COVID-19, in many ways, marks the first global health emergency, moving faster and farther to touch every corner of the world than any pandemic of the past. As we faced this universal threat, it showed us how interconnected the world is and opened up an opportunity for international cooperation and solidarity.
However, we saw nations turn inward to protect their own citizens and economies while xenophobia, anti-semitism and various forms of racism proliferated, geopolitical rivalries deepened, and multilateral cooperation and institutions suffered from the pervasive spread of a nation-first mindset. Within countries, we also saw divides widen as they each grappled with their own issues of equality and injustice.
As the world opens back up, we have an opportunity to reflect on how our social, economic, political and governance systems operate on a national and global level—and how they need to change. The challenges we face require new systems of cooperation that foster a balance of power and resources, so we can imagine a truly equitable future that enables all countries and populations to prosper.
Around the world, billions of people are excluded from full participation in the political, economic, and cultural systems that shape their lives. Without the space to organize or the opportunity to speak out, laws and policies fail to address their needs, enabling the powerful to acquire more power and deepening inequality.
During the pandemic, civil society has been instrumental in providing vital support to the most vulnerable. However, civic space—be it physical or digital—is rapidly shrinking due to governments abusing their power, increasing surveillance, rising criminalization of activists and journalists, and restrictions on civil society’s ability to register, operate and receive funding. Since March 2020, 155 countries have placed new restrictions on public assemblies. In the U.S, voter suppression, gerrymandering, attacks on the media, and efforts to roll back protections like the Voting Rights Act are eroding trust in the government and creating hurdles for civic engagement.
Thriving civic spaces and meaningful civic engagements are required for people to raise their voices, influence decisions, and hold governments to account. We are witnessing a political awakening fueled by movements of historically excluded groups who refuse to be silenced. We must increase opportunities for diverse communities to fully participate in civic life and support the multi-issue, multicultural organizations at the heart of these movements. We must protect journalists and social leaders calling out injustices and abuses of power, and cultivate a free press that’s fully representative of the world we live in. And we must urge governments and multilateral organizations to commit to safeguarding and expanding civic spaces to preserve the freedom of assembly, association and expression for everyone.
As a world, we are focused on achieving the same shared goals—from ending COVID-19 to mitigating climate change—but turning those goals into real, concrete action has been a challenge. As a result, low- to middle-income countries, particularly in the Global South, bear the brunt of these crises, exacerbating inequality on an international scale. The pandemic has exposed and accelerated a shift in the global order, a shift that was necessary well before the virus’s arrival.
Progress is only possible when all countries can prosper. As we see how interconnected and interdependent we are, we have an incredible opportunity to redefine how we operate as a global society. Collective action and cooperation are essential to address our shared challenges and advance justice. Already, we are seeing what’s possible as governments, corporations, organizations and citizens far and wide come together to support Ukraine, despite Russia’s relentless attempts to pressure democracies into failure, challenge international alliances, and erode unity.
To protect that web of mutuality and reimagine our global systems with equity at their core, we need more voices at the table—especially the Global South and historically excluded communities—to design solutions and foster strategic alliances among organizations and governments at every level. We need to effectively utilize and modernize multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization, so we can bridge divides between nations, break down barriers to development, and meet the challenges facing us today—and tomorrow. And we need to bring together diverse ideas, individuals and institutions to create a shared vision for the world that will lead to an inclusive global order.
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