World Social Forum

World Social Forum
Motto Another World Is Possible
Formation June 2001
Founder Oded Grajew Chico Whitaker
Type Social Forum
Headquarters Porto Alegre, Brazil
Region served
Website Official Website

The World Social Forum (WSF, Portuguese: Fórum Social Mundial [ˈfɔɾũ sosi'aw mũdʒiˈaw]) is an annual meeting of civil society organizations, first held in Brazil, which offers a self-conscious effort to develop an alternative future through the championing of counter-hegemonic globalization. Some consider the World Social Forum to be a physical manifestation of global civil society, as it brings together non governmental organizations, advocacy campaigns as well as formal and informal social movements seeking international solidarity. The World Social Forum prefers to define itself as "an opened space – plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan – that stimulates the decentralized debate, reflection, proposals building, experiences exchange and alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards a more solidarity, democratic and fair world....a permanent space and process to build alternatives to neoliberalism."[1] It is held by members of the alter-globalization movement (also referred to as the global justice movement) who come together to coordinate global campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their particular issues. The World Social Forum is explicit about not being a representative of all of those who attend and thus does not publish any formal statements on behalf of participants.[2] It tends to meet in January at the same time as its "great capitalist rival", the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This date is consciously picked to promote their alternative answers to world economic problems in opposition to the World Economic Forum.

Charter of Principles

This Charter was approved and adopted in São Paulo, Brazil on April 9, 2001, by the organizations that make up the World Social Forum Organizing Committee, and approved with modifications by the World Social Forum International Council on June 10, 2001.[3]

1) The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Mankind and between it and the Earth.

2) The World Social Forum at Porto Alegre was an event localized in time and place. From now on, in the certainty proclaimed at Porto Alegre that "Another World Is Possible", it becomes a permanent process of seeking and building alternatives, which cannot be reduced to the events supporting it.

3) The World Social Forum is a world process. All the meetings that are held as part of this process have an international dimension.

4) The alternatives proposed at the World Social Forum stand in opposition to a process of globalization commanded by the large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions at the service of those corporations' interests, with the complicity of national governments. They are designed to ensure that globalization in solidarity will prevail as a new stage in world history. This will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens - men and women - of all nations and the environment and will rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.

5) The World Social Forum brings together and interlinks only organizations and movements of civil society from all the countries in the world, but intends neither to be a body representing world civil society.

6) The meetings of the World Social Forum do not deliberate on behalf of the World Social Forum as a body. No one, therefore, will be authorized, on behalf of any of the editions of the Forum, to express positions claiming to be those of all its participants. The participants in the Forum shall not be called on to take decisions as a body, whether by vote or acclamation, on declarations or proposals for action that would commit all, or the majority, of them and that propose to be taken as establishing positions of the Forum as a body. It thus does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants in its meetings, nor does it intend to constitute the only option for interrelation and action by the organizations and movements that participate in it.

7) Nonetheless, organizations or groups of organizations that participate in the Forum's meetings must be assured the right, during such meetings, to deliberate on declarations or actions they may decide on, whether singly or in coordination with other participants. The World Social Forum undertakes to circulate such decisions widely by the means at its disposal, without directing, hierarchizing, censuring or restricting them, but as deliberations of the organizations or groups of organizations that made the decisions.

8) The World Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralized fashion, interrelates organizations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to build another world.

9) The World Social Forum will always be a forum open to pluralism and to the diversity of activities and ways of engaging of the organizations and movements that decide to participate in it, as well as the diversity of genders, ethnicities, cultures, generations and physical capacities, providing they abide by this Charter of Principles. Neither party representations nor military organizations shall participate in the Forum. Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of this Charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity.

10) The World Social Forum is opposed to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development and history and to the use of violence as a means of social control by the State. It upholds respect for Human Rights, the practices of real democracy, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, in equality and solidarity, among people, ethnicities, genders and peoples, and condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another.

11) As a forum for debate the World Social Forum is a movement of ideas that prompts reflection, and the transparent circulation of the results of that reflection, on the mechanisms and instruments of domination by capital, on means and actions to resist and overcome that domination, and on the alternatives proposed to solve the problems of exclusion and social inequality that the process of capitalist globalization with its racist, sexist and environmentally destructive dimensions is creating internationally and within countries.

12) As a framework for the exchange of experiences, the World Social Forum encourages understanding and mutual recognition among its participant organizations and movements, and places special value on the exchange among them, particularly on all that society is building to center economic activity and political action on meeting the needs of people and respecting nature, in the present and for future generations.

13) As a context for interrelations, the World Social Forum seeks to strengthen and create new national and international links among organizations and movements of society, that, in both public and private life, will increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of dehumanization the world is undergoing and to the violence used by the State, and reinforce the humanizing measures being taken by the action of these movements and organizations.

