Campaign with Together First for civil society inclusion in UN leaders’ summit

Preparation is underway for a world leaders’ summit in September 2020 to celebrate the UN’s 75th anniversary. The initiative offers a chance to take stock of how the UN needs to adapt to deal with pressing threats like climate change, weapons proliferation and cyber insecurity. It’s early days in the process, but unbelievably, there were no provisions for civil society involvement in the initial draft plans, circulated to member states at the UN at the end of April 2019.

Together First is fighting for inclusion, together with UN2020 – a joint civil society initiative working for a successful 75th anniversary summit. States should not have a monopoly on action to address global threats, indeed, they will not be effective if they do not work in partnership.

Throughout May, while work on the UN General Assembly resolution which lays out early plans for the summit continues, we are collecting civil society endorsements of an open letter to the co-facilitators of the process – Iceland and Singapore – calling for civil society to be included in a meaningful way.

We currently have over 150 organisations and movements from all over the world signed up. A copy of the letter has been reproduced below.

Will your organisation join us?  Please email to sign on.

Together First is a growing campaign to improve international cooperation by promoting fair, inclusive and open forms global governance – we are working hard to make sure civil society have a meaningful voice in this conversation.



We write to you in your capacity as co-facilitators on preparations for the UN’s 75 anniversary to express our deep concern that nascent plans for the commemorative plenary are not suitably inclusive of civil society.

The anniversary presents a vital opportunity to consider how the Organization must adapt to cope with the global threats facing humanity. As the President of the General Assembly said recently: “it is a chance to make the UN more effective, more transparent, more accountable and more relevant to ‘we the peoples.’”

We are, therefore, alarmed to learn that the zero draft resolution for the commemoration does not envision a meaningful role for civil society. It appears to exclude civil society from the intergovernmental preparatory work, from consultations on any outcomes that may be adopted – and even from the commemorative event itself. This would represent a missed opportunity to ensure the inclusion of a diversity of voices, especially those of the most marginalized, through civil society participation.

Global civil society has been a committed and determined ally of the UN since its inception in 1945 – when delegations worked together with NGO representatives on the text of the Charter. Today, that partnership is even more important – as civil society supports delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, and plays a key role in policy formulation, innovation and communication of progress to the broader public.

Encouraged by your stated “deep commitment to an open, transparent and inclusive process” – that reinforces the President of the General Assembly’s emphasis on “making the UN relevant to all people” – we call on you to champion the voices of “we the peoples”, and to ensure that meaningful participation from civil society is included at every step of the way towards the 75th anniversary of the UN.

In this vein, we ask that you consider engaging civil society in the process you are leading, for example, through an informal hearing with civil society, by inviting civil society representatives to present at the next suitable meeting, or by organizing a civil society briefing.

We thank you for your efforts to date, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the 75th anniversary is a meaningful event with lasting impact.

Together First with Extinction Rebellion in London to explore new forms of representation

There is no greater test of humankind’s ability to cooperate than the environmental breakdown we are facing due to climate change. While the scientific community is in agreement that it is physically and biologically possible to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees and avert the most catastrophic effects, what is desperately lacking is the governance structures to coordinate this effort, and more importantly, the political will to act.

As a representative of Together First I was honoured to speak at Extinction Rebellion UK’s Marble Arch site during last month’s global climate protests to discuss how new forms of representation and cooperation could help us build a system capable of rising to the challenge.

Together First representative Ben Donaldson speaking at Extinction Rebellion occupation in Marble Arch, London,  April 2019.

A lot can and must be done at an individual, local and regional level, but the magnitude of the challenge clearly also requires urgent government action from all countries – without this the rapid progress we need to end fossil fuel subsidies and decarbonise economies is out of reach.  But how can governments be incentivised to abandon the orthodoxy of narrow, short-term self-interest that got us into this mess?

One necessary component is belief in an alternative system. This is where it gets quite chicken and egg: A new approach can only be convincing if it is effective, and to be effective, it must be a global system into which a critical mass of governments are willing to put their faith.  But how then can states put their faith in a system that doesn’t yet have a critical mass of states and therefore is not yet demonstrably effective? This is where Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate and other powerful emerging and established movements offer hope. Moving the dial and convincing governments to embrace new ideas needs a groundswell from civil society, business and leaders at all levels in all corners of the world to help bring about the necessary political conditions.

