Friday, 26 April 2013

Helen McCallum's India Diary: Call for collective action, Part Three

CI Director General Helen McCallum travelled throughout India recently meeting with many CI members to discuss how a vast country with a disparate population can most effectively promote consumer rights. In Part 3 of her blog, she looks at possible solutions.

As I travelled round and talked to members I found myself wondering what they were expecting of CI and whether we could meet those expectations, given that, as a central body, we too need additional funding over and above the member fees to survive and support a growing movement.

Over the last year we have been following a strategy of:
  • Focusing on a small number of issues which matter to all consumers. Issues for which there is  something to be achieved at the international level, most members have active work programmes and can pool and share ideas, and there is potential – subject to successful fundraising - to pursue more specific  regional issues within the overall programme.
  • Developing services which can bring members together – either in their own backyard or across the globe – to share information and resources, to learn from the experience of others and perhaps in due course to offer or receive mentoring services from those who have more years experience or have developed an idea which is now transferable somewhere else.
  • Finding additional sources of funding – both to sustain CI itself (so we don’t have to put the fees up) and to support specific targeted activity within our four priority areas in different parts of the world.
 It was with some relief that I discovered during my trip to India that members want CI to have already developed this strategy and be in a position to offer more tangible support to them.

They were all supportive of the direction. The strategy is sound – it is all now about rapid execution of it.

Why are we at this stage? 

Well as evidenced in India among some of the organisations I met, many organisations change in nature over a period of 50 years and there are always moments when an organisation has to stop, refresh itself and sometimes even re-invent activity which has become tired or fallen out of use because of changing personnel or different priorities.

CI too has had its ups and downs – with some large funders refocusing their activity away from consumer issues.

The international donor landscape has become much more competitive and the needs of  the consumer movement changing as more countries wake up to the risks of leaving consumers unprotected in an increasingly global market.

One year in and our priority programmes are attracting attention from international policy makers and increasingly grant making bodies and others donors.

We have had some successes in persuading the G20 to take action on consumer protection in financial services; getting more consumer representation on international forums on digital issues; achieving agreement on sustainable consumption goals at Rio+20 and completing our funded programme to introduce Consumer Protection Laws in three countries in the Caribbean.

Our members are actively participating in the  expert groups and more and more of you are joining our e-mail networks, receiving intelligence about the key issues and discussing the issues online.

From what I heard in Delhi, there is real enthusiasm and commitment to arguing for revisions to the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection and there has been an explosion of activity around the world on World Consumer Rights Day. Our first international study, The State of Consumer Protection, should give many members ammunition for national lobbying and many governments food for thought.

Our online asset library, or Resource Zone as it will be known, is now live. This first stage is about recreating the physical resource libraries which once existed at regional office level and making the material we already have as accessible as possible.

This is just the first step – we have ambitions – if we can find the funds – to develop a more interactive online facility which will eventually enable members to debate in online forums, search for items they need and perhaps even directly input material that they think would be helpful to other members.

In the meantime however, we would urge members to think about training material policy documents or other useful resources they have and let Luke Upchurch in CI’s London office know about them so that we can mention them in the first stage of the Resource Zone.

In addition, we are refreshing our fundraising strategy, aiming to be clearer about our case for support and making sure we reflect regional variations in our pitch for funding.

We have set up webinars on various topics – impossible to time so that members everywhere can join in in real time – but sent out subsequently so everyone can catch up with the discussion in their own time.

What I can say is that the CI staff supported by your elected Council are 100% committed to the strategy and to driving new plans forward with energy and speed.

Although my time as DG will come to an end in December, the way forward is established and the search is on for a successor who can keep up the momentum and add new and innovative thinking to CI to help realise the aim of supporting you and developing a powerful consumer movement equal to the challenges of the 21st Century.

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