A Closer Look at Coalition Building for Sustainable Development

On Sunday March 25th, the Human Impacts Institute hosted an interactive workshop at the U.S./Canada Citizen’s Summit for Sustainable Development on Coalition-Building for Sustainable Development. With presentations from Tara DePorte of HII on theMobilizeUS! American coalition, and Marie-Pierre Daigle of the WeCanada coalition, participants were engaged in Rio+20 partnerships from the start. These two women presented on their experiences at the head of national organizing campaigns, and spoke of the inspiring beginnings that WeCanada and MobilizeUS! had just one year ago. Filling what they saw as a gap in coordination for the Rio+20 Conference amongst civil society groups, DePorte and Daigle took the lead in their respective countries to bring efforts together. Since then, both MobilizeUS! and WeCanada have developed into impressive networks of groups and individuals working to mobilize North America for sustainability leadership in Rio. They are now working together to unite the two coalitions into a broader American-Canadian partnership that can be a strong force at the conference in June.

Participants in the workshop, were then able to work together to brainstorm their own ideas about building coalitions in their communities. From individuals looking to protect the water quality of their local river, to students seeking to inspire university activism, all were brought together in a unique way and formed innovative ideas. Working together through a list of coalition-focused questions, the groups had a lot to say about community organizing. See some of their thoughts below:

Group 1: What are the Advantages of Cross-Border Collaboration

  • When you’re thinking of bringing people together for action, who are those people? It is important to think outside the box when building a coalition. Reach out to groups that have different missions and audiences than your own (i.e. not just environmentalist organizations!), and see how you can work together to accomplish the goals of sustainable development.

  • What are some challenges we may face when working as a coalition? Duplication is a common issue that arises when forging coalitions. It’s important to remain updated on the work that each partner is doing while simultaneously compiling a comprehensive list of resources and templates for future partners and campaigns.

  • Why should Canada and the United States work together on sustainability issues? The Canadian and US governments often take similar positions in international negotiations, as the economies and social structure of both countries are very alike. North America is often looked to for global leadership, but has a long way to go before their countries are truly sustainable. Entering international discussions surrounding sustainable development as a larger, unified, voice allows North American negotiators to propose a more concise, feasible, and inclusive deliverable that will encourage leaders to confidently support.

Group 2: What are Some Coalition-Building Challenges and Solutions?

  • What are some challenges we may face when working as a coalition? Coalitions can siphon resources from the primary mission of its constitutent organizations. Maintaining commitments to the common cause, and to delivering promised resources are major problems. So too can be communication, messaging, and ensuring follow-up.

  • What are potential solutions for those challenges? Much of the solution rests in communication and leadership, and in having clear roles and responsibilities. Maintaining clarity of goals within the coalition, and ensuring they’re measurable and achievable, helps too.

  • What are the most efficient and effective tools for local/national/regional coalition building? Technologies such as the web play a major role here today, but use of it can become cumbersome and confusing. Proceeding from the beginning understanding what tools will be for what use, when, helps. For example, the use of a particular Google document for record keeping. Or the use of a particular listserv for mass communication. Many times phone conferences, and certainly face to face meetings, arranged regularly, smooth things out and keep contact and a sense of momentum.

Group 3: Building a Community Coalition

  • How do you define your community (i.e. school, city)? When you’re thinking of bringing people together for action, who are those people? A community is a unit of people that are socially cohesive, regionally/digitally accessible and share a core system of values that drive the groups mission and future actions. Preferably the community is one built of people representing diverse backgrounds in the field and are passionate about the cause.

  • What would be the goals of creating community coalitions? The goal of creating a community coalition is to engage local residents with those around them and their environment. Coalitions allow for resources to be shared between partners and spread ideas around communities allowing for others to input personal opinions, support, and critiques.

  • What issues of Rio+20 are most important to your community? The major issues for Group 3 were the need for sustainable energy production, food security for the global population, and the depletion of untouched waters.

After coming up with such great ideas, some participants were even inspired to form their own coalitions together! This is exactly the kind of collaborative energy that will make Rio+20 a successful international meeting, and that will ultimately bring sustainable development to all. Reach out in your own community to find ways to work with others around these important issues of sustainability and build or join a coalition today!

See one of our workshop participant’s–Elischia Fludd from EOTO World–video blog perspective on the U.S./Canada Citizen’s Summit here! watch?v=-W_JGbBstL8

And join the MobilizeUS! coalition or We Canada today!

By Kate Offerdahl, Human Impacts Institute’s Youth Leadership Coordinator

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