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Looking Forward: A New Paradigm -- A Renewed Commitment, a Common Vision for a Civil Society World

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Every year, in Davos, on the eve of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, optimistic business leaders have some wind taken from their sails by pre-publication of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Consistently for the last few years this index has shown collapsing confidence in big business and increased negativity towards governments -- especially those in Western democracies. By contrast media organizations and NGOs keep scoring highly -- their special attraction being proximity to public interest issues against continuous exposure of corporate mal practice and government malfunction that so dominate our headlines. It's not good news.

For most of us, we are left exhausted and somewhat cynical -- never a good combination if what you go to Davos to achieve is to fit in with the powerful mission of the World Economic Forum -- Committed to Improving the State of the World. That's why we, KPMG International, decided it was a healthy opportunity to work with the Forum on a crucial assessment of the future of civil society so that we move away from cynicism and toward an empowered sense of what is possible when citizens, business, government and the organizations that represent them stand together.

The years between 2010 and 2012 have seen huge and continuous public protest not just against tyrannical regimes in North Africa or the Middle East but against Wall Street, the City of London, Zurich's Financial District and across hundreds of global capitals. The Occupy movement provoked a vital public debate. People have found a new voice of anguish and are not sitting by waiting on benevolent Governments to step up. They are taking society and its prospects into their own hands.

In the last week I have yet again been in Kenya. Just a few years ago the world watched with excruciating fear as tribal conflict spilt out onto the streets on the hard back of a democratic election system which clearly didn't carry the confidence of the people. This time, with the election less than two months away, I found a fascinatingly fresh energy from every group of public, business and civil interest leaders with whom I crossed paths. There was, and is, a new consensus that a strong society must deliver prosperous futures for the still too many poor needing real jobs rooted on a vibrant economy; must demonstrate transparent justice for those in fear for their safety, and must allow thoughtful free expression so ideas can mature.

This requires not just that protesters and human rights activists shout loud and louder, but that the full orbit of public interest leaders -- CEO's, business executives, politicians, NGO heads, academics and those with charitable missions, including many from faith communities -- find a common voice and a common delivery platform. Kenya is lucky -- it has VISION 2030 and a truly remarkable man at its helm. It is the very synergizing of all these forces into a public interest focus that builds such effective consensus in Kenya. We must hope the electoral outcomes are free and public confidence in the voice of the people expressed. It's a model of an emerging economy trying to do it right.

The days have long passed now where business leaders and their corporate boards kept silent on matters of public concern; or where faith leaders crossed the road to avoid polluted profit makers; or even where Governments proudly proclaimed that they alone would bind up every wound and alongside NGOs they would be balm to keep the calm. Even as we discovered during the Forum's Annual Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin, China the new Chinese authorities admit to the limitations of Government and look to partner with other providers. This is a new paradigm indeed: a common vision for societies that are healthy because profit is invested in employment, innovation and human development and where vital freedoms -- to believe, to speak, to challenge, to move around freely, and to be protected -- are upheld not just by Faith communities or NGOs but also by banks and manufacturers because the health of a society is a genuine matrix of interweaving commitments that we all share. This new Civil Society world will help restore trust in business and confidence in government. It will also let NGOs move from continuous campaigns towards common redelivery of civil commitments. We all have a stake. Now we must hold it.