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A Short History of the Alliance


1986 - 2001 – This history of the Alliance covers nearly fifteen years and two periods: 1986-1993, which preceded the birth of the Alliance, and 1994-2001, which constitutes the first cycle of its existence. An alliance is made up of many different kinds of initiatives and every Ally has his or her own history. This is therefore just an account that presents the beacons that led to the texts, methods, forms of organization, and events that gradually constituted the backbone of the Alliance as it can be seen, for example, on the Web site.

1986 The Birth and First Steps of the Group of Vézelay

The year 1986 was the year of the constitution of the “Group of Vézelay,” made up of eight French-speaking intellectuals (Michel and Calliope Beaud - France; Larbi Bouguerra - Tunisia; Pierre Calame - France; Venant Cauchy - Canada; Maurice Cosandey - Switzerland; Joseph Ki-Zerbo - Burkina Faso; Rene Loubert - France) wishing to join their efforts to understand the major technological risks. The FPH (Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind) supported the initiative and placed a budget at their disposal to finance research by experts.

Four research projects were launched, on: the evolution of the upper atmosphere (Gérald Mégie), civil nuclear risks (André Dagenbass), biotechnology (Marcel Blanc), and the absence of control over technological developments (Robert Clark).

1987 First Conclusions: Extent of the Changes Awaiting Our Societies

In 1987, the Group wrote a first collective text. It highlighted the extent of the changes needed for human society to face the dangers stemming from considerable disparities of a new nature. These necessary changes were identified not only as being technical and economic, but also as being related to values, law, politics, education, etc. The traditional procedures for the regulation of our society were seen as not apt to conduct these changes.

1988 Call for a World States-General

The Group released the “Call for the World States-General.” The call stated that it would be necessary to take a step, on a world scale, similar to the one that France had experienced the day before the great revolution of 1789: a step “up,” which would allow the various social sectors to compare their analyses and prospects with each other. This idea of a States-General is at the source of the Alliance.

1988-1990 The Dangers of a New Imperialism

A series of contacts and meetings were organized with various social sectors – scientists, journalists, company heads, North-South meetings – in the preparation period of the Rio Earth Summit (held in June 1992). The outcome of these contacts and meetings allowed the Group to define its vision:
- They confirmed the “systemic” nature of the changes that needed to be designed; each social sector tended to consider that the solution was not t be found in itself but in the others.
- They pointed out the danger of the “global village” rhetoric. This expression could be interpreted by the large countries of the South – China, India, and Brazil, for instance – as the determination of the countries of North to slow down their development without calling themselves into question.
- They pointed out that there was no agreement on the order of importance of the risks and the priorities. In the poor countries, the rhetoric on the safeguarding of future generations, especially when this rhetoric was presented by the rich countries, was not admissible when, on their side, they had the feeling that they were fighting for their survival.
- Finally, they convinced the Group that the “Earth Summit” will not be the World States-General that it called for. Consequently, the Group decided to further elaborate the idea of a States-General by working out specifications for it. The FPH decided to continue to support it.

1990 From Diversity to Unity: “Three Branches”

The analyses of the previous years showed that the rhetoric on the different forms of world interdependence (which proposed the principle of unity) needed to be completed with the recognition of the diversity of situations, perceptions, and points of view. How could this diversity be expressed? There are actually several forms of diversity: the diversity of contexts and civilizations; the diversity of social and professional sectors, which generates just as many objective situations and points of view on the world; and the thematic diversity of the challenges along with the diversity of the fields in which changes need be considered. To take these different forms of diversity into account the Group of Vézelay proposed an organization principle: the States-General was to be prepared according to three convergent branches. The “geocultural” branch would reflect the diversity of contexts and civilizations; the “socioprofessional” branch would reflect the diversity of the social and professional sectors; the “thematic” branch would reflect the diversity of the challenges.

1991 The Twelve Labors of the Group of Vézelay

How would the changes that needed to be prepared be exposed? How would the challenges be identified and the first prospects be worked out? Aware of the enormity of the task, the Group of Vézelay set out a first work program called “The Twelve Labors of the Group of Vézelay” (an analogy with the “Twelve Labors of Hercules,” of Greek mythology, synonymous with immense and almost insurmountable tasks). These twelve labors ranged from the development of values to arms conversion, including the search for sustainable farming and a new energy policy.

The Group of Vézelay was aware that it was not up to undertaking the preparation of such a “World States-General.” Certain members of the Group preferred to remain a “think tank,” a moral conscience, which through its rhetoric could be a “conscience raiser.” Others considered that the Group needed to be transformed in order to be able to take on the idea of a “States-General,” given that it was seen as essential. Compromising between the two tendencies, the Group decided to remain as such until a “Preparatory Convention for the States-General” was held, which would work out a common platform.

