07/13/2016 12:58 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 10:59 EDT

World Social Forum: On The Earth, For The Earth

The WSF attracts activists, organizes its conferences around "self-managed workshops" and promotes collaboration -- what I like to call communityship in contrast to leadership. This is a meet-up of people concerned less about doing deals than about the consequences of such deals.

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'McGill University's leafy campus is in the foreground, and downtown office buildings in the background.'

You have likely heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), or at least its annual conference in Davos. Every January, 2500 of the world's movers and shakers descend on this Swiss resort to shake the world, while ensuring that its roots remain firmly planted in economic globalization.

Have you heard of the World Social Forum (WSF)? It expects to have 20 times as many people descend on Montreal next month, for a little moving and shaking of their own -- for example to loosen the roots of what it calls the "crisis of capitalism". This will be its twelfth bi-annual conference, but the first in the "North". (Others have taken place in Brazil, India, Tunisia, etc.)

Don't feel badly if you never heard of the WSF. Recently I gave a talk to 300 people at HEC, Montreal's main French-language business school. Barely 10 knew about the WSF, let alone that it was meeting soon in their own hometown.

A Tale of Two Forums

Such is the state of the world today: focused on the economic while obscuring the social. The WEF calls itself "The International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation." Cooptation, too, thanks to its success in promoting globalization. The private sector leads and the public sector follows while the plural sector (civil society) struggles.

I have been to Davos as a speaker a few times. In 2006, I attended a session entitled "Global Business: Survivor or Scapegoat." Some choice! (Of course, it's the choice we've been hearing from those pundits quick to dismiss the recent Brexit vote.)

Don't expect to see anything like Davos in Montreal next month. The WEF attracts elites; its agenda is loaded with big names, not necessarily with anything new to say; and the organization is big on "young global leaders" (presumably selected by old global leaders).

The WSF attracts activists, organizes its conferences around "self-managed workshops" and promotes collaboration -- what I like to call commuityship, in contrast to leadership. This is a meet-up of people concerned less about doing deals than about the consequences of such deals.

The WEF conference gets enormous press coverage. The WSF conference has barely received mention in its host city, let alone around the world. If the WEF is about power in the name of change, then the WSF is about change in the face of power.

Here, then, we have the two main models for changing this troubled world, neither of which is working. One fails because it brings together the people who have benefited most from some of our main problems -- income disparities, consumptive economics, lopsided globalization. The other fails because it lacks the power, and the attention, to do something about these problems, not to mention its own lack of organization.

(Business gets its collective act together for what it wants--such as tax cuts -- while the plural sector associations do no. To paraphrase a song by Tom Lehrer, the WSF may have the good songs, but the WEF wins the battles.)

Together, this is not a happy combination for a troubled world.

The theme of the Montreal conference is "Another world is needed." Another model, too. Imagine if one day the two forums -- social and economic -- marched as equal partners for a balanced world. While holding our breath for that, let me tell you what we are organizing in Montreal to nudge the world slightly in this direction.

Our March Our little team at McGill has been busy preparing three events. I will be speaking about Rebalancing Society -- my last book -- and we have organized a panel about how can the plural sector get its collective act together to help restore balance in this distorted world.

We are especially excited about our self-organizing workshop, entitled "On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet." It will be held on Wednesday August 10 from 9:15-15h in the McGill University football stadium -- on that earth. (For details, please see the Facebook event page.) Participants from around the world will meet each other and form small groups, each to focus on one issue, such as:

  • What can we do in our personal lives to reverse global warming?
  • How can we get creative about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?
  • What can we do to make our city energy friendly?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?
  • How can the WSF become the force that the WEF has become?

The groups will share their proposals for change, and select the best, for presentation to the whole throng. Five really awesome proposals will do it (although we will not complain if we get 50). Then we will all consider what we can carry home for action -- starting next week. If 100 people go home determined to make a difference, we will be happy; if 1000 do so, we will be delighted.

Please join us. We promise you a low conference fee: at $40 it comes to .00056 that of Davos (finally a chance to join the 0.1 per cent!). We can also guarantee aa lot more fun: a living lab and do-it-yourself climactic picnic, on the ground. Who knows, we might even move the Earth!

© Henry Mintzberg 2016

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