What are your general impressions about the WSF?
Well, I think it is a great place for networking. There are loads of people from different countries. So, it is a good place to either find out or learn about issues or if you've already been working in a particular area, it provides a really good networking-connect with people from around the world.
Is it really a movement of the global left?
I wouldn't characterize it as the movement of the global left only. The reason I am saying this is because it is a very diverse movement. It is not centralized; it provides a place where people come together who think they can create a better world; where you bring different views and different solutions. But I wouldn't call it a movement of the global left.
What do you think about the question of representation vs participation? Does the WSF really offer a platform to the voices of the marginalized?
Depends on what do you really mean by ‘the voices of the marginalized'. I mean , yes of course it represents the voices of the marginalized but in what way. When the WSF was in Mumbai, it was easier for the marginalized people to be there themselves and speak for themselves rather than for people like me or other NGOs speaking on their behalf. Because even if you are from an NGO, you would go there, ou are speaking ‘on behalf' of the marginalized. So yes you are representing their voices but they are not able to represent themselves. And it is the case with the WSF in Porto Alegre . Just because of distance the character of it is quite different than when it was held in Mumbai. Mumbai has masses of poverty at its doorstep. So it was a very different WSF where poor people were able to be a mainstream force in all the marches themselves rather than say the WSF that had been held in Brazil .
WSF has often been accused of fostering a kind of elitism – dominated by a few groups mostly from Latin America and Europe . Do you agree?
Well, again because the WSF originated from Latin America, so of course, it is much easier for those groups to be there and Latin Americans are quite mobilized and organized themselves, particularly the trade unions and the left political parties, who sort of supported and started the whole process. Yes they are represented in a much bigger scale than other parts of the world and also Europeans, because of I guess the resources that they have, are able to take better part in the WSF and that's why I think there was the move to have the WSF in Mumbai and now the next WSF in Africa as well to make sure that other continents are better represented. But yeah, I agree that is true what you said.
There has been a lot of critique on ‘carnival' vs ‘rational debate' aspect of the WSF. How far do you think that is true?
With respect to the WSF in Porto Alegre , because of the location of where it is, Latin Americans are like this. Everything they do is a carnival. If they are protesting as well, it'll be in the form of a carnival. So that's really linked with the culture of the place. Again if you compare the WSF in Porto Alegre to Mumbai, again in Mumbai the march was a typical South Asian march with lots of women holding placards, whereas in Porto Alegre , the march was with samba bands with music, lots of motivation and colour. That really is a cultural aspect which comes into the WSF and into the way it represents itself.
Do you think something which is so fluid, open and expanding can deliver participatory democracy ~ I mean a democratic space which can work as an option for the people to make rational choices and play a role in decision making.
I am not sure. Well it is creating opportunities for people to come together to talk about ideas, which they can then take back and use in their own context. The WSF by itself isn't going to change the structures or decision making. It's the ideas from the WSF that people will take back in their own lives and in their own context which will lead to the change. So, it's not a formal body which makes decisions.
With respect to the kind of workshops you have attended, do you think there is something like people-centered communication.
I guess there are different tiers. I guess, the WSF tries to provide translators and translation to make sure that people from different contexts are able to participate, which is an important aspect of our meeting as well. In the last social forum, when we organized meeting of the corporate accountability we made sure that those people who came from the grassroots level had translators; someone who could translate what was going on to them. So I mean translation really is key in this respect.
Do you think the use of communications technologies effects dialogue
Well, I have been involved in typical NGO-like workshops where either there are information sharing sessions or strategizing; where they have used various tools in terms of you know flip charts, or breaking into smaller groups and strategizing. So, I mean I wouldn't know of other tools. These tools worked fine in the context of the workshops I attended.
So, what was the communications challenge if you have to sum it up?
The key was really translation because there were people from Latin America primarily because of the WSF being in Brazil . It's the question of just the ability of being able to understand what you are hearing through either translation.
What is it that you really liked about the Forum this time?
Most of the sessions were self-mediated by most of the groups, where you have people presenting. What I really liked this time, we were able to do a bit more strategizing. In the past you will have big meetings where you have NGO activists and sort of known names presenting and talking to you. Whereas this time, there was a conscious decision to have smaller workshops. So there wasn't a big plenary like in the past. This time apart from Lula's speech in the stadium, most of the other workshops were smaller workshops, which I think added a perspective because it helped us in strategizing. Otherwise what often happens is you just hear the same muse and meet the same people and you don't take it to the next level. What is needed is NGOs coming together or communities coming together and actually finding a solution, which is what we were able to do much better this time round because of the smaller workshops; because of break-away groups; because of the methods that were used.
What is Action Aid's role in the Forum?
