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December 16, 2009

Civil society must find its voice

As the bonus behaviour of our bankers continues to beggar belief, and as the world’s governments look ever less likely to reach agreement in Copenhagen, there’s a real danger that we simply become fatalistic about the future.  Where is the voice of civil society – you and me – in all of this?  Next February, some of the major institutions of civil society are calling a conference to find an answer

Civil Society in Scotland Conference. 18th Feb

Outline concept

• To bring together different parts of civil society together to explore specific challenges and the role of civil society in tackling/ addressing them
• To connect together what is already happening on the ground to face the multiple crises affecting our society
• To establish where/ whether we have a shared set of core messages to offer to the challenges our society faces within the overarching principles of sustainable development, good governance and sound science.

This conference should be seen as a staging post along the process of developing a shared civil society response to these crises.

Whose event?

• This should be a joint event owned by all those in civil society that seek a shared identity in responding to the current crises. This would involve civil society in its widest form from local community champions/activists all the way to large formal organisations.
• Given civil society’s diversity and to provide an overarching cohesion, the conference is being organised by “institutional” civil society (i.e. large formal organisations or networks), as they can offer the resources or leverage to do so.
• The organisers of the conference comprise a Planning group of institutional partners from across civil society, building on the Civil Society Roundtable hosted by SCVO in June 2009.
• Beyond the planning group, the conference publicity literature would be branded with the logos of as wide a range of civil society networks and organisations as practical, thereby enlisting their support in reaching deep into active civil society.

When: At the first planning meeting, it was agreed to hold the event at the Gathering 2010 (18th February, Edinburgh International Conference Centre), an annual voluntary sector collection of conferences, seminars and exhibitions but which also has attendance from trade unions, co-operatives, and wider civil society. Footfall has included the wider general public – on average 4000 to 5000 people have attended each Gathering event between 2004 and 2007.

Audience: target of roughly 200 participants could include trade unions activists, leading members of co-operatives, church leaders, non-church faith groups, leading academics, representatives of professional associations, social entrepreneurs, voluntary sector movements, journalists, trusts/foundations and community champions.

Speakers – leading experts on these topics, who will hopefully come from different parts of civil society. We would not seek public sector officials or government ministers to address this event.

Chair – A leading respected figure in Scottish civil society, based on his/her contribution to society rather than position.

Suggested approach:

• Advance briefing to delegates
• Introduction/ context setting keynote speech
• Speeches could be on the broad concerns of: Poverty and economic democracy (UK and global), Equalities and Human Rights, Climate Change
• Discussion groups on these topics to follow speeches, looking at where/ whether we have a shared agenda. Carefully selected facilitators invited from a cross-section of civil society
• Facilitators of the discussion groups feedback main points from their discussions
• Plenary discussion on our role as civil society partners in dealing with the challenges identified, and ideas for moving forward on the issues.
• Networking – wine and nibbles.

Current institutional partners
Church and Society Council
Local People Leading
Carnegie UK
Faith in Community Scotland
Scottish Interfaith Council
Senscot – Social entrepreneurs network
SCVO (playing a secretariat role)
Royal Society of Edinburgh (To be Confirmed)
Co-operation and Mutuality Scotland