The Third World Forum

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A Short presentation of the organisation





Created in 1975 Third World Forum assembles concerned intellectuals committed not only to the pursuance and expansion of the debate on the various possible development alternatives (itself considered in all its economic, social, political and cultural dimensions) but also to make real impact on the society concerned through debates.



Third World Forum mobilises, throughout the three continents (Africa, Asia, Latin America) about 1.000 personalities whose well known names usually associated with both creative thinking, capable of exhaustive probing and analysis of issues as well as men and women who proved their worth through their contributions in the formulation of policies, either as experts or as leaders of thought and social movements.


Third World Forum has been active for almost 30 years, during which it has been functioning as a network of intellectuals of three continents engaged in debates on various aspects of the “challenge to the development” of the peoples concerned. Since this “development” is in turn defined on the basis of the exigencies of a progressive social context (“development» for the benefit of the masses) that could foster enhanced democratisation of society in all of its dimensions (progress of political democracy, social rights, in gender issues, etc), in view of the mutual relationship between the internal social changes peculiar to the peoples and nations concerned and the prevailing trends in the global system. These debates concern macro-economic strategies, the forms of micro-economic management, analysis of economic forces’ vision of society and socio-political movements, in other words, all aspects of social life, as they include all the major issues concerning the world system (world economy, North-South relations, problems of environment and those relating to national and regional security and geo-strategy).


Positively the objective of Third World Forum is to identify concrete alternatives and formulate policy recommendations in the various areas in which it conducts research. Those alternatives and policy recommendations should not be the product of teams of researchers studying the problems in isolation. The product must be the result of interactions between “theory and practice”, between the scientific analysis of the problems and challenges on the one hand, strategies of action and targets of actual social movements on the other hand.


In that spirit, TWF operates as a “network” associating on the one hand organisations of what is usually called civil society and on the other hand centers of reflection where scientifically equipped thinkers pursue their research in response to the demands formulated explicitly (or implicitly in some cases) by the movements.


That choice is fundamental for Third World Forum. It stems from the idea that real world is not changed through pure “academic” reflections, but basically through the activities of social actors. But simultaneously it considers that the more those actors will be intellectually equipped to analyse the challenges, the more will their formulation of targets for action and policy recommendations be feasible, possible, efficient from the point of view of advancing towards required alternatives.



Beyond the impact achieved through the publication of TWF and partners researches, TWF has been animating a large set of debates, which have made a real impact.

May be the best proof that this impact was not negligible is reflected is the role which TWF has been invited to play in the revival of the social movements throughout the whole world, more and more visible since the second half of the 1990s.


In that spirit Third World Forum was among the organisations that decided to set up together, the World Forum for Alternatives created in Cairo in 1997. The Secretariat of this World Forum for Alternatives is jointly run by CETRI (Louvain la Neuve, Director François Houtart) and Third World Forum (Samir Amin and Bernard Founou).


Third World Forum and the World Forum for Alternatives took the initiative, in partnership with others (Le Monde Diplomatique and Attac) in organising at Davos in January 1999, “another Davos” opposed to the dominant globalised neo-liberal economic strategies that constituted the agenda of the “World Economic Forum” (dubbed Davos Forum) with comments by a representative sample of the major social organisations and movements (trade unions, peasant organisations, women’s movements, NGOs and think tanks).


The initiative of this other Davos was widely publicised through the creation of the World Social Forum whose first three meetings were held in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and in Hyderabad (2003). Third World Forum and the World Forum for Alternatives are therefore actively involved in the development of the World Social Forum.


Third World Forum is now present in most major social fora, whether national, regional or global. In that way its contribution to the current most important debates is duly reflected.


Overall strategy and suggested areas of activities

The overall strategy of Third World Forum interventions and formulating its research programmes is defined every 3-4 years through the General Assembly of those who have been the coordinators of its major activities.


The current overall programme of Third World Forum has been formulated throughout the international major workshops organised in Dakar and Cairo (april 2001) and the major meetings of the Executive of the World Forum for Alternatives held in 2002 and early 2003. That overall integrated programme covers a wide range of areas of specific research, in response to the variety of the dimensions of the social reality. Such as :

-The new agrarian question and alternative prospects for peasant societies of the South ;

-The new question of labour and prospects of restructuring labour unity ;

-International Business Law or Peoples’ Rights ;

-Managing resources of the planet, the case of oil, the case of water ;

-In favour of a real dialogue between Europe, Africa and the Middle East ;

-Towards new concepts of regionalisation in the South ;

-Africa in the global system, the economic and the political dimensions ;

-The debt issue : towards an international law regulating debts ;

-Social, gender and democratic movements in the South ;

-International chaos and militarisation of the globalisation processes ;

-Reviving the solidarity of the “77” vis a vis global issues.


