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World Social Forum


The World Social Forum first met in 2001. Leading members of the global movement for social and economic justice organized the Forum, in response to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. In 2001, and the following two years, the World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The organizers of the World Social Forum make a point of convening the meeting in the global South, underscoring their view that this region should take leadership in the movement for progressive global social and economic policy.


The World Social Forum: From Defense to Offense (February 1, 2007)

This Agence Global piece describes how the World Social Forum has progressed since its inaugural meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001. During the first few WSF conferences – characterized in this article as "defensive" – activists convened with the primary goal of denouncing aggressive neoliberal and unilateralist policies. The author asserts that the WSF has gradually evolved beyond mere rhetoric about resisting the current global structure, instead focusing its efforts on empowering groups to seek better alternatives.

From Words To Action (February 2007)

Critics often charge that the annual World Social Forum conferences do not yield practical solutions to the negative effects of neoliberal social and economic policies. This Inter Press Service article draws attention to "radical" changes in the structure of the WSF from a space for debates and discussions to a more dynamic social movement. As of 2008, while the WSF will continue to take place in parallel to the corporate-driven World Economic Forum, participants will organize events – including marches and demonstrations – in their regions, rather than in one central location.

The Three Faces of the World Social Forum (January 30, 2007)

In a critical assessment of the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, this openDemocracy
article points out that big, Western NGOs overshadowed the contributions of their smaller, local counterparts. Furthermore, poor planning and high costs greatly limited participation by the very people whose lives the WSF sought to improve. The author concludes that while the conference fell short in its three goals – protesting, networking and coming up with proposals – it must continue working towards a better global society.

A Critical Review of the World Social Forum (January 17, 2007)

Critics say that while the World Social Forum provides a space for dialogue on how to improve the well-being of the poor, the annual conference often fails to yield tangible results. However, this Pambazuka piece warns against such pessimism and "becoming too preoccupied" with the flaws of the WSF. Instead, the author calls for more inclusive participation and a greater focus on finding solutions to the global problems brought to light at WSF meetings.

WSF: Still A Stranger to the Public Eye (January 11, 2007)

This Inter Press Service piece summarizes the findings of a survey on participants' experiences at past World Social Forum gatherings. Thousands of activists from around the world convene annually at the WSF to draw attention to – and seek solutions for – the harmful effects of neoliberal social and economic policies. According to the report, most participants believe the conference receives little attention from political leaders, the media and, therefore, ordinary citizens.

NGOs Long On Vision, Short On Detail? (December 21, 2006)

This Inter Press Service article examines opposing views about the effectiveness of the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual NGO conference held in parallel to the business-centered World Economic Forum. Some observers charge that participants at WSF meetings fail to speak "with one voice" on alternative policies to improve the lives of the world's poorest people. But despite criticism for its lack of "concrete" results, the WSF has drawn attention to the detrimental effects of neoliberal policies and, thus, contributed to the global movement for social and economic justice.

"What is WSF? Something That'll Bring Me Medicine?" (November 22, 2006)

The World Social Forum aims to raise awareness about the plight of those marginalized by corporate-driven economic and social policies. But this Inter Press Service article points out that these very people remain underrepresented at the WSF conferences. Activists in Kenya, where the January 2007 meeting will take place, say that NGOs should "stop using problems of poor people to enrich themselves" and, instead, engage more with the communities they purport to help.

Never Give Up On That Other World (January 2006)

The annual World Social Forum (WSF) was conceived as a "politically contrasting" counter to the World Economic Forum. Its aim was to bring together a representation of all the world's citizens, NGOs and trade unions. Over time the original objective of thwarting liberal globalization has somewhat faded. Many now feel that the WSF must become more than a place for discussion and instead provide a platform for proposals. (Le Monde diplomatique)

Why the World Social Forum Needs to Be Less Like Neoliberalism (January 18, 2006)

In this critique of his experiences at the 2005 World Social Forum (WSF), the author draws connections between the forum and the neoliberalism it seeks to counter. Just as neoliberalism aims for an unregulated "open space", the WSF in 2005 tried to create the same, but ended up encountering the very problems it opposes. The result was a lack of equitable participation, undemocratic decision making and a WSF that lacked a structure to maximize learning, networking and organization. (Toward Freedom)

Is Structurelessness Democratic? (November 2005)

Many NGO activists appreciate the World Social Forum's "open meeting place" format, in which no individual or organization has explicit power, and everyone has a voice in the forum debates. However, this unstructured format "can lead to less democracy, rather than more of it," warn Finnish scholars. Members of the International Council, the decision-making body of the WSF, need to adopt more formal rules in order to preserve the unique "open" format of the Forum itself. (Network Institute for Global Democratization)

The Future of the World Social Forum Process (February 9, 2005)

This ZNet analysis notes various problems with World Social Forums, from their large size to structural and organizational weaknesses to the "glaring absence" of fora in the US. The authors conclude that transnational events such as the World Social Forum provide a necessary space for understanding the increasingly interconnected world and challenging the growing US hegemony.


