Where is the World Social Forum headed?

As the seventh edition of the World Social Forum, held in Nairobi from January 20th-25th 2007, comes to an end, one of the questions that have prompted much debate is that of the future of the Word Social Forum itself. Where is the World Social Forum heading? What path must it follow if it is to remain relevant? What must be its future? Created in 2000, following the Battle of Seattle, the World Social Forum (WSF) has become a sort of Mecca for all those in search of a fairer world under the motto "Another world is possible". It comprises an amalgamation of organisations, big and small, international and local, belonging to very different ideologies; social movements, base communities, trade unions, and many dissenting groups. All are searching for concrete solutions to the challenges facing the building of another world based on the principles of justice, equity and respect of human rights, where, thanks to a more humane globalisation, the economy will be at the service of people.

Undoubtedly, from its first meeting, the Forum exceeded all expectations as to the number of participants and its geographical expansion. It is also unquestionable that it has transcended the Davos Economic Forum, which, on those very days, gathers prominent leaders of the world's economy. The WSF keeps the same dates not because it pretends to copy the Davos meet, but because it aims at a larger goal: addressing the concerns, hopes and alternatives of civil society. It is equally true that a number of the Forum's demands have come to form part of the political agenda and have become a worldwide reference. As Bonaventura de Sousa puts it: "The international institutions and other power-holding authorities, in recent years, have been obliged to take into account proposals and demands made at the WSF". Nonetheless, after a few editions, the Forum is now going through a bad patch with regard to its future and this has given rise to intense debate. As Sami Nair, an Egyptian intellectual and one of the leaders of the Forum of Alternatives, points out: "The World Social Forum has played an important role, but it is a system that is beginning to wear out".

Must the Forum remain, as its charter of principles indicates, a democratic venue for ideas, in-depth reflection, formulation of proposals and a link between civil society organisations without issuing documents, joint declarations or taking collective steps? Or must it, on the contrary, make stronger proposals and take collective steps? What is sure is that, almost from its beginning, that question has been intensely debated between those who consider that the Forum, given the huge diversity of the organisations that attend it, should be an encounter and space for dialogue, and those who want it to take unique stands, issue joint documents and carry out collective actions. That question and that debate come up at every Forum with increasing urgency.

It is not easy to answer those questions without knowing what might be the most adequate solution. What seems certain, however, as Roberto Savio, member of the organising Committee pointed out, is that the Forum's success cannot be measured by the criteria of the number of participants or geographical expansion alone; more importantly, we must ascertain that it is contributing to the building of that other world that it proclaims.