Humanity is facing some choices and we the people need to pay attention. There are two titanic megatrends we should all know about by now, but that are worth going over again.
First, over the next few decades there will be . We’ll all be consuming more, putting further pressure on already scarce natural resources, especially in the world’s more vulnerable regions. For example, it’s now estimated that , with around 360 million people living in the climatically sensitive Sahel. And by 2040, it will be home to 40% of the world’s youth. These young people could be the rocket fuel that boosts regional and global economic growth – or they could end up being a lot of frustrated and underemployed young men and women, especially if they grow up in environments destroyed by the mismanagement of natural resources and corruption. Exportable extremist ideologies do well in such circumstances.
The second trend is our growing interconnectedness. This burgeoning generation of young people will be more connected and empowered with information than anyone before. Thanks to technological innovations, smartphones and social media, they will be able to campaign to make things like vaccines, antiretrovirals and renewable energy available more widely. Or they could instead use social media to chat about the latest premier league football matches or Game of Thrones episode.
This is actually one of the most important questions of our time: as we become truly networked citizens, will we harness the potential offered by this second megatrend to deal with the serious global challenges of the first megatrend? And if so, how will we do so?
Campaigning for a better world
Because of my background, I tend to think the solution to every challenge is a campaign. And we need the mother of all campaigns in 2015 and beyond to ensure that politicians promise and deliver better policies. Why 2015? Because this year there are two meetings of world leaders: one in New York, where the United Nations General Assembly will launch , and the other in Paris, for the Climate Change Summit. Together they will determine which path we take and how those two megatrends pan out. And we as citizens have a role to play in making sure our politicians and policy-makers choose – and, even more importantly, follow – the right path.
ONE has come up with a formula – dubbed the 4Ps – which guides our campaigns for such momentous occasions.
The first P is for “policy”: find, then scale, evidence-based policy ideas and innovations. This requires a great network with think tanks and research groups, and really open processes to ensure well-funded special interests don’t push lesser solutions to scale before better solutions have been considered. The scaling of vaccines by GAVI and antiretrovirals by the Global Fund are good examples.
The second P is for “political non-partisanship”: build bipartisanship for lasting political alliances that will help you scale these policy ideas. Don’t let a good policy proposal be overly owned by any one side. Wherever possible, try to take bad politics out of good policy.
The third P is “public pressure”: ensure people are holding politicians accountable, pressing them to keep their promises and own the goals.
The final P stands for “pop”: you need some mass communications ability. Working with celebrities, especially those with a large social media following, can take a campaign to the next level. Occasionally, a key issue does well in the media even without celebrity endorsement. These moments must be seized with speed to ensure you build longer term constituencies and take citizens from that compelling single issue on to other related and systemic issues. Change.org and Avaaz are excellent at this. Our campaign needs to reach people where they are, and to do so we can’t be afraid of breaking out of our ivory towers.
The four Ps in practice
Right now, we at ONE are part of a bold and exciting series of civil society campaigns that are roughly applying this formula. For example, there’s , a broad global coalition of NGOs, including ONE, Greenpeace, Avaaz, Civicus and Save the Children. Soon there will be a massive communications effort called #telleveryone, which aims to ensure we’ve done our best to inform everyone on the planet of the new Sustainable Development Goals. This is based on the simple insight that politicians are better at keeping their promises when the public knows a promise has been made and demands its delivery – and then keeps demanding, into the future, until it is done.
Our hope is this: we get world leaders to commit both personally and professionally to the new global goals, and then brand that moment of commitment in a very noticeable way so that citizens around the world take an interest and want to hold them accountable for delivering on these promises. These goals must survive democratic successions and live into the next political term. They are a framework for the next 15 years, not a short 15 minutes of fame.
So above all, citizens must own them. Here’s how that might happen. From September, there will be a big PR push to recruit tens of millions in support of implementing these new global goals. Then we’ll need to recruit a subset of citizens who are the more committed high-action takers, the catalysts – or “factivists” (evidence-based activists) – who roll up their sleeves and take more difficult and time-consuming actions like actually contacting politicians and asking for meetings with them. Based on our findings, it is more often women that take these types of “high bar” actions.
There are many forms of more advanced factivism. For example, we have crowdsourcers working with , and ; or there’s in Nigeria, which helps citizens demand open government budgets and explains budget arcana through excellent infographics; or , which asks those in power tough questions; or , where people shed light on the fact poverty hits women hardest, and that investing in women is the best solution to fighting poverty.
All of these are facilitated by hyperconnectivity, something the Western world now takes for granted, even as nearly a billion citizens of African nations and a billion more Indians aren’t online. Getting these people online is an absolutely critical part of helping citizens organize future movements – movement that are actually based on the needs and demands of those who not only do not have an internet connection, but don’t have a voice. That’s what will ultimately ensure governments do a better job and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Image: Supporters react while holding up a poster as Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech on voter education at the Thanlyin township, outside Yangon August 21, 2015. The poster reads: “Time to Change”. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun