People united by the organization ShikshaLokam are taking collective action to make the world a better place. Image: ShikshaLokam
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- The magnitude of issues such as climate change, inequity in education, healthcare and livelihood outcomes is daunting.
- Collective action can be generally defined as an action or a set of actions carried out by a group of people focused on a common vision.
- Effective collective action has the potential to drive policy change at local, national and international levels.
In an era of unprecedented global challenges, the magnitude of issues, such as climate change, inequity in education, healthcare and livelihood outcomes, is daunting. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The consequences of this are increasingly visible in the form of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and ecosystem disruption. Climate change is no longer a problem of the future.
Meanwhile, the World Bank estimates that over 260 million children and youth worldwide are out of school, while the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately half of the global population still lacks access to essential health services. And, the richest 1% own almost 48% of the world's wealth.
These figures underscore the scale and urgency of the problems we face, necessitating our immediate attention and concerted efforts. These challenges transcend national boundaries, affect billions of lives and jeopardize the well-being of future generations. While individual action holds value, the sheer enormity of these problems necessitates the harnessing of collective action. By uniting in purpose, collaboration and shared responsibility, can we unlock the power needed to confront these global societal issues head-on and forge a path towards a brighter future for all?
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?
What is collective action?
Collective action can be generally defined as an action or a set of actions carried out by a group of people focused on a common vision.
These actions include, but are not limited to, co-creation and execution of systemic change programmes; this group typically includes government, civil society organizations (CSOs) and market players. Its common vision is to restore a life of dignity, choice and prosperity for the communities.
Together, the actors in a collective execute steps that will lead them and other stakeholders towards a common mission and shared goals. For decades, diverse actors have attempted collective action. Let us explore the ways in which it has yielded desired results.
When individuals, communities, organizations and governments unite towards a common goal, the combined strength and resources create a multiplier effect; thus, amplifying the impact.
One notable example is the international movement for renewable energy adoption. By uniting governments, businesses and individuals, the renewable energy capacity has expanded rapidly, with global renewable energy generation increasing by over 25% between 2010 and 2020. This substantial growth has led to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at over 2.5 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually.
Leverage diverse perspectives
Solving complex societal challenges requires diverse perspectives and expertise. No single entity possesses all the knowledge and resources needed to tackle these issues comprehensively. By encouraging collective action, we bring together individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, disciplines and experiences. This diversity enriches problem-solving, leading to innovative and holistic solutions. Through collective action, we can tap into a collective intelligence that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
One inspiring example is the global collaboration to combat HIV/AIDS. Through partnerships between governments, research institutions, healthcare providers and affected communities, breakthroughs in prevention, treatment and awareness have been achieved. Since the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1990s, collective efforts have resulted in a 52% decline in new HIV infections worldwide.
Share burdens and responsibilities
Global challenges often disproportionately affect marginalised communities and vulnerable populations. Collective action enables the sharing of burdens and responsibilities, leading to more equitable outcomes. When we work together, we can address the systemic barriers that perpetuate these inequalities. By sharing responsibilities, we create a sense of shared ownership, reducing the burden on those most affected.
In 2017-18, the public education system in Punjab - a northwestern state in India - was one of the worst performing. 36% of third-grade students could not read a grade-two text, and 50% of grade-five students could not do basic arithmetic. At the secondary level, 70% of students aged 14-18 needed help to identify their state on a map. In 2018-19, the state’s gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education was 30%.
In 2019, four civil society organizations – Mantra4Change, ShikshaLokam, Sanjhi Sikhiya, and Samarthya – formed a collective to support the Department of School Education in Punjab. Each organization with its expertise – in partnerships, technology, research and design – played a key role in the Punjab Education Collective. Along with the Department, it implemented more than 25 improvement ideas that eventually led to Punjab securing the first rank in the National Achievement Survey (2021 and 2022), India’s national, representative, large-scale survey that assesses the efficacy of school education.
A brilliant feather was added to the cap when the Punjab Education Collective was awarded the Collective Social Innovation Award in January 2023 by the Schwab Foundation at the World Economic Forum.
Build networks and alliances
Collective action strengthens networks and alliances, thus providing a platform to enable knowledge-sharing, cooperation and collaboration. Partnerships create a powerful force for change, avoid duplication of efforts and achieve greater efficiency.
Catalyst 2030 is a wonderful example of a vibrant global network of social entrepreneurs committed to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As a platform, it is also able to easily collate, curate and disseminate best practices and other kinds of learning resources across a spectrum of topics, such as systems change, collective action, global innovations, etc. These help social entrepreneurs learn from each others’ experiences.
Catalyse policy change
Effective collective action has the potential to drive policy change at local, national and international levels. By mobilising public opinion and exerting pressure on decision-makers, we can influence policy agendas and bring about transformative change.
In the global climate change movement, a pivotal moment was the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This landmark international treaty united nearly 200 countries in a commitment to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The time for complacency is over
In the face of global challenges, collective action clearly holds the key to transformative change. It is no longer enough to passively acknowledge these pressing issues. We must actively embrace and engage in collective action.
We must advocate for change, support and collaborate with organizations striving for social and environmental progress, co-create solutions and demand policy shifts that prioritize the well-being of all.
By catalysing collective action, we can shape a future that is equitable, sustainable and just. We must act now to create a world that leaves no one behind and ensures the well-being of generations to come.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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