The other component which needs attention is governance. Where is the power? Who will have the agency to define and steer this unprecedented global coordination effort that we need? If it is to be legitimate, accountable and wide-reaching enough, it cannot be monopolised by governments. It needs to be a truly global partnership between states, international bodies, businesses, civil society, indigenous leaders, parliamentarians and individuals.

Together First is campaigning hard for this inclusion and representation. Instead of leaving it to states (look where that got us), we are demanding a prominent role for civil society and other excluded groups in the decision-making chain at global institutions like the UN. We love Extinction Rebellion’s idea of citizens’ assemblies and other underused or new ways to include more voices in the loop.

Together First is committed to making sure the proceeds of these exercises have an inlet into the international system and a meaningful effect on how the international community decides how to address global threats like the climate crisis.  High on our priority list is getting better provisions for civil society to feed into the work of the United Nations.

Please join more than 150 organisations – including fellow event participants Democracy Without Borders  – and sign on to our open letter demanding a greater role for civil society in a crucial UN initiative looking at ways to strengthen our global system.

The current state-monopoly on global governance has got to change.  Global institutions need to be fundamentally reformed or rebuilt to share power more fairly with all those at the mercy of global threats. Only through this will we build the reciprocal trust we need to embrace radical change and move forwards responsibly.

This summer Together First is launching an inclusive global consultation to identify, support and advocate for workable solutions that will help us address global challenges. Sign up to Together First to hear more and take part.

Ben Donaldson is on the steering committee of Together First and is based at United Nations Association – UK. Twitter: @benaldson

Together First report from Buenos Aires: Second High-Level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation

Adriana Erthal Abdenur (Igarapé Institute) and Florencia Gor (World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy) reporting from Buenos Aires, 20-22 March 2019.


Florenica Gor with Monica Hirst, Ambassador Gustavo Pacheco and Adriana Erthal Abdenur


Together First was present at the Second High Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, known as BAPA+40 after the Buenos Aires Plan of Action,  issued in 1978. BAPA+40 marked four decades during which South-South Cooperation became increasingly institutionalized within the UN system, especially through the creation and initiatives led by the UN Office of South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) and the Reports of the Secretary-General on the State of South-South Cooperation.  


“The Power of South-South Cooperation to Strengthen Multilateralism” ran alongside the conference, co-sponsored by Together First, the Governments of Uruguay and Uganda, FES Argentina, the UN2020 Initiative, WFM-IGP, the Stimson Center, the Workable World Trust, CIVICUS, and Instituto Igarapé.


The Power of South-South Cooperation to Strengthen Multilateralism panel event


This side event showed that SSC has expanded considerably within and outside the UN, becoming highly diverse both in terms of geographic scope and range of activities involved. However, it also made clear that within the UN, the development system remains at the fore, despite South South exchange also encompassing other areas such as humanitarian action, climate change initiatives, and peace and security. Although many UN system components engage actively with South-South Cooperation (SSC), there is still much work to be done in terms of institutionalizing it within the UN system through frameworks, dedicated staff and, most of all, political backing and adequate resources.


The Sustaining Peace vision promoted by UN leaders creates windows of opportunity for the UN to recognize and engage with the broader scope of SSC, especially as it relates to conflict prevention. However, in order for the UN to become an effective and legitimate arena for promotion of SSC more broadly, deeper reforms are needed that would help strengthen and mainstream SSC across the organization’s historic silos.


Framing those reforms within the scope of the UN2020 agenda, the panel highlighted the opportunity presented by the upcoming 75th anniversary of the UN to find synergies and explore the best ways to strengthen the institutional structure for SSC and triangular cooperation.

By recommitting to multilateralism, member states would guarantee a continuity for forms of cooperation that have proved not only efficient but indispensable in the road to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Participants highlighted that “South-South Cooperation is about common sense.” Its flexibility and simplicity are advantages, and recognizing its contribution to development and other areas through a comprehensive approach is vital for accomplishing the Agenda 2030. SSC thus should be regarded as an essential area for boosting multilateralism.


Speakers outlined some key moments and developments in the interaction between SSC, multilateralism and Official Development Assistance (ODA). They also stressed the importance of trusting and strengthening regional organizations and encouraged civil society to continue working alongside governments to generate consensuses. Further formalization of the civil society channels of participation in SSC was identified as a key demand.  


