be agreed on: specifically, how the BRICS Summit will incorporate such recommendations into its final communiqué, and how BRICS governments will be held to account in fulfilling their obligations. ã  If the plan is to continue to hold several different forums (or outreach tracks) such as the Academic, Business, and Civil BRICS Forums, the BRICS governments need to define the separate purposes of each. This should be accomplished in discussion with each of the forum constituencies. 3  FOR THE GOVERNMENT AND CIVIL SECRETARIAT IN A HOST COUNTRY ã  Ensure transparent processes of participation by CSOs, with an open application process that allows sufficient time for preparatory work before the forum; and ensure that visa requirements are not used as a way to limit participation. ã  Enable free and bottom-up definitions of the topics for discussion. These should relate to CSOs’ interests in the effects and consequences of BRICS-country investments, trading and collaborations on poor populations within these countries and others, including their specific impact on women. ã  Ensure transparent processes for the development of the agenda and working-group topics. These should involve all BRICS civil society groupings and be independent from government structures. ã  Any development of position papers prior to the forum should be transparent and based on broad civil society involvement. ã  Establish a realistic timeframe for each stage of the process and ensure that the format of the forum is designed to enable collaborative work on considered civil society positions relating to the effects of the various BRICS programmes. ã  Ensure sufficient time between the Civil BRICS Forum and the Intergovernmental Summit, to enable Sherpas to take account of civil society recommendations. ã  Provide funding mechanisms to enable such processes to be developed.   FOR BRICS CIVIL SOCIETY ã  Institutionalize processes at national level within each country to enable relevant and representative CSOs to participate in discussions feeding into the annual Civil BRICS Forum. ã  Use the Civil BRICS process as an opportunity to organize around BRICS issues, planning joint activities and common agenda-setting with other civil society groups, especially relating to BRICS programmes and policies. ã  Conduct in-depth analysis of each year’s Civil BRICS Forum to identify lessons learned and best practices, in order to improve future processes and develop positions for the suggested Troika process. ã  Institutionalize processes for ongoing discussion between civil society groups throughout the year, thus ensuring fuller discussions on common issues which will feed into the preparation for the annual forum. ã  Work collaboratively to develop the Civil BRICS agenda based on civil society objectives which take into account – but are not limited by – the host-country priorities. 4
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