1992-1993 Preliminary Stages of the Preparatory Convention for the World States-General

To prepare the Convention, the Group of Vézelay worked out an initiative for each of the aforementioned “branches” in view of the preparation of the States-General.
- It organized seven continental meetings of between twenty and thirty people each: Arab and South Asian Countries; China; Sub-Saharan Africa; North America; Latin America; Eastern and Western Europe.
- It organized a few “socioprofessional meetings,” in particular an international trade-union meeting.
- It commissioned a series of studies on some of the “twelve labors”: values, energy, arms-industry conversion, industrial ecology, financial-market operations.

The efforts of these years resulted in the identification of a few common elements, despite the considerable differences of situation of the North and the South, and of the East and the West. Among them, there was the awareness that the current development models were dead-end tracks and everyone’s feeling of helplessness facing the magnitude of the challenges.
This led to a considerably much broader ambition. In 1986, the Group of Vézelay had started from the limited issue of the major technological risks. The poorest countries, however, had other, more urgent concerns. The States-General thus had to develop a broader approach the whole of the challenges of contemporary society.
The Platform drafted in 1993 is the reflection of this enlargement. The Group gradually became aware that the problems of the contemporary world were interdependent and always came back to a threefold crisis: in relations among human beings – with social exclusion, even in the rich countries, as the symptom; in relations among societies – with increasingly unequal distribution of wealth as the symptom; in relations between humankind and the biosphere – with environmental crises and climate change as the symptoms.

September 1993 “Preparatory Convention for the World States-General”

Held in the Paris area in September 1993, the Convention is the link between the two periods. It gathered eighty persons from fifty countries and was held in four languages: Chinese, Spanish, English, and French. The draft of the Platform for a Responsible and United World was put to many amendments.
It was also the end of the Group of Vézelay: The stage that was opening, that of the preparation of the States-General, called for another form of organization, which remained to be invented.

1993 Approval of the Platform for a Responsible and United World

The Platform was amended and, after several submissions for feedback, it was approved by the large majority of the participants of the preparatory Convention. Written originally in French, it was translated into English and Spanish and began circulating internationally, in particular among FPH partner network, with an invitation to sign it. After the dissolution of the Group of Vézelay, the FPH was in fact on the front line for the follow-up to the Convention.

1994 Circulation of the Platform and Its Consequences

It did not take long for the Platform to be well received. The decision of a well-known French journal, the Monde Diplomatique, to publish it in its entirety, followed by Arabic, Dutch, and Italian journals, gave it an unexpected resonance. Soon after, it was translated into ten languages: Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Polish, etc. This notoriety was first a sign that the Platform was timely; interest in it did not stem from its originality but from the fact that it expressed feelings and concerns shared among many circles and many societies, and that it interrelated often scattered facts and ideas. It was also that it dared to pronounce a rhetoric of common values and that it proposed to conduct to a general strategy; it was not limited to denunciation and resistance; it stated, loud and clearly, the need for building alternatives. Taking note of the inaptitude of the important economic and political players in initiating the major essential changes, its inevitable conclusion was what we would later call “civil society’s duty of ambition”: it was up to the world’s civil society, which still needed to be invented, to organize itself to take the necessary initiatives. From the feeling of helplessness of ordinary citizens to the acknowledgement of the helplessness of the large economic players stemmed a particular view of power: if it was true that true power and true democracy were what would make enable humankind to direct its destiny or, put more simply, to ensure its perenniality, then what was most lacking today was the power to do so: it was less a matter of “taking” power than of “making” power.

1994 Birth of the Alliance

The internationalization of the circulation of the Platform had other major consequences.
First a consequence on the words used. The Platform ends on a call for a World States-General. This expression soon turned out to be untranslatable: it refers to French history and is known, at most, only by the French-speaking cultural circles. To move on, other terms needed to be used, which called upon other images. The expression “Preparation of the Earth Citizens’ Assembly” took the lead. Stress on the preparation clearly indicated that this was about a process and not about an event. The expression “Earth Citizens’ Assembly” sought to account for the ambition: this would be an assembly, to discuss and define the future prospects; it symbolized the diversity of the Citizens of the Earth, the diversity of geographical sources, and the diversity of the social and professional sectors.
A further consequence on the forms of organization. To be consistent with the proclaimed need to overcome the feeling of helplessness, we needed to do more than collect signatures under the Platform and propose a form of organization that allowed the preparation of the Earth Citizens’ Assembly. The FPH then proposed the idea of an Alliance. The point was, in fact, to achieve the convergence of ideas, people, and movements who feel they are asking the same questions and who have values and some points of view in common, not to set up a new organization that would have its identity defined against other identities. The conviction that we needed a radically new approach, that it was necessary to invent ways of connecting people, movements, and the ideas rather than setting up an institution with statutes and decision-making bodies, was decisive for all that was to come; it determined both the strengths and weaknesses of the Alliance.

1994 Organization Principles of the Alliance: “The Blue Booklet”

Until the summer of 1994, the Platform was circulated and collected signatures. As of late 1994, the Platform was mostly circulated in the form of a small blue booklet that presents both the Platform and the Alliance. The Platform appears in it as the starting point, the rallying signal for people and movements eager to combine for mutual reinforcement and to build common prospects. But what would be the organization principles of the Alliance if it had no legal consistency, no legal personality, no formal managing bodies?

