10 Questions on the 2024 UN Civil Society Conference • Stimson Center

As the countdown begins for the highly anticipated 2024 UN Civil Society Conference, anticipation is mounting for an event that promises to be both transformative and inclusive. Drawing on the successes of previous editions, this conference is set to accommodate a diverse array of voices and perspectives from around the globe, serving as a pivotal platform for dialogue, collaboration, and action on pressing global challenges.

In the lead-up to this landmark event, we had the privilege of engaging in a Q&A session with Nudhara Yusuf, 2024 UN Civil Society Conference Co-Chair and Stimson expert to get insights into what attendees can expect and how this gathering aims to catalyze positive change on the global stage.

1. What’s the focus of the 2024 UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, and what can attendees expect, both in-person and remote?

Substantively, this is about supporting the process of the Summit of the Future (set to take place 22-23 September in New York) by bringing in civil society voices to raise its ambition and think about its impact and implementation in inclusive and networked ways. For me, more deeply though, we’re trying something new here. The conference is introducing new processes, ideas, and ways of working and thinking that I think are challenging for all of us, but we’re trying to rethink the way we work as parts of civil society, which I think mirrors what we’re asking the UN to do at the Summit of the Future.

2. How will civil society involvement inform the Summit of the Future in September?

The outcome of the conference–the ImPACT for the Future Package–contains two key pieces. First, the Chairs Summary will capture an overview of all the discussions that took place at the conference, including the Civil Society Recommendations plenary, the Interactive Dialogue with Co-Facilitators, workshop recommendations and more. Second, a big conference outcome is the creation of ImPACT Coalitions (ICs) which brings together various stakeholder groups including civil society, academia, Member States, UN entities, philanthropies and others, to think about and support the implementation and impact of specific proposals in the Pact for the Future, Global Digital Compact, and Declaration on Future Generations. The workplan commitments from these ICs from May to September and beyond will form the second part of the ImPACT for the Future Package, which will be presented at the final CSO Townhall on May 30 back in New York.

3. How do UN civil society conferences, like this one, increase ambition for UN Summit activities?

The hope is that the ImPACT Coalitions create both a supporting and accountability mechanism for the intergovernmental process leading up to the Summit of the Future. Let’s bring together the Member States who are negotiating and want to champion certain ideas, with the experts who can tell you exactly what resolution has what language from decades ago, and the grassroots activists who know what works and what doesn’t. If we can give them a space to agree and collaborate I think that is our best bet at raising ambition in any process.

4. What are the main objectives the 2024 conference aims to achieve?

Inclusion. Impact. Innovation.

5. How is this civil society conference different or innovative from the previous 68 held since 1947?

This is the first time we’ve explicitly tied the conference to an intergovernmental process. So it’s not about just recommendations, it’s about what civil society role is in supporting the Summit of the Future and the intergovernmental negotiations of its outcome documents. I think we also have the most diverse and intergenerational planning committee in any past conference. I am a young global governance researcher and my co-chair is part of the Major Group on Aging. The planning committee of 29 people constitutes 20 women, 9 men, of which 20 are people of color, from 18 different countries, and the majority are in the Global South. Their planning has really reflected this diversity of experience in the innovations you’ll see at the conference.

6. How is the UN ensuring diverse global participation in the conference?

7. How does the host location inform or shape the UN civil society conference?

We wanted this conference to take place in one of the continents of the future. An overwhelming majority of participants at the conference are from the African region and in the next century, this will represent the global demographic of the future. I look forward to hearing from voices we don’t always hear from in New York.

8. What are the main barriers to progress in the Summit of the Future and how could this conference help overcome them?

The Summit of the Future is coming at a time that is both difficult but critical therefore for the international system. We are at one of those critical moments where we either “breakdown or breakthrough” in the UN Secretary-General’s words. I think that context is both the need for, and the biggest barrier of, the Summit of the Future. I’d like to think of this civil society agreed conference as a moment in the eye of the storm. There have been challenges past and there will be challenges to come but if we can use May 9-10 in Nairobi as a moment to agree, collaborate, and create coalitions to reinforce and support our work toward September and beyond, we’ll be a little more prepared to make the progress that needs to be made.

9. What has been the greatest challenge or unexpected aspect of planning this conference?

I think the greatest challenge was the lead time we had to plan the conference. My counterpart, Carole Agengo and I were appointed in February to deliver the conference first week of May. Previous civil society conferences were planned almost a year in advance and not quite at this scale, or with this many new ideas. It has been like sprinting through a marathon, but we have had a truly incredible planning committee who has continued to help us pull this off every step of the way. Maher Nasser, and the UN Department of Global Communications colleagues, United Nations colleagues in Nairobi and others have also been real pillars of support. Everyone has gone the extra mile, including civil society and participants who continue to embrace quick deadlines, new processes, and have really decided to show up in full force with a willingness to do something new. That’s also what has been pleasantly unexpected. The UN, Member States, Civil Society, and so many others have decided to show up in a big way and use this moment to push the Summit of the Future process forward. It’s exciting!

10. What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

Honestly, Carole and I know what we’ve done with the planning committee. I’m most excited to see what others do at the conference. How the space gets used, the ideas furthered, the ImPACT coalitions formed, exhibits showcased, and so much more. We hope we create a space for true interaction and collaboration between different stakeholders. I think it’s very clear to us that this is not an event, it’s part of a process and it’s kicking off important thinking around implementation and impact for what comes in September and then beyond which we hope to also bring into Action Days before the Summit of theFuture. But I can’t wait for the moment when we look out at the closing session knowing what civil society has done, and that so much more is to follow.