As the time comes to say farewell after 12 fruitful years as Executive Director of CESR, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all the colleagues, allies, partners and supporters who I’ve had the privilege to work with and learn from, and who have done so much to help make CESR what it is today.
When I took on the role in 2009, a global financial crisis was unfolding that for many people unmasked the injustice of our economic system. I’m stepping down at a time of compounding global crises which have driven home how entrenched these inequities are. While we face many of the same structural challenges now as then – aggravated by a looming climate catastrophe - there is one significant shift over this time that I draw real hope from. And that is the progress we’ve made in using human rights tools and pathways to challenge economic and environmental injustice.
Given the times we’re in, it’s natural to be despondent about the multilateral system on which much international human rights advocacy depends. But in my time at CESR I’ve seen countless examples of how human rights really can make a difference, for example when brandished by activists to overturn austerity policies, advance progressive tax reforms, push for inequality-reducing social protection measures or halt greenhouse gas emissions. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen tangible shifts in both the policy environment and civil society ecosystem that can directly be traced back to human rights-based advocacy.
In the wake of crises, there are almost always windows of opportunity to shift the paradigm. As the period following the global financial crisis showed, such windows can prove short-lived. Yet the degree of social mobilization we’re seeing now for a just, green and transformative economic recovery makes this moment qualitatively different. I am fiercely proud of the work CESR is doing to build cross-movement momentum towards a rights-based economy – a visionary concept that is gaining traction, in dialogue with allied visions of who our economy should serve. I urge you to join my CESR colleagues, under the able leadership of Acting Executive Director Kate Donald, and the many allies CESR is working with on this path-breaking journey.
While remaining an ardent supporter of CESR, from here on I’ll be devoting my energies to two important transition projects, one seeking to reimagine the international NGO (RINGO), the other, the Symposium on Strength and Solidarity for Human Rights, addressing many of the existential challenges facing the human rights field with which CESR has long been grappling.
Though these challenges are formidable, my time at CESR has fueled my conviction that we can and must harness human rights to bring about a more just and sustainable economy. When short-term setbacks cause that hope to waver, I recall the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who - on this day more than half a century ago - reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long” but that it will bend, inexorably, towards economic and social justice.
I’m looking forward to continuing the struggle in different ways alongside you all, and to watching a thriving CESR build on its impressive achievements under new leadership.