The “Blue Booklet” provided the first answers to questions that would continue to cross the life of the Alliance. It says to start with that the “the Alliance has no door.” What this means is that it does not have a definite border, that there are not “those who are inside” and “those who are outside.” That the Alliance is an idea that moves onward, that is invented as it goes, that acts like a magnetic field to channel energies.

The Blue Booklet says, further, that the Alliance is characterized by its form of organization. The intuition, here, is that one can obtain collective effectiveness without setting up formal institutions, as long as one adopts methods that are adapted to the objectives. Taking up the ideas elaborated between 1990 and 1993, the FPH proposed that the Alliance be organized around three “branches of entry” and a common calendar. The three branches were naturally the “geocultural branch” (diversity of contexts and civilizations), the “socioprofessional branch” (diversity of social and professional sectors), and the “thematic branch” (diversity of the challenges). Each branch called for its own ways of working in networks. The “geocultural branch” gave rise to “local groups,” which start out from their specific context to work out prospects; the “socioprofessional branch” gave rise to “colleges,” which bring together people of the same social or professional sector to build a collective point of view for their sector on the twenty-first century; the “thematic branch,” with “thematic workshops,” taking responsibility for working on a given challenge.
As for the common calendar, it was of course that of the preparation of the “Earth Citizens’ Assembly,” which still remained to be defined in its form, objectives, content, and date (at the time 1999 was under consideration, but it was to take place, in any case, “at the turn of the twenty-first century”).
New organizational challenges then cropped up on the horizon: How would they be organized, these local groups, socioprofessional networks and workshops? Whom would they include? To produce what? With whom? Who would facilitate them? How would they be financed? etc.

1994 What Are Allies? First Definition

An alliance brings Allies together. But who were these Allies? What would be their rights and duties with respect to the Alliance and with respect to others? How could we say that “the Alliance has no door” and at the same time talk about “Allies” – which implies that there are Allies, and those who are not? If this was an Alliance, how would these local groups, socioprofessional networks and workshops, which theoretically would grow in number, be connected? These questions would also cross the history of the Alliance.
In 1994, we proposed two simple rules.
- First rule: The Alliance is an alliance among people and movements. There are “individual Allies” and “collective Allies.” We wished to privilege the Alliance among movements without excluding individual commitments.
- Second rule: An Ally is a person or a movement that “has signed the Platform” (that is, who agrees with it in its broad statements) and that is prepared to take part in the collective work of the Alliance, by circulating (and possibly translating) the Platform or by “signing up” to one or more collective existing or future workshops: Local Group, Socioprofessional Network, or Workshop.

This was the definition of an “Ally” that would be used, until 1999, as a basis for the “Alliance Directory.” The Directory proved right from the start to be essential with regard to the public, for which an Alliance is defined less by its ideas and methods than by the people involved in it, as well as with regard to the Allies, who would thus be able to connect with one another. This rather strict definition of an Ally also had, however, its disadvantages. It drove away certain Platform signatories who had the feeling, when asked to fill out a questionnaire on how they wished to participate in some form of collective work, that they were being “enlisted.” It was problematic in certain circles and in certain countries. While grassroots activists and academics, for instance, are used to signing proclamations and petitions, it is not the same for company leaders and executives, financiers, and political leaders. In countries still governed by authoritarian regimes, signing a platform can be interpreted as an allegiance to a foreign movement. Lastly, “Local Groups,” “Socioprofessional Networks,” and “Thematic Workshops” include activists and experts who are not necessarily Allies. Thus, right from the start, the list of Allies was not the true reflection of the Alliance. There was on the one hand the “Alliance Directory,” which constituted the backbone of the “official” Alliance, and on the other, the “Alliance movement,” which included all those, whether or not they were Allies, who saw it as a networked workspace. Its contours were fuzzy and changeable. This ambiguity is still inherent to the Alliance. It is the trade-off for its innovative nature.

1995 The Alliance: A Social Movement or a Workspace?

In the spring of 1995, a first meeting of French-speaking European Allies was held. It brought together about sixty participants in the vicinity of Paris. Organized by a group of the Alliance young people, it proved to be more conflictive than expected: the debate, as it progressed, revealed a divide, which would appear on several occasions in the following years. On the one hand, there were Allies who placed on this new dynamics the hopes that had been dashed in political, or even grassroots movements. For them, the Alliance was to be characterized by its capacity to manifest itself and raise challenges. For others, on the contrary, the Alliance was to be above all a collective workspace, characterized by the serious nature of its analyses and proposals. The former would later be more responsive to the “geocultural branch” of the Alliance, with Local Groups where people would sense their kinship in an activist approach. The latter would be more comfortable in the Thematic Workshops.