Florencia Gor speaking


As imperfect as the United Nations may be, it remains the most democratic and legitimate space to foster cooperation.  Hence its architecture needs to be strengthened, including in the ways that SSC is addressed. National, regional and international consultations of multiple stakeholders should feed into a process for improving the UN system. Together First and the UN2020 Initiative are coordinating outreach efforts to engage and unite all sectors in these discussions. All citizens, and especially youth, should have a say in shaping the future of our global system.


On the road to the 2020 Leaders Summit, designed to take stock of the UN system and start a process of review and renewal, it is vital to understand the accomplishments of the last 40 years and the challenges ahead in order to improve the UN’s effectiveness on South-South Cooperation.


Further reading:

Together First campaign launched at Paris Peace Forum

This is a guest post from UNA-UK – cofounders of Together First. It was originally published here.

UNA-UK helped launch a new project to strengthen multilateralism at the inaugural Paris Peace Forum on 11-13 November 2018.

The forum, initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron, began with moving speeches by Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the centenary of the end of the First World War. It brought together states, international organisations, local governments, NGOs and foundations, companies, experts, journalists, trade unions, religious groups and citizens to discuss global challenges and present solutions. Some 120 projects and initiatives were presented, including Together First.

Together First is a new global movement of organisations and individuals committed to pragmatic steps to improve our global governance system so that it is better able to address the most pressing risks facing the world.

Next year, Together First intends to:

  • Launch the first-ever public, interactive, multi-stakeholder web portal for global governance reform. It will feature the most promising ideas to address global risks, and serve as an organising platform to make them a reality
  • Set up a number of commissions consisting of policymakers, experts and practitioners from all sectors, as well as those commonly left out of such exercises (e.g. young people) to create a new risk profile for the international community, and to identify the most transformative and feasible ‘next steps’ to address these risks
  • Test these proposed solutions on the basis of the current political environment, the steps (legal, institutional and other) that may be needed to implement them, and the level of existing support amongst key constituencies
  • Create tailored campaigns and coalitions to push for their implementation

This work will have produced a credible list of short-, medium- and longer-term actions for the international community in time for the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020.

At the Paris Peace Forum, three members of UNA-UK staff worked with other members of Together First to launch the movement and collect signatures for our first campaign action, which invited people to cast their ‘veto’ about the state of the world, and demand better from their leaders. The team managed to sign up hundreds of supporters, including three Nobel Peace Prize Winners, and delivered the campaign’s message through events, outreach, social media and media interviews. You can see more of our activities in the gallery below.

Our Paris Peace Forum pitch

A pitch by Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director, UNA-UK at the Paris Peace Forum, 12 November 2018

Together First is a new movement, incubated by the Global Challenges Foundation New Shape Process. Our name is taken from a phrase used by German foreign minister Heiko Maas at the UN this September, where he spoke out powerfully against those who believe that this is a zero-sum world in which their country must come first.

Our objectives are in line with the Paris Peace Forum – we want to strengthen our global governance system so that it works for everyone, by helping the most promising solutions to become a reality.

The biggest stumbling block to reforming our global system is not a lack of ideas. This Forum proves the opposite. The challenge is how to overcome the huge political hurdles that have prevented us from moving forward – narrow national agendas, naked national ambition, rising big power tensions, insularity, exclusion, apathy and fear – of the scale and complexity of the challenges we face, of losing power, of losing out, of being left behind.

This is what we at Together First are focused on. We don’t pretend to have the perfect solutions to address all the world’s ills. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, or to replicate or duplicate the excellent ideas showcased at the Forum or indeed the many initiatives that are not featured here. Instead, we seek to connect these ideas and take them to the next stage, by tackling the things that are holding them back, crucially, the absence of political will, of trust and collaboration between stakeholders, and of a shared vision and agenda.

Time and again, the international community has missed opportunities to tackle the big challenges we face, because the big powers don’t want to address them, because politicians don’t understand them, or because they think they are too difficult or not important enough to their citizens. By the time enough states are on board it’s often too late – we put in place solutions that reflect the past and not current, let alone future, realities.

And it’s not just states that are the problem. International officials often focus on tweaks to existing systems because they are afraid of their political masters. NGOs are prone to doing the opposite – they adopt an all or nothing approach that ignores political realities.

As a result, we rarely take a strategic approach to reform – there are many ways to address risks but how many times do we see a menu of solutions, with options and strategies for implementation that are supported by a broad range of stakeholders?