Belém 2009

Declaration of the Assembly of Social Movements at the World Social Forum 2009 (February 5, 2009)

The Assembly of Social Movements at the World Social Forum made unprecedented political statements including proposed measures to overcome the economic crisis. The Assembly argued that the solution to the crisis cannot be found within a capitalist system, since privatization and exploitation are the sources of the problems. Instead, the Assembly called for popular mobilization around concrete suggestions such as nationalizing the banking sector without compensations. (Transnational Institute)

For a New Economic and Social Model, Let's Put Finance in Its Place! (February 1, 2009)

In response to the financial crisis, this letter, formulated by a collection of NGOs and social movements presents a voice from poor Southern countries to the G20. They urge world leaders to adopt a new approach in the reform of the global financial systems, demanding a system based on human rights, working to benefit the public. In an effort to establish a fairer balance of power, a democratized UN which reaches beyond the G20 and sits at the heart of the financial system, forms the cornerstone of their policy proposal.(Choike)

World Social Forum 2009: A Generation's Challenge (January 29, 2009)

Ironically, the unity of the participants of the World Social Forum is at its lowest at a time that arguably represents the best opportunity to influence policy-makers. This openDemocracy
article argues that the participants in the forum have been unified in their opposition to corporate globalization, but now lack a common view of the way forward. The activists could combine their current approaches, which are to influence policies on state or local levels and forming single-issue networks, into a joint strategy.


Nairobi 2007

World Social Forum: What They'll Talk About in 2007 (September 6, 2006)

NGOs from around the world have submitted ideas for possible discussion topics at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. Some representatives hope panelists will address concerns about youth unemployment, in addition to developing long-term strategies for debt relief, the environment and trade-related issues. As one member of the organizing committee notes, the WSF should "build bridges" between policymakers and members of society adversely affected by globalization. (Inter Press Service)

Gendering WSF Nairobi 2007 (July 20, 2006)

This publication addresses the flawed power dynamic between men and women in the planning stages of the 2007 World Social Forum (WSF). Testimonies included in this paper criticize the lack of female panelists at past WSF events, despite the large number of women in attendance. The author calls on the male-dominated organizing committee to support initiatives to decrease the marginalization of women at the 2007 conference. (Pambazuka)

Africa's Time to Use Global Meeting to Push Trade Agenda (April 5, 2006)

The author of this Standard piece discusses the significance of the January 2007 World Social Forum taking place in Nairobi, Kenya at a time when "US and western influence is dwindling around the world." The annual WSF will draw further attention to the plight of those who suffer economic and social injustices arising from neoliberal policies that foreign institutions impose on poor countries. More specifically, the author expects that participants at the conference will focus on how to increase African nations' role in the global economy.


Caracas, Bamako and Karachi 2006

World Social Forum: Polycentric and Losing Focus (March 24, 2006)

World Social Forum: Polycentric and Losing Focus (March 24, 2006) Asian activists deplore the fact that the third location of the 2006 World Social Forum (WSF) in Karachi, Pakistan received little publicity. Some commentators fear that although polycentric events allows for increased participation of regional groups, the three 2006 events caused the WSF to lose global impact. The article argues that the WSF needs to "coordinate action…and formulate strategic steps" instead of being a "glorification of individualism." (Inter Press Service)

Uncharted Path to a Different World (January 29, 2006)

According to this BBC article many World Social Forum participants left Venezuela disappointed with the lack of final "wrap up" and plan of action to conclude the forum. Although the forum was useful for networking and provided many workshops and speakers, visitors grew frustrated when scheduled speakers and organizers failed to arrive. Other participants however remain positive about the WSF and believe it provided a worthwhile experience.

Africa and the WSF: From Bamako 2006 to Nairobi 2007 (January 26, 2006)

This Pambazuka "question and answer" provides a general overview of the World Social Forum (WSF), addresses the primary criticisms of the forum. African awareness-raising and mobilization was made possible in 2006 by holding polycentric events, which included Bamako, Mali. African attendance at previous forums had been minimal; therefore it was important that the WSF provide a space for groups from the area hardest hit by the globalization and poverty link to voice their concerns and ideas.

