The sustainability wheels are coming off our democracy: shall we fix it?

11th September 2012 by

Nicolò Wojewoda works for the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development. He’ll be running a workshop with Otesha on 16 October so we can contribute to FDSD’s manifesto for a better future. 

Imagine this. You’re merrily queueing at the local coffee shop for a shot of espresso, while grinning from ear to ear about the sunny weather outside and how it is indeed a perfect day for a bike ride. When it’s your turn, you place your order, and the cashier says “that’ll be £1.50, plus £5 from the gentleman who came before you – which makes a total of £6.50”. Congratulations, you’ve just been the unhappy beneficiary of a whatever is the opposite of pay-it-forward scheme. Unlikely? Unrealistic, you could say? Think again. Just in the UK, the bill presented to young generations and those coming after them is a staggering £1,032.4 billion of debt. In the whole world, governments are leaving us with over $48,793 billion worth of IOUs.

At a public event in 2011, I asked then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Young Families, MP Tim Loughton, why the government wasn’t adopting a more long-term approach that would tackle not only ever-existing financial concerns, but also emerging environmental and social crises (unemployment and climate change, anyone?). His answer is worth listening to in full (segment ‘Young people and long term policy’), but to paraphrase the initial premise: the electorate is often asking for short-term results to start with.

Not being one of those who asked my government for short-term results, and knowing that most young people in my network hadn’t either, I puzzled: in this modern democratic governance of ours, are all voices represented? Is there something else that needs to be factored into the equation, in addition to individual needs and wants from those who enjoy representation? Is the system aiming at the right objectives to start with? Is it effective, in tackling common and urgent challenges (present and future)? And most relevantly: does it work as well as it could, to help build a cleaner, greener, and fairer world?

I now work for a small charity here in London called the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development. Our answer to that last question is: we think it doesn’t, and we have an idea on how to fix it. What we need is a manifesto that shines the light on the future of our systems of democratic governance, something we can use to foster debate and action around equipping democracy to better tackle sustainability challenges.

This is what we think the final manifesto could look like: it’s going to be short (2-3 pages); open to sign-ons by individuals and organizations; containing vision, principles, and actions; and possibly in a jaw-dropping graphic design that makes people “ooh” and “aah” and “yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do something about”. And, true to the democratic principles we so passionately argue in favour of, we want to make the process of drafting such a manifesto as open and collaborative as possible.

As part of this process, we’ll be organizing with Otesha a workshop (on October 16th), which you’ll read more about on these pages in the next few weeks. If you can’t come, it’s alright and we won’t hold it against you – being the modern global charity we are, you can participate in our online consultation as well, and your input will be counted!

Small actions bring to big change, and even the smallest adjustments to the way we function as a democracy can have ripple effects that go a long way. As part of the generation that will feel that ripple effect, let’s build a better system of governance so we can reverse the trend and actually start paying it forward instead (while still enjoying the sun, our bike, and that delicious shot of espresso).

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