That’s where Together First comes in. We aim to be a permanent Paris Peace Forum – a platform, a vehicle and an engine room that will:

  • Identify workable ways to address the risks we face
  • Prioritise and boost the most promising ideas
  • Enable people around the world to be part of this conversation
  • And build powerful movement of stakeholders to take them forward

Next year, we will:

  • Launch the first-ever public, interactive, multi-stakeholder web portal for global governance reform. It will feature the most promising to address the big risks facing the world – from climate change to nuclear weapons, extremism pandemics – and serve as an organising platform to make them a reality.
  • These won’t just be ideas that we come up with. We will set up a number of risk commissions – consisting not just of the great and the good from politics, science, business and civil society, but also real people, young people, people whose voices are usually left out – to review and curate what’s out there, to create a new agenda for the international community
  • And we will test these ideas – looking at how feasible they are given the current political environment; the legal, institutional and other steps needed to put them into practice; and the level of existing support amongst states and other stakeholders, including the public.

By the end of next year – in time for the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 – Together First will have created a to-do list for the international community, with

  • immediate actions that can be taken by governments, business, cities, investors, communities and individuals
  • medium-term reforms that should feature prominently at the UN’s 75th anniversary, which we believe should be a transformative moment for the international community, with a world summit held not in New York or Geneva or Paris but in an African city – to signal that we are serious about changing how we do global governance and who is part of that conversation
  • longer-term solutions to be placed on the agenda of an international conference in 2025, at which nothing, including UN Charter review, should be off the table

Together First will turbocharge this agenda by creating implementation strategies for specific proposals, and by building coalitions of champions to take them forward. Together, these coalitions will form a powerful global movement pushing for change.

Some people will be skeptical about our ambition, and I understand their concerns. We are in a period of great uncertainty, of division and polarization. Many governments are turning inwards, too preoccupied with domestic problems and constituencies to invest in multilateralism. There is a growing gulf between people and governments, as the public loses faith in the ability of national and global institutions to keep them safe and improve their lives. And there are certainly dangers in calling for change, when there are so many leaders who would try to subvert this agenda.

But it is precisely because this is such a dangerous period that we have to act. We cannot sit around and wait for things to get better. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us just 12 years to save humanity. We need to initiate fundamental changes to our economies, societies our global governance system in the next couple of years if we are to have any hope of doing so.

The Climate Agreement adopted in this city showed that we can make progress even in difficult times. Through our portal, our people’s panels, our priority agenda, our work with policymakers and our public campaigning, we at Together First will do our best to support the global governance transformation the world needs.

UNA-UK and partners launch “Together First” campaign for renewing our global system

This is a guest post from UNA-UK – cofounders of Together First. It was originally published here

Dedicated to building a global system that works for all, UNA-UK has today joined with a network of over 100 experts, practitioners, civil society activists and business leaders from all regions of the world to launch “Together First”: a new campaign to transform global governance.

Together First acknowleges that from climate change to nuclear weapons, cybercrime to terrorism, the risks we face cross national borders. Our solutions must be global. We need to renew and strengthen our global system, and we need to make sure that it delivers for all the world’s people, not just an elite few.

There have been many attempts at global governance reform and most have stalled, not for a lack of ideas, but because of the political realities of our world order. Together First will address this head-on, by launching the first-ever public, interactive, multi-stakeholder web portal for global governance reform that takes the political realities into consideration. It will feature the most promising ideas to address the big risks facing the world – from climate change to nuclear weapons, extremism to pandemics – and serve as an organising platform to make them a reality. By engaging the public and civil society in the conversation in a way which has never before been attempted, Together First will provide the platform for a conversation between the powerful and the public around how we approach global threats and challenges.

Over the next year we will also set up a number of risk commissions – involving people from the worlds of politics, science, business, civil society, young people, the general public and traditionally excluded voices. These commissions will prioritise an agenda for the international community: determining which ideas for reforming our global system are feasible, which are desirable, and which will help us face the future risks we face.

This weekend, at the Paris Peace Forum, we will officially launch the campaign with our “People’s veto” action – calling on the public to cast their veto against bad governance and short-term thinking, and demand better from our world leaders.

Click here to visit the Together First website and cast your veto.

Together First was initiated by a diverse group of participants at the New Shape Forum hosted by the Global Challenges Foundation this May. Since then, it has operated as a loose working group, coordinated by UNA-UK and with ongoing support from the Foundation. Further information on the working group, which is one of five supported by the Foundation, can be found in its most recent Quarterly report.