The WSF in Search of Itself (January 25, 2006)

Many activists are expressing dissatisfaction with what they see as the World Social Forum's (WSF) lack of results; however others believe that these people are expecting too much from the forum. The WSF was not intended as a "political force" but rather has a purpose of openness. Many participants would like the forum to issue joint proposals or statements, but these are difficult to formulate without compromising many of the differing views present at the WSF. (openDemocracy)

World Social Forum: the Great Debate in a Land of Change (January 18, 2006)

The World Social Forum (WSF) held in Caracas, Venezuela brings together 60,000 participants from outside Venezuela alone, assembling organizations that although they think differently, have "continuity" in their campaigns and can form powerful advocacy networks on specific issues. "Commentators feared outspoken US-critic Venezuelan President Chavez's influence over the forum, however co-organizer Edgardo Lander states that the forum is political, with every organization holding their own world view. The forum is an opportunity for organizations to evaluate past work, analyze the present situation and put plans into effect. (Inter Press Service)

World Social Forum: Cynicism and Hope Ahead of the Bamako Gathering (January 17, 2006)

Holding part of the World Social Forum (WSF) 2006 in Mali has allowed different groups access and greater involvement. Peasant groups, women and youth organizations view the forum as a chance to speak, have greater involvement in world events and an opportunity to show that they have a place as actors in world affairs. The WSF offers an alternative to the World Economic Forum which in contrast attracts business and political elites. (Inter Press Service)

World Social Forum: Global Protest with a Caribbean Twist (January 9, 2006)

In 2006, activists will gather at not one but three World Social Forums (WSF). For the first time, WSF organizers opted for three different locations - one each in Africa, South America and Asia - in order to highlight the specific struggles for social and economic justice that occurs in these distinct regions. The South American WSF will be held in Venezuela; this forum is receiving attention from activists and the media, who wonder what role activist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will play in the event. (Inter Press Service)


Porto Alegre 2005

Picture Credit: Associated Press/Victor R. Caivano

The Last Porto Alegre - Discerning the State of the World Social Forum After Five Years (February 2005)

The World Social Forum (WSF) certainly has its faults: high-profile NGOs and local organizers have too much influence over the agenda, the annual event is "no longer novel," and participants have little consensus on the agenda at the end of the day. But the WSF, yet to reach its full capacity, still exists as a unique counter to the World Economic Forum. This Foreign Policy In Focus author celebrates the WSF as an integral part of the anti-globalization movement's future and praises the event organizers' decision to move to biennial conferences in cities other than Porto Alegre.

Something New in the Latin American Air (January 31, 2005)

NGOs and journalists alike have long considered South America's communication as sub-par. But TV Brazil, launched at the 2005 Porto Alegre World Social Forum, has become the first state-run television network to broadcast event images outside its own borders. The project marks a first step towards an integrated communication system that can aid citizens and NGO activists in influencing local, national and international policy. (TerraViva)

The Consensus of Porto Alegre? (January 30, 2005)

Although the World Social Forum (WSF) is designed as a "horizontal, open space" that advocates alternative voices without choosing solutions, 19 celebrity activists at the 2005 WSF created a consensus of proposals aimed at furthering the Forum's motto, "another world is possible." The authors, who urged participants to sign the document, defended their efforts as opening rather than setting the debate on how to "reach this other world." (Inter Press Service)

More than 1,000 NGOs Launch Anti-Poverty Appeal at Porto Alegre (January 27, 2005)

The 2005 World Social Forum has made "a priority of an issue such as poverty," said Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva as he and over 1,000 NGOs called for increased efforts towards the UN's Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Activists support better trade relations, debt cancellation, more development aid and transparent national policies. They also urged citizens to wear white ribbons to represent hunger, the "silent tsunami" that kills millions in Africa and Asia each year. (Agence France Presse)

Global Poverty Targeted as 100,000 Gather in Brazil (January 26, 2005)

With the convergence of 100,000 activists ”including some of the world's poorest people” in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the World Social Forum has "unexpectedly become a global political and social phenomenon." The presence of the Brazilian and Venezuelan Presidents demonstrate a commitment to leftist ideals in South America, "the only continent now challenging the US," according to one participant. (Guardian)

World Social Forum Activists Reorganize to Face Critics (January 25, 2005)

On the eve of the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the organizers address complaints of lack of democracy, repetitive debates and political influences. Le Monde
reports that the Forum's International Council has given up managerial powers as "grand organizer," involved greater input from participants in debate topics, and increased event space in hopes of increased progress and diversity.