1995 Structuring the Sectoral Branch of the Alliance

Until the fall of 1995, the work topics of the Alliance were defined both by the Platform for a Responsible and United World and by what we had called at the beginning of the nineties “The Twelve Labors of the Group of Vézelay.” The Platform set out five “Campaigns”: water, energy, soil, rehabilitation of badly degraded areas, and arms industry conversion. It was on this hybrid basis that the FPH had sent out questionnaires inviting future Allies to take part in a collective work process. In 1995, these no longer sufficiently reflected the major idea of the Platform, which stated that future changes would be taking place “simultaneously” within all spheres of human activity. It was therefore deemed necessary to indicate those fields and to build a more systematic panorama of them.

This task was undertaken during the second half of 1995 and gave birth, in January 1996, to a general proposal called “The Sectoral Branch of the Alliance.” For three years this document would be used as the basic reference to open sets of issue-based workshops, or Thematic Workshops.

This volitional approach in the launching of the Workshops was also symptomatic of another concern that would play a large role in the following stages, which was to reflect – albeit imperfectly, as best as possible – the true diversity of our society. This meant reaching out to the missing areas, the missing “socioprofessional networks” and the missing thematic workshops. This effort constituted another source of tension among Allies: there were those, closer to the social-movement proposition, who were set on letting the Alliance develop spontaneously, and those who argued that, given the origin of the Alliance, a purely spontaneous movement would lead to a coalition of almost exclusively French-speaking and Spanish-speaking non-governmental organizations and intellectuals.

1995 The Earth Charter

The Platform underscores a set of common principles. Ever since the first intergovernmental meeting on the environment in Stockholm in 1972, the idea of an “Earth Charter” had been moving along, with the intention of providing an international ethical and legal foundation for the conservation of the planet. Many drafts were drawn up of Charters in view of the 1992 Earth Summit event in Rio. It was hoped that the Summit would be the occasion for the heads of State to approve such an Earth Charter, which would then become the “third pillar” of the world community, alongside the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights and the United Nations Charter. This hope was dashed. Maurice Strong, the main organizer of the Rio Summit, took up the idea again in 1994 within the framework of the Earth Council, which he had just set up. The idea completely corroborated the intuition of the Alliance, which was that a common ethical foundation needed to be built. The development of this “third pillar” became one of the ambitions of the Alliance. A cross-cultural working process was undertaken to conceive it. In 1995, it was one among the many workshops, but it was gradually appropriated by all of the Allies and from it was born the ambition to work out and approve a Charter for a Responsible, Plural and United World at the Earth Citizens’ Assembly.

1996 International Meeting in Barcelona

After two years, the dynamics began to take on a structured form and its interest became manifest. About sixty groups were, or were being, constituted, mainly Local Groups (especially in French-speaking Africa) and Thematic Workshops. A new variety of Allies became naturally essential within the Alliance: those who would devote substantial time to the facilitation of these collective workspaces. They needed to meet so that they would know each other and establish links. From the Local Group of Barcelona, the organization EcoConcern agreed to take on responsibility for the organization of this international meeting, which was held in April 1996. The meeting was the occasion to discuss progress and obstacles, as well as to confirm that the dynamics and the methods of the Alliance had raised interest. On the basis of this very new experience, a first set of specifications for setting up and operating a Local Group or a Workshop was outlined.

The meeting was also marked by the premises of a debate which was to be pursued in the following years: on the one hand there were those who saw in the Alliance a social movement that should replicate the methods and practices of the grassroots and trade-union world; on the other, those who felt, on the contrary, that a new form of collective action and international thinking should be developed. The former wished to constitute, forthwith and from among the participants in the Barcelona meeting, a set of managing bodies, i.e. a number of committees that would steer the various activities of the Alliance. The latter, often on the basis of their own grassroots, trade-union, or political experience, felt that this early institutionalization might divert the energy of the Alliance toward the internal concerns of its organization.

1996 Position of the FPH Regarding the Alliance

After the Barcelona meeting, clarification of the position of the FPH with regard to the Alliance became imperative. In November 1996, the Foundation Council took up the task. From the document it circulated, the following main ideas were to play a decisive role in the following years.
- The FPH will assume financial responsibility for the Alliance until the Earth Citizens’ Assembly is held.

- It expects a World Assembly to crown the different dynamics in progress, as a symbol of the possibility of engendering dialogue and convergence among the various regions and social spheres of the world.

- It sees the Alliance as a twofold process: both as a social movement and a “large workshop.”

- It states that the power of this dynamics stems above all from the initiatives taken by all and sundry and their rallying capacity.

- It considers that the Alliance must be the reflection of the diversity of the world. The priority commitment of the FPH will thus be to ensure the development of the Alliance in the regions of the world and the “socioprofessional networks” that are not yet involved. It chooses to support a volitional approach rather than the simple development of the existing dynamics. Its priority will be to back the “socioprofessional branch,” which is the most difficult as it implies bringing together social and professional sectors that are scarcely present in the grassroots world.

