Peoples' movements around the world are working to demonstrate that the path to sustainable development, social and economic justice lies in alternative models for people-centred and self-reliant progress, rather than in neo-liberal globalisation.
The World Social Forum (WSF) developed as a response of the growing international movement to neo-liberal globalisation and the effects of neo-liberal economic policies being pursued in most countries. While international financial and trade institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation make prescriptions to be followed by countries across the globe that affect the lives of people all over the world, the effects of such decisions are poorly understood in many cases. People in developing countries, as well as the poor and excluded sectors of developed countries continue to grapple with new situations that are being thrown as a result of the thrust towards globalization.
The World Social Forum was conceived as an open meeting space for deepening the reflection, the democratic discussion of ideas, the formulation of proposals, the free exchange of experiences and the articulation of civil society organizations and movements that are opposed to neoliberal globalisation and the domination of the world by capital and by any other form of imperialism. This open space, in accordance with its Charter of Principles, is constituted as â€œplural and diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-partisanâ€.
The first edition of the WSF was organised in Porto Alegre, Brazil, from January 25 to 30, 2001, marking an opposition to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, which, since 1971, has fulfilled a strategic role in formulating the thought of those who promote and defend neoliberal policies throughout the world. At the WSF 2001approximately 20,000 people attended, among delegates from 117 countries, Youth Camp and Indigenous Nation Camp participants.
The decision to hold the Forum in Brazil was also significant. The richness of Brazilian grassroots organizations represented a source of inspiration for the development of the World Social Forum. Porto Allegre itself is situated in the southernmost province of Brazil, and the government of the province and the cityâ€™s mayor supported the Forum in many ways. The WSF was locally hosted and organised by a Brazilian committee consisting of: ABONG â€“ Non Governmental Organizations Brazilian Association; ATTAC â€“ Citizens Support by Financial Transactions Tributation Action; CBJP â€“ Justice & Peace Brazilian Committee; CIVES â€“Brazilian Entrepreneurs Association for the Citizenship; CUT â€“ Central United Workers; IBASE â€“ Brazilian Institute of Socio Economical Analysis; CJG -- Global Justice Centre; MST -- Landless Rural Workers Movement.
This Forum made evident the capacity of mobilisation that civil society has when faced with a new methodology, characterized by a guarantee of diversity and co-responsibility in the process of constructing the event. The success of the first WSF led to assessing the need for continuity. Towards this, the then Organizing Committee (at present, part of the WSF Secretariat with the Indian Organizing Committee) proposed establishing a Charter of Principles so as to guarantee the WSF as a permanent space and process for seeking the construction of alternatives of a worldwide nature.
In order to make possible international articulation of the WSF process, the International Council (IC) of the WSF was established in 2001. The IC was mandated to enhance and expand the diversity of the WSF process at the global level. The IC is a group of international networks from different regions of the world. It is constituted by several organizations working on issues including economic justice, human rights, environmental issues, labour, youth and womenâ€™s rights. The IC contributes to the WSF methodology, outreach, communication strategies as well as the local and regional organizing process. After the formation of the IC, it was decided that the Secretariat of the International Council would be based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Since the establishment of the IC, the Secretariat of the WSF has been working on strengthening it as a political and operational stage of the WSF that would contribute both in defining strategic paths of the WSF as in mobilizing and in other activities of an organizational nature. The action of the International Council has favored a greater interlocution among the organizations, both on a national and international level and has been fundamental for giving roots to the WSF process in the several countries and in the organization of the regional and thematic events as well as the global ones in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
This has been reflected in the growing participation in the WSF events, since the first one in 2001. The second WSF held in January 2002 saw the participation of 15,000 registered delegates and a total of some 55,000 people from 131 countries.
The meeting of the International Council, held in Porto Alegre in January 2003 decided that the next Forum in 2004 would be held in India â€“ the first time it was to be organised outside Brazil. This was a conscious decision designed to promote the internationalisation of the WSF process.
The WSF 2004 in Mumbai marked a major step in the global advance of the WSF process and saw the participation of approx. 1,00,000 delegates. It was followed, in January 2005, by the next edition of the Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil â€“ attended by over 1,20,00 delegates. Clearly, the WSF process has grown over the years and is able to attract increasingly larger participation from across the globe.
As a part of the WSF process of expansion at the world level, a number of regional and thematic forums have been organised since 2002, including :
Â· Thematic Forum, Crisis of the neo-liberal model, at Buenos Aires, Argentine, in August, 2002
Â· European Social Forum, at Florence, Italy, in November, 2002
Â· Thematic Forum, Negotiated solutions for conflicts, in Ramallah, Palestine, in December, 2002
Â· Asian Social Forum, at Hyderabad, India, in January, 2003
Â· African Social Forum, at Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, in January, 2003
Â· Panamazonic Social Forum, at BelÃ©m, ParÃ¡ (Brazil), in January, 2003
Â· Thematic Forum, Democracy, Human Rights, Wars and Drug Trafficking, at Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in June, 2003
Â· European Social Forum, at Paris, France, in November, 2003
Â· Pan-Amazon Social Forum, at Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela, in February 2004
Â· Social Forum of the Americas at Quito, Ecuador, in July 2004
Â· European Social Forum in London, U.K., in October 2004
Â· Pan-Amazon Social Forum in Manaus, Brazil, in January 2005
Â· Mediterranean Social Forum at Barcelona, Spain in June, 2005
Â· European Social Forum at Athens, Greece, in May 2006
Besides that, there have been also local and national forums in Belgium, Colombia, Portugal, Sweden, Brazil, Italy and other countries.
The International Council, decided to further promote the decentralisation of the WSF process by proposing Polycentric WSF events in 2006, instead of one global event. These polycentric events were organised in Caracas, Venezuela, and Bomako, Mali, in January 2006, and in Karachi, Pakistan, in March, 2006. The next edition of the global WSF event will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, between January 20th â€“25th, 2007, marking the next step in the advance of the global process of the WSF.