World Social Forum: In the US, Polls and Bullets Blot Out Upcoming Summit (January 12, 2005)

US activists at the 2005 World Social Forum hope to "refute the widespread belief that their country has 'gone Republican,'" reports Inter Press Service. US-based NGOs attending the annual meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, hope recent tsunami aid efforts and continued criticism of the Iraq war will increase global awareness of the forum and help everyone join "the same path" towards universal solutions.



Mumbai 2004

Picture Credit: Le Monde

Brazil to Mumbai: A Controversial Move (February 11, 2004)

This rabble article argues the political culture of the World Social Forum (WSF) in India was transformed by the strong presence of indigenous peoples and "untouchables." Previously the WSF focused on neo-liberal globalization and largely ignored "struggles against discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion."

Mumbai, WSF, and Our Futures (February 9, 2004)

Michael Albert argues activists have to "move from talking about people having a real say to people in fact having a real say." In this ZNet article he suggests ways to give the World Social Forum and the social movement behind it new momentum.

IMF, World Bank "Out of South" (January 28, 2004)

This Bretton Woods Project article reports on the special focus given to the Bretton Woods institutions at the World Social Forum in Mumbai. The workshops, discussions and conferences resulted in the upcoming "global days of action from 22 - 25 April during the Spring Meetings of the institutions."

That WSF Bubble (January 20, 2004)

This Indian Express article argues the World Social Forum (WSF) needs to engage with "the popular WSF narrative of the three pillars of an American-led evil empire: the IMF, World Bank and WTO," to improve the world.

Anti- Globalization Movement Mulls How to Confront Bush (January 17, 2004)

Participants at the World Social Forum in Mumbai disagree on many things, but one cause unites nearly all: opposition to US President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Arundhati Roy called on activists to select "two US companies associated with the Iraq war and launch a worldwide campaign to shut them down." (Agence France Presse)

Mammoth Meet Targets World of 'Misery' (January 15, 2004)

Organizers and participants believe the World Social Forum (WSF) is a platform for change in a "world of violence and misery." Some extreme leftist activists, however, do not see the WSF as the vehicle for achieving change. At the parallel forum the 'Mumbai Resistance,' these activists criticize the lack of one common policy at the WSF, and in addition call for an "armed struggle" against capitalist-led globalization. (Inter Press Service)

Politics at the Venue: The WSF in Mumbai (January 11, 2004)

This ZNet article gives a comprehensive account of the issues dominating the debate about the nature of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.


Porto Alegre 2003

The World's Fair (February 5, 2003)

The World Social Forum is likened to the great medieval fairs of Europe, except the trade is in ideas and arguments rather than grain, cattle or fruit. The writer expresses great hope for the movement that derives its power from its stunning diversity and inclusive approach. (Open Democracy)

The World Needs a New Kind of Globalization (February 5)

There was a strong feeling at the World Social Forum that a new form of globalization is necessary as an alternative to the current system which concentrates wealth among a small portion of the world's population. Grassroots activists' biggest challenge is to create a blueprint for change and to galvanise the political will to support it. (Common Dreams)

More Democracy – Not More Political Strongmen (February 3, 2003)

The World Social Forum was designed as a showcase for new grass roots movements but this year it felt like a celebration of high profile leaders. Naomi Klein agrees that "a better world is possible" but it will only be realized if leaders work together with impoverished people and empower them to meet their own needs. (Guardian)

The WSF as the UN's Second Chamber? (January 28, 2003)

Many interesting ideas came out of a workshop discussing UN reforms at the World Social Forum. The lack of direct representation for the world's people and the lack of independent funds to strengthen the UN were some of the major concerns. (Inter Press Service)

Civil Society + Governments Can = Global Justice (January 27, 2003)

Martin Khor, director of the Malaysian based Third World Network, emphasizes the need for greater government interaction with NGOs. He also dispels some myths about the political agenda of the World Social Forum. (Terra Viva)

Goal Must Be to Make Globalization an Equitable, Inclusive Process, Says Secretary-General (January 27, 2003)

In this statement to the World Social Forum, Kofi Annan emphasizes the vital role NGOs play in global policy development. NGOs must hold governments accountable while at the same time working with them to ensure that a more equitable world becomes a reality. (UN Press)