1996 A Thousand Allies, a Hundred Countries, and Twenty Languages

The Alliance Directory, despite its limits, was a measure of the geographical expansion of the diffusion of the Platform. The first Allies came from the network of FPH partners. France, southern Europe, and Latin America prevailed. A big effort was made to enlarge this horizon. By 1996, the Alliance crossed the threshold of a thousand Allies, one hundred countries, and twenty languages in which the Platform was being circulated. This was still a long way from a mass movement, a balanced distribution of Allies within the hundred countries, and a sufficient diversity of the social and professional sectors involved, nor was it a true reflection of the cultural diversity of the world. Nevertheless, the Alliance had become a place where people were “thinking in twenty languages,” with all that this implied in terms of complexity and misunderstandings.

1996 Information Tools: The Nervous System of All Alliances

As the Alliance developed and diversified, as Local Groups, Socioprofessional Networks, and Thematic Workshops were set up, it became more difficult, as much for the Allies within as from people outside, to have an overall picture of it. Would the necessary consideration of diversity and complexity lead to a precarious construction? The Alliance did not have the simplicity of a movement focused on a specific issue – environment, trade, humans rights, landmines – with its related watchwords, public awareness campaigns, and press releases. Having no legal personality, neither did it have a spokesperson, nor even a “face.” It organized no media events.

Internally, Allies were finding it hard to connect with each other and to have a perspective of where they stood in the general dynamics. These difficulties led us to understand that in an alliance the information system was not only a tool, it was the very nervous system of the whole. It became essential to give it form and structure: a first Web site, the launching of the newsletter Caravan, and a “bird’s view” booklet on the Alliance visualizing the whole of the scattered activities were among the many components that went into building an information system. 1997 Preparation of a World Assembly in Brazil

The Barcelona meeting of 1996 had convinced us of the need, but also of the difficulty of organizing world meetings of the Alliance. So much so, that some Allies even came to doubt the opportunity of the Earth Citizens’ Assembly. They were afraid that it would be no different than one of the big UN conferences. Meanwhile, a second world meeting seemed necessary. In addition, this would make it possible for a local group to assume the responsibility for organizing it. In 1997, the São Paulo Group took up this challenge with the organization Polis in charge of its coordination. To do so, it found significant sources of joint financing.

1997 Organizing the Workshops around Four Core Themes

The preparation of the world meeting led to analyzing the Thematic Workshops of the Alliance such as they had been defined in 1995 in terms of the priority concerns of the Allies of various continents. This analysis resulted in reassembling the Workshops around four broad “core themes”:

The first core theme was that of representations. It covered values (in particular the Charter), culture, science and technology, education, art, and the media.

The second was that of economy and society. It covered social organization, economic alternatives, forms of production, consumption, the circulation of people, goods, and services, money, savings, and financial markets. This second core theme would be specified in the following years.

The third core theme was that of governance. Indeed, it had gradually become clear that it was not enough to promote citizenship, humans rights, local development, or the reform of the United Nations, but that it was also essential to recast the whole of our societies’ regulations from the local to the global levels.

The fourth core theme was that of relations between humankind and the biosphere. It included the Workshops already committed to water, energy, soils, biodiversity, and environmental education.

1997 The Alternatives Would Be Presented in “Proposal Papers”

The second world meeting offered a first opportunity to check the Alliance’s capacity to conceive and produce credible alternatives.

We therefore suggested that the various Workshops should prepare Proposal Papers. In the form of booklets, their purpose would be to state not only desirable objectives but also the means for reaching them and the players involved in their achievement. They were also to illustrate the proposals with “experience reports.” We were indeed convinced that in many places of the world, society had innovated and invented alternatives, both small- and large-scale. The Alliance was to identify them and link them together. The “Proposal Papers” idea would be specified as the years went by.

1997 The Bertioga World Meeting

The second world meeting took place in Bertioga, not far from São Paulo. It was organized by the Brazilian Allies of São Paulo.

Who should be invited to Bertioga and based on which criteria? Who should choose the participants? How would a balance among them be achieved? Three propositions were advanced: favor those in charge of organizing the collective work, which in practice meant the inner circle of Allies; invite those who applied and were prepared to make a contribution; invite, beyond the Allies, participants who were most likely to represent the diversity of social and professional categories and the various areas of the world. Traces of these hesitations persisted throughout the Bertioga meeting. Through the diversity of its participants, it was a beautiful symbol of the diversity of the world, but a contradiction remained between the meeting’s agenda, which was addressed to long-standing Allies, and the nature of the participants, many of which were just discovering the Alliance.

Other balances also turned out to be difficult to strike: between the festive moments and the formal work meetings; between the objectives of the meeting itself and the organizers’ legitimate wish to develop this international meeting locally; between the work in small groups and communication in plenary sessions.