Action Aid supports the forum financially and also has a major presence in the forum. Action Aid is also a part of the organizing committee and involved in the WSF's planning process. An again, we were quite conscious of actually bringing social movements and supporting their participation at the WSF rather than only the staff from Action Aid. Again this is something that we have been promoting quite actively. At the leadership level Action Aid is an NGO, but we want to work with other social movements. So it is an opportunity for our leadership to really talk with and come together with other social movements e.g Via Campesina and their leadership. So, I mean overall it's an event that we really prioritize. To give you an example our CEO was invited to the WEF, but he refused and chose to go the WSF and to side with the idea and the people at the WSF rather than the people at the WEF.
How do you mobilize groups from the South?
Well we work directly in countries in the South, with southern staff. So it is in our day to day working that we work with groups locally and that is how we mobilize them for the WSF as well.
You just talked about Via Campesina and new social movements from Latin America . What is the difference between Latin American and South Asian movements in terms of having easy access to participation.
Groups in Via Campesina are very well organized. Also if you look at the Right to Food campaign in India , which is a campaign of many social movements, they are using the web quite effectively. As they are using these communication techniques, what is happening now increasingly that either small social movements groups are coming together and forming an umbrella or they are doing so through some support from NGOs e.g. there is a very good NGO called ‘Focus on the Global South' which actually supports a lot of social movements. So you will either have social movements forming a network; umbrella (right to food ) campaign as in India or you have social movements getting support from NGOs to effectively use communication tools.
You just said they have been using web effectively. How effectively and in what ways?
I mean they send out updates of what's happening, progress on the campaign. They put their reports on the web so that campaign can actually link different people within India . But also am sitting in London and receiving regular updates and information on the campaign. It is a start. I mean it isn't as advanced use of communications tools as say some of the campaigning organizations in the West are doing. But it's the beginning where they have started learning the use of communications tools.
Do you access the WSF's web site?
No, not really. But only to find out the agenda of the WSF.
Do you thin the WSF is under-represented by the mainstream media?
Yeah. Definitely. There is no reporting of the WSF outside of Latin America . I mean when it's held in Latin America it gets quite good coverage in the province where it's held and perhaps also in the national papers in Latin America . But it's of very little interest to mainstream media in the West or in other parts of the world.
Why does the WSF get so little coverage as compared to the WEF?
WEF is a meeting of powerful men and media is interested in what hey have to say, whereas in the WSF we are trying to create an agenda which does not fit in with the mainstream agenda. So, there's always resistance to this. Even if you look at the media generally, you'll know the representation of development issues in mainstream media particularly in the West is pretty hard. Also, because it's something that we are trying to proactively push into the media, it is not something that the media is coming after. So this is something again, I think that needs to change. I mean, there is general apathy about the issues that we are dealing with essentially.
Which one of the these names have you heard of: Ciranda, Terra Viva, AMARC, Le Monde Diplomatique
I just heard of them. Le Monde Diplomatique do their talks and I get emails about them. But no, I don't know much about these.
So how does Action Aid covers its participation?
We try to reach out to the media. We have media offices there with us who talk to the media. We got some coverage in the Guardian here and in most of the mainstream papers because of the event and the launch where President Lula spoke this time. We also launched a report at the same time at the WSF, which got covered as well, here in the Guardian. But you know that's because of constant contacts with papers and following up with them. Our press officers go there as well. But it's not an easy place to get media coverage or stories. It's is pretty hard.
Looking at the kind of movement which is emerging, is another world really possible or is it just a rhetoric
Of course I believe that it is possible. Otherwise, I won't be working in Action Aid. To what degree, what pace, when are all those questions that time will tell. I think it's the little little efforts that make a difference. I am involved in advocacy and campaigning which takes many many years to create a change. So I am quite used to slow progress. But I think yes, another world is possible. What we are trying to do is, I guess two things: make sure that the current world becomes more progressive and we try and challenge critical concepts, but also provide an alternative which is what WSF is trying to do. I mean technically, I mean that's what it is supposed to do: try and create alternative distribution systems. For example to talk about using local currency in Thailand are some of those really creative ideas which come to the WSF and eventually to the bigger picture as well.
Given a choice if you are invited to the next forum, will you go?
No. I would only go if it helps in furthering my campaign. Because what is so frustrating about the WSF is a lack of strategy and which is why this time around the reason why it was better for me, because there were smaller workshops and we could strategize. I don't want to go to the WSF to hear the same people talk about the same issues, which is frustrating. Also I would like other people to go, perhaps who haven't been to the WSF before. I would like people to go from the community, from the grassroots to really have that experience. I personally wouldn't want to go just to network without concrete ideas.
Now there's a move to having Polycentric Forums? Do you think it is a good idea?
I think that's better because that gives more space for concrete actions and strategizing. Otherwise it is pretty hard to follow up. People meet in two years time in the next WSF which isn't that productive.
One word that can explain your experience of the WSF