Promoting Participatory Governance for Environmental Sustainability, Gender Equality and Socio-Economic Justice

May you and I and all beings realize peace, happiness, wisdom and compassion. We are living in the most critical time in all of human history – a moment of crisis and opportunity. Why do I believe that?

Everything is changing and everything is at risk. This is a time of whole systems transformation. Life on Earth is in mortal danger and therefore we have the necessity and the possibility to reinvent the entire human enterprise in order to create a better future for all.

Because of the last 200 years of burning fossil fuels, massive amounts of carbon have been released into the atmosphere, now at 400 parts per million exceeding the safe limit of 350 parts per million. Planet Earth is heating up and glaciers and ice caps are melting. Sea levels are rising and coastal cities and islands will be submerged. Oceans are becoming acidic; and there is a massive die back of species both marine and terrestrial. Mega storms are increasing and droughts and wild fires are spreading. Water and food shortages will accelerate. These phenomena are not theoretical but observable. They are happening now. Our planet has already changed and if we humans do not alter our individual and collective behavior, our planet will soon become inhospitable to life and suffering will increase.

But we know what to do and are beginning to do it. We must stop burning oil, gas and coal – death-energy – and rapidly promote renewable energy from sun, water, wind, geo-thermal and algae – life-energy. This is the green energy revolution. There is a global environmental movement at work including the UN, 350.org, Green Peace and many others. It is time to protect life itself or face massive die back. E-government can alert citizens to these trends and dangers and provide help and incentives for renewable energy use and for adaptation to crisis situations.

Because of the last 5,000 years of male dominance – the patriarchy – women’s wisdom has not played its necessary role in the design and management of our societies. Women have been kept silent, subservient, abused, trapped at home and pregnant. They have not been allowed to exercise their human rights of speech, choice, career and leadership. This has resulted in overly masculinized societies that promote and celebrate violence, harmful competition, technology without heart and warfare.

We are waking up and improvements for women are taking place, yet we have a long way to go. And in some parts of the world there is a backlash against women’s rights. That is why 14 year-old Malala Youstafzai was shot recently in Pakistan by the Taliban and why the Republicans in my country want to ban abortion. As patriarchy dies out, some men are fighting back to control women’s bodies and minds. But this must not stand. Our societies need the participation and leadership of women at every level of society and in full partnership with men. Our societies need feminine perspectives, wisdom and actions of nurture, relationship and compassion. Without gender equality and the empowerment of women we will not make it as a species. E-government can provide channels for women’s voices to influence policy making as well as access to vital services to empower women’s participation and leadership.

We humans are still plagued by illiteracy, illness, ignorance and prejudice. Our educational systems are not adequate for all the people. Likewise, our health systems are tragically unable to provide even basic care to all people everywhere and people suffer senseless illnesses. Cultural and religious bigotry, fear and hatred cause great harm to many.

Yet in our hearts we know that everyone deserves a quality education and good healthcare. These are universal human rights. We also need social safety nets to ensure care for the elderly and the poor. We can do this. We have the capacity and the resources. We must mobilize the political will to do so. We can live in mutual respect with people of different ethnic, religious and lifestyle choices realizing that in diversity are richness, beauty and mutual learning. E-government can bring access to education and health closer to citizens especially the most vulnerable.

Our modern economies are based on capital, profit, debt, interest and the global gambling casino of investing. Money accumulation for a few has become more important than the wellbeing of all people and nature. Economic enterprises, based on fossil fuel energy, pollute the air, water and soil and abuse human labor. Our economies are killing us, other life forms and our planetary ecosystems. Fiscal policy is made by global elites that control the formation and movement of capital through central banks and investment firms. The 1% has become comfortable with greed and power. Austerity for the masses and opulence for the few is not the human way.

But things are changing. Sacred economics as expounded by Charles Eisenstein shows us that capital should not be based on debt and interest. Bartering is increasing. Local currencies are being developed. There is a global movement, including Transition Towns founded by Rob Hopkins, which promotes growing home gardens, buying local, using less gasoline, traveling less and buying from companies which respect nature and workers. We can and must create local, national and global economies that are pro-people and pro-planet. We must shift from an economy based on greed to an economy of generosity. E-government can provide citizen access to necessary skills training, credit and markets.