1997 Safeguarding Memory: A Duty

The misunderstandings of Bertioga also revealed the importance, in a collective dynamics of a new nature such as that of the Alliance, of memory and its transmission. How, indeed, could the continuity and the coherence of such a complex system be ensured? In 1994, our answer had been: through the clarity of the methods and the calendars. But the new Allies needed to make the process theirs and, in doing so, to be able to inflect it. Everyone, quite naturally, tends to consider that the Alliance really begins when they become involved in the Alliance. The continuity of the process is however not guaranteed by legal statutes, nor by a permanent bureaucracy, nor by a common culture. And can we speak of a history of the Alliance? Or was it from the start a multiplicity of histories, those of the commitments of each of the Allies, those that led them one day to being connected to others in the context of the Alliance? Should the history of the Group of Vézelay, the Platform, and the first stages of the Alliance, which objectively guided the financial implication of the FPH since 1986, have precedence over other histories?

One thing was nevertheless for certain: the continuity of the process is essential. It should adapt to everyone’s contributions as it goes but not lose its essential nature. For this, transmission of its history is indispensable.

1998 Collective Debate on the Alliance’s Facilitation and Organization Procedures

The world meeting of Bertioga rekindled the debate on the facilitation of the Alliance between those who felt that the absence of a legal personality for the Alliance was a temporary condition and that it had to be changed as soon as possible into an organized movement, with by-laws, official membership, decision-making bodies, and independent sources of financing and those who considered that the major innovation of the Alliance was, and had to remain, its ability to build an open workspace.

Was the Alliance to act as a lobby in order to weigh on institutions by making a few simple proposals or should it be a place where the complexity of realities could be assumed and which could contribute to the emergence of new ideas?

For all of 1998, we sought to reconcile the two trends by clarifying the decision-making procedures without institutionalizing the Alliance. We sought to invent procedures for this “collective being,” which was not an institution but was nevertheless structured and lasting.

This effort led us to specify the “functions” that needed to be filled and to define the collective bodies that would be able to carry them out.

In 1998, several collective consultations were submitted to the Allies to gather their opinions on the successive organization projects. In the end, the effort to formalize the various above-mentioned functions revealed the inevitable complexity in operating an international dynamics of this kind. Accepted as long as it was managed informally, this complexity was rejected by many Allies once it was made explicit because it seemed likely to consume a lot of energy.

Facing these reservations, it was decided to designate, through a vote of the Allies, a 15-member “International Facilitation Team” (IFT), which would be able reflect the diversity of points of view of the Allies.

1998 What Words Do Not Say: a Cross-cultural Reading of the Platform

Since the beginning of the Alliance, the Platform was the reference document. Originally written in French, by 1998 it had been translated into twenty-five languages. Many translators reported on the difficulty of translating certain concepts into their culture.
Édith Sizoo, an Ally from Brussels, took the initiative of starting a dialogue among all the translators. Spread over nearly one year, this dialogue was completed by a meeting in Naxos, Greece, which produced the book What Words Do Not Say. Without making any concessions, the book screens the concepts used in the Platform. A good many of them, such as la gestion de la planète (management of planet) or responsabilité (responsibility) offered poor resistance in a cross-cultural approach. The verdict was final. Yet, if the Platform was so connected to a Western way of thinking, why had all these translators who now judged it severely wanted to translate and circulate it? Because, they said, they had perceived a momentum in it, an inspiration, and it was this state of mind, this proclaimed need to move forward collectively while respecting differences, that had made them join the Alliance process.

Since 1996, we had been thinking of working on a second version of the Platform. The conclusions of Naxos made us give up the plan. Good enough to have sparked off the Alliance, imperfect enough to avoid sacralization, the Platform had fulfilled its role. In fact, as the workshops had developed and the circle of people associated with the Alliance had increased and been diversified, the concept of “Ally” had been eased. The Platform was a useful reference, but a reference among other references. Gradually, the Alliance had overridden the Platform as a working dynamics.

1998 The Earth Citizens’ Assembly Would Be a Two-year Process, Not a Specific Eventl

In the spring of 1998, it became urgent to give an operational form to the “Earth Citizens’ Assembly,” presented from the very beginning as a milestone of the Alliance but with its form of World Assembly being contested by some of the Allies. The Bertioga meeting had not allowed the question to be settled. The symbolic system of a citizens’ globalization pleaded for a meeting of people from all over the world and from all social and professional sectors but some Allies continued to fear that too much importance was being placed on a specific world event. The idea that the Earth Citizens’ Assembly be a process spread over two years, 2000 and 2001, prevailed progressively.

During these two years, international meetings on a geocultural, socioprofessional and thematic basis would make it possible to define proposals, which would converge toward the World Assembly. The latter would be an important event of the process but it would also be meaningful in terms of “ the calendar effect” that it would have contributed to create. The two-year process could lead to two texts: the “Charter” and “Strategies for the 21st century.” The calendar that would be implemented in 2000 and 2001 was the product of these decisions.

1998 New Media for Connections

Until 1997, a newsletter in three languages was used to consolidate the Alliance. It was supplemented with a “Bird’s-eye View” here and there, which made it possible to visualize the whole of the collective dynamics that formed the nebula of the Alliance. The information policy, in fact, had remained very dependent on the FPH, toward which the information channels converged. Many Allies were convinced of the interest of a more polycentric and cross-cultural system. A long-standing Ally, Philippe Guirlet, a Frenchman who had settled in India, decided to take up the challenge. He launched the newsletter Caravan, published in French, English, and Spanish. Each issue would be facilitated by an editor-in-chief and an artist from a different country and would include a central topic derived from a Workshop. The journal, initially free of charge and financed by the FPH, was sent to all the Allies and was circulated from India. Guirlet’s move to Spain in 1999 would not substantially change the procedures.