Report from Porto Alegre- Day 2 (January 26, 2003)

The first full day of the third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre went very smoothly despite the conference doubling in size from the previous year. Brazil's new president, Luiz Inacio da Silva, spoke of poverty reduction and alternatives to globalization in front of 75,000 cheering people. (Independent Media Center)

A Tale of Two Meetings: World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre (January 24, 2003)

The World Economic Forum's theme, 'Rebuilding Confidence,' contrasts with the burgeoning success of the World Social Forum. There is a feeling of hope among WSF participants, despite a darkening world climate of impending war. (Independent)

War on Iraq Would Affect WTO Trade Talks (January 25, 2003)

Activists at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil warn that a US war on Iraq could compromise developing countries' ability to steer the agenda in the WTO Doha "development" trade round. The US may use the impetus from a victory in Iraq to shift the talks from "development" to "investment, competition and government procurements." (Inter Press Service)

Davos Braces for Anti-Capitalist War Protests (January 21, 2003)

Police have held talks with protest groups to ensure demonstrations at The World Economic Forum in Davos remain peaceful. This may have been unnecessary since anti-globalization advocates are flocking to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (BBC)

World Social Forum Grows, Diversifies in Third Year (January 16, 2003)

The World Social Forum organizers expect attendance numbers to reach 100,000, double that of the previous year. Originally conceived as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum in 2001, the WSF brings together social movements, NGOs, intellectuals and leftist groups to discuss global policy issues. (Inter Press Service)

Choosing a Better World (January 22, 2003)

In reference to the upcoming World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, World Bank President James Wolfensohn commends civil society for helping to shift Bank policy and world consensus on sustainable development, transparency, and accountability. Co-opting the rhetoric of the global justice movement, he calls for "a global system based on equity, human rights and social justice." (Inter Press Service)

WSF and a ‘Movement of Movements' (December 23, 2002)

One hundred thousand members of civil society from around the world will meet at the third World Social Forum in late January, 2003. The Forum aims at solidarity and the formulation of a new world vision on a broad array of concerns from anti-war activism to human rights issues to environmental conservation. (ZNet)

Building a Social Movements World Network (December 23, 2002)

This paper proposes a world network of social movements that would facilitate discussion before and after the World Social Forum meetings. The network would "go beyond episodic encounters among the movements of the diverse countries and continents, to construct a deeper political debate ... and to extend the reach of the movements in all the continents." (ZNet)

Building a Social Movements World Network (December 23, 2002)

This paper proposes a world network of social movements that would facilitate discussion before and after the World Social Forum meetings. The network would "go beyond episodic encounters among the movements of the diverse countries and continents, to construct a deeper political debate ... and to extend the reach of the movements in all the continents." (ZNet)


Porto Alegre 2002

Porto Alegre & Beyond: Following up on the World Social Forum (November 22, 2002)

In its paper, the Americas Program has recorded the increasing importance of citizen participation in global affairs, focusing on the World Social Forum. The program provides a useful background and addresses the major issues that emerged from the WSF process. (Interhemispheric Resource Center)

Porto Alegre, Brazil: 'Bad Capitalist! No Martini.' (February 12, 2002)

The arrival of corporate leaders and western politicians "risked turning [the World Social Forum] from a clear alternative into a messy merger." The trend towards direct democracy in the host city, Porto Allegre, ensured grass-roots activism remained at the core of discussions. (

A Parliament for the Planet (Jan/Feb 2002)

Proposals for a world parliament face hostility from powerful nations, unwilling to relinquish the influence they hold through the G8, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. George Monbiot argues that global civil society can undermine their dominance by establishing "world social forums," in "exile" if necessary. (New Internationalist)

Porto Alegre Social Summit Sets Stage for Counteroffensive Against Globalization (January, 2002)

The financial crisis in Argentina and the Enron debacle have re-ignited the anti-globalization movement. The World Social Forum at Porto Alegre will provide members of this diverse movement with a crucial opportunity to discuss the way forward. (ZNet)

Anti-Globalization Activists Flock to World Social Forum in Brazil (January 30, 2002)

Globalization creates a global media. Paradoxically, this grants the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, which meets to discuss the negative effects of globalization, a high media profile. (Associated Press)

Africa: NGOs Preparing for the World Social Forum (January 9, 2002)

NGO representatives meeting in Mali to plan for the World Social Forum recognize the need for international experts within African NGOs, to allow them to play a constructive role in discussions with the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund.(Inter Press Service)



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