This integrated programme involves close co-operation between think tanks and social movements. This form of co-operation, which constitutes the central focus of the ambitions of Third World Forum and those of the World Social Forum and the possible Regional Social Forums as well, probably define the specific character of the networks or networks of networks formed by these organisations.


This necessary integration between the critical analysis of systems (globalised neo-liberal dominant system in the dominant position and visions of society imagined as a counterpoint) and that of the explicit or implicit strategic objectives of the social movements operating in the real world finds its ultimate and decisive logic in the common concern of TWF, WFA and WSF to assist in formulating concrete, efficient and credible alternatives to the so-called global neo-liberal project.


This search for “convergence in diversity” must proceed from permanent dialogue between “analysts” of the reality and representatives of those of the social and political movements working to transform such reality in favour of the popular and national interests they uphold.


At the end of the exercise, it should be possible to define our own agenda, that of social and popular movements involved in current or future struggles, thereby allowing for our positioning beyond the sole “response” to the agenda of the dominant system criticised (the agenda being that of G7 and the Institutions placed at its service – The World Bank, WTO and the World Economic Forum, dubbed Davos, in particular).


In this spirit, the Co-ordinators of the TWF and WFA networks recalled that our programmes must be rethought concretely by bearing the following requirements in mind:


(i)Refine the functional analysis of the really existing contemporary capitalism”, taking account of all the dimensions of the new realities through which it is expressed (scientific and technological revolution, transformation of production systems and social life, a more comprehensive geo-political globalised interdependence of the unilateral hegemonism of an exclusive super power, etc.). This refining effort should focus at the same time on the analysis of economic and social theories and on the language whereby its ideological dimensions are expressed. The analysis should also ensure a better integration of the economic and social dimensions of the globalised neo-liberal project and its political dimensions expressed, among other channels, through the real danger of militarisation of the globalisation process.


(ii)Refine the interpretation of the meaning ascribed to the on-going struggles and the movements inducing them by identifying explicit and implicit strategies adopted by all civil society actors, in terms of the dominated class and the dominating groups; and in particular, the “democratisation” strategies proposed by either parties.


(iii) Identify, through the interpretation of the meaning of the movements, the more distant perspectives in which they are placed, the fundamental values and principles of the visions of society that they inspire. This identification will be devoted to raising each and everyone’s awareness of the diversity vital to the construction of the future. Such identification will also make it possible to further intensify the permanent criticism of the socio-economic theory, its basic concepts (economic efficiency, classes, peoples, nations and State), to identify those related to linkages between the authorities that are given prominence and those whose existence is veiled.


(iv) Have the ambition to inspire effective actions in the short, middle and long terms at all levels, from national to global levels.


Structures and organisation of Third World Forum


· Third World Forum has been purposedly created “small”, that is avoiding systematically the trap of heavy administrative infrastructures, which are common to too many “NGOs” proliferating during the last two decades. In that spirit what has been established as “HQ” for the organisation of Third World Forum, i.e. our Dakar office, is only a small “liaison office”.



· Third World Forum’s activities rely on two sets of supporters :

(i)The members of its own network of individuals, competent and respected in the communities of researchers, thinkers and policy makers.

(ii)The associate partners, which are research centers and think tanks as well as eventually social organisations and movements interested by the relevancy for their action of the issues raised in our programmes.


That network of partners, who are also in many cases associates in the World Forum for Alternatives and in the World Social Forum (and their national and regional replicas), would not function if not their positive assessment of the benefits that they draw from their inclusion in Third World Forum’s activities.


· These light structures and complex patterns of interventions explain how such vast programmes as those of Third World Forum might be operated with a modest direct budget.


In fact Third World Forum acts as a catalyst.


This function is of utmost importance. It is needed in order to reduce the deficiencies resulting from the extreme fragmentation which characterises the panorama of researches conducted in the areas of Third World Forum’s activities. It is perhaps because Third World Forum has been somehow successful in performing that function that it has become one of the corner stones of the global civil society as represented in the World Social Forum.