Every system of governance is in crisis. Autocracy is still with us and the democratic experiment of the past 200 years is faltering badly around the world. Oligarchy, plutocracy and corporatocracy are masquerading as democratic regimes. The elites are buying and manipulating democratic institutions (media, courts, legislatures, executives, voting) to maintain control of political, economic and military power. Changes in mindset, behavior and culture are needed as well as the formation of democratic institutions. A lasting peace involves profound changes in the human psyche as well as in social organization. But local people around the world are rising up as we see in the Occupy (Wall Street) Movement, the Arab Spring, the anti-austerity movement in Europe and the current demonstrations in Brazil and Turkey. People are voting with their bodies in the street. Local people are demanding a say in their own governance. E-government can bring policy making and service delivery closer to the people. Participatory self-governance can be our future if we do not give up. We can create meta-modern democracies as Hordur Torfarson describes from the experience of Iceland.

As we look into the future two paths present themselves, either continued crisis and collapse or an emerging empathic civilization. We humans are hardwired for empathy, compassion and altruism. We must continue to evolve and manifest these qualities.

We are here this week to share and search for strategies and initiatives that will take humanity toward sustainable human development and a better life for all people. We know that we can build a world that works for everyone. We can create societies that enable each person to realize her/his full potential. We can create the possible human and the possible society as Jean Houston has said.

We the people will prevail and we are the people. The seven billion of us have the collective intelligence and will, not only to survive but to flourish. I stand in awe and gratitude for being alive at this critical moment in history and am committed to act on behalf of all. You and I are part of Those Who Care, the sensitive and response ones, who are waking up and engaged in risk taking, innovation, reinvention, embodying, catalyzing and creating the environments for human emergence.

The 350.org movement is awakening people to climate chaos mitigation; Transition Towns is demonstrating a new sustainable life style and economy; the Occupy movement is showing that non-violent resistance is necessary; and the Arab Spring is demanding political voice for the masses. Local people are on the rise. Women, who hold up half the sky, are stepping forward. Youth are leading the way as the emerging generation. NGOs and CBOs are showing that civil society is one of the three governance actors alongside government and business. People realize that we need energized government at every level – local, national, global – to promote the wellbeing of people and nature. Enlightened businesses are demonstrating corporate responsibility. Academia is calling for open, free education. Social media is enabling billions of local people to share their hopes and dreams as a global village.

Let’s say together the hopeful words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Please repeat after me: The task before us now/if we would not perish/is to shake off our ancient prejudices/and to build the Earth!

E-government can make access to services closer to citizens and bring citizen choices and wisdom into the policy making process. E-government is one aspect of participatory governance and as such has an important role to play in promoting environmental sustainability, gender equality and socio-economic justice. E-government should make citizens aware of the crisis we face in our eco-systems of air, water, soil, plants and animals, and what needs to be done by all citizens to protect the environment and ensure a sustainable ecosystem for millions of years to come. E-government must deal both with mitigation and adaptation to climate chaos. E-government should also promote gender equality by giving voice to women in policy making and leadership at every level of society. E-government should promote socio-economic justice by making services of education, health, skills training, credit and marketing accessible to all citizens.

To close the digital divide, governments should ensure that every citizen has access to computers, smart phones, literacy and electricity in order to participate in e-governance. Governments must also ensure that the views of citizens through e-government channels are taken with the greatest of seriousness in policy making and service delivery. Governments must be held accountable for corruption and must act in a transparent manner. Anything less than this would make e-government and e-governance technical glitter and a sham.

In this global forum we will be discussing how to promote collaborative e-governance through innovation and ICTs, the transformative power of e-government for the post-2015 development agenda, the transfer of innovations for improved public service delivery in least developed countries, fostering participation in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, transforming public service delivery to advance gender equality, creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and economic development through innovation and e-government, leadership for transformational government, initiatives towards e-governance and sustainable public services and essential leadership capacities and actions for transformational government.

I would remind us that in all our discussions our ultimate objective is to create a better world for all people and all life forms everywhere. This is a noble task. Let’s give it our best creativity and full energy.

Thank you for your attention, commitment and action.

May you and I and all beings realize peace, happiness, wisdom and compassion.

Robertson Work

Professor, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

UN Global Forum on Public Service

Bahrain, June 24, 2013