Caravan soon became essential in the landscape of the Alliance and obtained its legal autonomy, in the expectation of financial autonomy in the long run. At the same time, regional or socioprofessional newsletter were launched: Butterfly Futures in Asia, Claves in Latin America, InterAct by the Young People Socioprofessional Network, etc.

1998 Structuring the Workshops of the “Workgroup on Solidarity Socio-Economy”

From 1995 to 1998, a series of Workshops within the second core theme of the Alliance, the “Workgroup on Solidarity Socio-Economy,” had been launched but without any overall coordination. The Workshops “Industrial Ecology,” “Financial Markets and the Future of Currency,” “Responsible Tourism,” for example, acquired international visibility. Others stagnated. The need for further structuring of these Workshops became apparent in order to be ready by the end of 2001, for the World Assembly, to submit a general view of the alternatives to the dominant economic and social model. A group of three people – Marcos Arruda (Brazil), Philippe Amouroux, and Jean Fraisse (France) – would devote themselves to it.

This structuring effort would lead to the identification of fifteen workshops. It was also the sign of a change of pace and period in the Alliance. After the 1994-1997 period, when more or less spontaneous dynamics were supported and when each workshop started out at its own pace and in its own style as someone offered to facilitate it, the Alliance adopted a more systematic approach, according to which it was necessary to cover all four sets of themes and to systematically define proposals with the 2000-2001 Assembly in mind. This development would be confirmed in the years to come. It led to a more standardized format of the Workshops and tasks to be achieved, which was essential to give the Alliance visibility.

1999 Designing Decentralized Data Bases

Until 1999, the main data base of the Alliance was the Alliance Directory. It was managed by the FPH. As time went by, four needs became essential: to create other shared data bases dealing with the content of the work; to manage them in a decentralized way; to allow Web-based consultation of them; to use them to extend the Alliance Web site.

Three complementary R&D efforts were initiated in 1999 to achieve this end. They achieved their results in 2000 and 2001. The first, conducted by Patrick Mevdek, referred to the decentralized management of the Directory – now coordinated from Brazil by Hermila Figuereido – and of the agenda. The second, conducted by André Crison, made it possible to manage through the Web site the experience reports and summaries of documents produced by the Thematic Workshops and Socioprofessional Networks. The third, conducted by Vincent Calame, made it possible to build the “Mapped Thesaurus,” which interrelates the topics tackled by the Alliance.

1999 Launching the Simultaneous Continental Meetings

In September 1999, the first International Facilitation Team of (IFT) meeting was held in Barcelona (Spain). Again, it stressed the need to avoid counting exclusively on the World Assembly. Its composition, founded above all on the balance between different areas of the world, favored the geocultural branch. It launched the idea of four simultaneous continental meetings which would be held around the June 2001 solstice.
This deadline would be, from then on, one of the main dates of the Alliance. Each continental meeting was to have its own style, facilitators, preliminary stages. David Gakunzi (Burundi) was put in charge of the African Meeting, Eulalia Flor (Ecuador) of the American Meeting, Siddhartha (India) of the Asian Meeting, and Manola Rauss (France) of the European Meeting.

The preparation of the African Meeting was particularly striking: from June 2000 to June 2001, a caravan with a changing number of participants would travel around Africa.

2000 Establishing an Alliance Inventory

The debate on the Alliance guidelines made it essential to draw up a strict, general picture of the Alliance and its development, beginning with a quantified analysis of the Allies, the Workshops, and the Socioprofessional Networks. This task offered contrasting results.

At the beginning of 2000, it was decided to establish an inventory of the Allies.

The first and significant finding was that for two or three years the Alliance had developed in multiple forms. The signature of the Platform, therefore the “listing” of new Allies, remained one of the procedures but it was no longer the only one, nor even the main one. The majority of Local Group, Workshop, and Socioprofessional Network facilitators placed greater focus on the effective dynamics of their group than on the singing up of Allies. On the other hand, some of the “official” Allies were merely consuming information rather than acting as sources of initiatives.

The second finding was a relative stagnation of the quantitative progression of the official Allies. Many social and professional sectors and many countries were scarcely represented. On the other hand, the Alliance had given rise to a great number of initiatives.

To account for this reality, we needed to broaden the concept of “Allies” to include all those who are involved in the collective dynamics, whatever the form.

2000 Searching for a Balance between the Three Branches and the General Calendar

In 1999, the International Facilitation Team (IFT) strongly privileged the geocultural branch and the continental meetings.

A debate ensued. A new IFT meeting was held in Bangalore in March 2000. An general calendar was established, integrating in a balanced way the three branches and fixing the World Assembly for December 2001.

