World Social Forum works with — and for — the poor

By 
  • February 16, 2011
In Davos at the World Economic Forum you might get to see Bono, Bill Gates and Nicholas Sarkozy having a quiet little chat. But you won't get to see what the Mary Durran saw in Dakar, Senegal, during this year's World Social Forum.

"I witnessed an exchange yesterday (Feb. 7) between a Cambodian organization and a Senegalese organization," Durran, of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

The Cambodians were worried by how government officials and corporations were working together to drive small farmers off their land so the companies can produce crops for export.

"I saw something click with a Senegalese participant, who lit up. 'Cheap imports of Cambodian rice are flooding our markets and undermining national rice production, impoverishing our peasants,' (the Senegalese) said," according to Durran.

Rather than gathering national leaders together with captains of industry and finance, the World Social Forum brings together organizations that work for and with the poor, said Durran. The result is a bottom-up look at globalization.

"The leaders who attended Davos also failed to avert the food crisis of 2008," wrote Durran from Dakar. "The World Social Forum is warning that land-grabbing practices in Africa that are pushing peasants off their lands and selling to global investors who are producing food and biofuel crops for export, (which) threatens a further food crisis."

While the leaders who gathered in the Swiss resort Jan. 26 to 29 this year had governments and billions of dollars at their command, the World Social Forum in the Senagalese capital could claim a real connection to poverty and the darker side of globalization.

"A group of women from Guinea supported by D&P were present at the WSF," wrote Durran. "Most of these women are illiterate, and they live a hand-to-mouth existence because they are so poor."

By participating in the six-day event, Development and Peace learns from grassroots organizations and refines its own programs, said Durran.

"This is the only gathering where there is such cross-fertilization of ideas," she said. "It is well worth the trip to Dakar."

The Dakar gathering is also a chance for Development and Peace to witness to its Christian mission, said Durran.

"The incarnate Christ is at the centre of our work," she said. "All of our work — including analysis of how economics affects the poor — bears witness to the hope, redemption, conversion and love that is at the centre of the Christian message. When Church-based organizations work to include the excluded and marginalized at the table of globalization, this is bearing witness to the incarnate Christ."

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