The IFT was enlarged to include the facilitators of all three branches. With nearly one hundred people it became a permanent forum where the different initiatives of the Alliance could be discussed.

The operational coordination system based in Paris was reinforced. Special effort was devoted to the development of the socioprofessional branch, i.e. to establishing contacts with all those sectors that were scarcely or not represented in the Alliance. After several years of fostering the diversity of initiatives and modes of approach, 2000 and 2001 were the years when the unity of the process were to come first.

2000 Constitution of a Publishers Consortium for the “Proposal Papers”

The 2000-2001 process also created a calendar effect: the three branches of the Alliance needed be able to go beyond the stages of analysis and denunciation and move toward the proposal stage. The principle of the “Proposal Papers,” brought up in 1997 for the Bertioga Meeting, is taken up again and elaborated by Michel Sauquet and Olivier Petitjean. The drafting of these booklets would constitute, for each facilitator of the Alliance, one of the common tasks. But what would be the languages and the circulation of these Proposal Papers? A consortium of nonprofit publishers met in Barcelona (Spain) in September 2000 and defined a common strategy, marked by a twofold aim: unity and diversity. The Proposal Papers would be published in six languages – Chinese, Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. An effort would be made in each case to locate the proposals in a specific cultural context of the World Assembly.

2000 Linking up with Other International Dynamics

We have always tried to keep the Alliance from withdrawing into itself.

The majority of Allies are involved in other organizations, trade unions, or political movements. But since 1988, we have tried to be present in a more collective way in various international events. Even if, by nature, the Alliance does not have “delegates” in these events, the international network, the practice of collective work and the collective thinking that it represents give it strength. These international events are also for the Allies an opportunity to get to know one another and an occasion to make themselves take a fresh look at their work. Examples are the Appeal for Peace Conference (The Hague, 1999), the World Science Conference (Budapest, 1999), the Millennium Forum (New York, 2000), the International Conference on Culture (Paris, 2000), the World Congress on Human Coexistence (Montreal, 2000), the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre, 2001), Alternatives to the Americas (Quebec, 2001).

The strong contribution of the Allies to the World Social Forum made it possible to define the complementary nature of the Forum and the Alliance. The Forum was above all the meeting place of grassroots social movements and experiences. The Alliance is a workspace where the points of view of different areas of the world and different sectors can be confronted; it is a place for the development of alternatives.

Many other international events, related to specific topics, have been organized in relation with or by the Workshops. For example, the Eastern-European Seminar on Soils (Prague, 2000), the International Energy Seminar (Assise, 2000), the Asian Seminar on Industrial Ecology (Manila, 2001).

In October 2000, two large international meetings were held:
- The World Parliament of Young people in Sydney (Australia), organized by both the Young People’s college and OXFAM, Australia, brought together representatives of 150 countries;
- The World Assembly of Urban Inhabitants, in Mexico City (Mexico), organized together with Habitat International Coalition (HIC) brought together representatives of urban grassroots movements from thirty-seven countries.

2000 The First Big “Socioprofessional” Meetings

The “Socioprofessional Networks” – i.e., networks of people belonging to a same social or professional sector and accepting to think about the responsibilities of their sector and about their specific point of view on the challenges of global society – had reached very different degrees of development in 2000. Some of them, as the Young People’s Socioprofessional Network, had been formed since 1992 and had gradually been consolidated. Others, as the Urban Inhabitants Socioprofessional Network, were based on preexistent international networks. Many others still, were set up much later and are, in fact, in their early stages.

2001 The World Citizens Assembly in Lille (December 2-10, 2001)

In August 2000, it was finally decided that the Alliance World Assembly would be organized in the north of France, in Lille. Many practical considerations guided this choice: proximity of the logistic equipment of the FPH, reception capacities, the proximity of several large international airports. Moreover, Lille had an active core of Allies ready to organize the mobilization of local civil society around the event and a great cross-cultural tradition linked to its industrial past, which had in fact made of it a terre d’accueil (land of welcome).

The format and the agenda of the Assembly were decided in September 2000. It would not be an Assembly of Allies but an Assembly organized at the invitation of the Alliance. The stake – or rather the wager – was to invite to Lille 400 persons who were the reflection of the twofold diversity, geographical and socioprofessional, of global society: twenty areas of the world with more than one hundred million inhabitants each, and twenty sectors to be represented in an balanced way. This was a considerable challenge when compared to the usual international conferences, which bring together mainly representatives of the rich countries or representatives of states, or people of very similar profiles. All the Allies were invited to suggest names of persons that could be invited.

The methodological challenge was just as daunting: to arrange things in such a way that each participant would contribute, in the course of eight days of collective work, to define prospects, and to discuss the Proposal Papers and the Charter project.

The number of participants was agreed on according to this twofold consideration of diversity and collective work. Thus, it would be an Assembly (400 was the figure corresponding to a Parliamentary Assembly) and not a simple conference.


Pierre Calame
Chairman, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for (...)
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