14) The World Social Forum is a process that encourages its participant organizations and movements to situate their actions, from the local level to the national level and seeking active participation in international contexts, as issues of planetary citizenship, and to introduce onto the global agenda the change-inducing practices that they are experimenting in building a new world in solidarity.


The World Social Forum first met in 2001, but it had its roots in Latin American activism, namely the encuentro, a meeting which emphasizes dialogue and exchange of ideas among activists. Some of the founders of the WSF, were part of the First International Encuentro for Humanity and Against Neoliberalism in 1996, and decided to expand the idea and make it a global forum for activists of all stripes opposing hegemonic globalization and neoliberalism.

It has also been suggested that the beginnings of the World Social Forum originated in the Battle for Seattle November 1999, where anti-globalization activists protested a meeting of the World Trade Organization's latest trade negotiations.[4]

One of the originators of the World Social Forum, Oded Grajew, of the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility, said in an interview with InMotion Magazine in 2004, "Then I had the idea. Why not create the World Social Forum, as we have the World Economic Forum, speaking about the people in the world? Why not have the World Social Forum -- the social is more important than the economic -- to have a space to show that we can have an alternative? We have choice. This is not the only way you can see the world, globalization. We have another way to see it. And, at the same time, force people to look, to make a choice. What is your choice? What is your vision of the world?"[5][6]

Another one of the founders of the WSF, Cándido Grzybowski has said of the annual meetings, "The numerous recent crises are expressions of the contradictions and limitations of the form of global capitalism that has been imposed on humanity and the earth. The assertion that "another world is possible" is now an absolute necessity."[7]

Since 2001, the United Nations has had a presence at the WSF through UNESCO, showing the institutional credibility achieved by the forum, seen by UNESCO as a "prime opportunity for dialogue and a laboratory of ideas for the renewal of public policies" through "critical reflection on the future of societies we want to create and for elaborating proposals in search of solidarity, justice, peace and human rights".[8]

2001 World Social Forum

The first World Social Forum was held from 25 January to 30 January 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, organized by many groups including the French Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC). The WSF was sponsored, in part, by the Porto Alegre government, led by the Brazilian Worker's Party (PT). The town was experimenting with an innovative model for local government which combined the traditional representative institutions with the participation of open assemblies of the people. 12,000 people attended from around the world. At the time, Brazil was also in a moment of transformation that later would lead to the electoral victory of the PT candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. This first meeting was focused on gathering anti-globalization activists from all over the world to talk and organize amongst one another, while subsequent meetings have been more focused on specific ways to counter neoliberalism.

2002 World Social Forum

The second WSF, also held in Porto Alegre from 31 January to 5 February 2002, had over 12,000 official delegates representing people from 123 countries, 60,000 attendees, 652 workshops, and 27 talks. Among the 500 American delegates several were selected to be members of the forum's "international council", made up of a rather large number of organizations. Among those represented were Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization (Medea Benjamin and Linda Chavez-Thompson), the Brazilian NGO Ibase (Cândido Grzybowski and Moema Miranda), the Brazilian association of entrepreneurs for citizenship CIVES (Oded Grajew, founder of the WSF), the Brazilian Commission on Justice and Peace (Francisco Whitaker), ATTAC (Christophe Aguiton), CRID France (Gustave Massiah), Focus on the Global South Thailand (Nicola Bullard), and the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World (Gustavo Marín). Members of the AFL-CIO and the SEIU were also very active. The Ford Foundation funded $500,000 for the next meeting.

2003 World Social Forum

The third WSF was again held in Porto Alegre, in January 2003. There were many parallel workshops, including, for example the Life After Capitalism workshop, which proposed focused discussion on non-communist, non-capitalist, participative possibilities for different aspects of social, political, economic, communication structures.[9] Among the speakers was American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. Some credit this meeting of World Social Forum for the connections that made the global day of action on February 15, 2003 so successful. The global day of action was an international protest attended by an estimated 12 million people in 700 cities across 60 countries protesting the Bush Administration's plans to invade and occupy Iraq. At the time, the New York Times called international public opinion, a superpower to counter the United States.[10]

2004 World Social Forum

The fourth WSF was held in Mumbai, India, from 16 January to 21 January 2004. It was the first meeting of the World Social Forum held outside Brazil and its success has encouraged the WSF to expand in scope across the global South. Some credit it with inspiring the Asian Social Forum held in November of that year.[2] The attendance was expected to be 75,000 and it shot over by thousands. The cultural diversity was one notable aspect of the forum. A notable decision that was taken was the stand on free software. One of the key speakers at the WSF 2004 was Joseph Stiglitz. In contrast to earlier meetings, which had focused more on Euro-centric political intellectualism, the 2004 meeting included marches, as well as colorful and lively demonstrations. Indian activists were also very active in using this time to educate others about the issues of caste, class and religious conflict in India, with particular focus on the plight of the Dalit, sometimes referred to as the 'untouchables' in Indian society.

The 2004 meeting also saw the convening of the General Assembly of the Global Anti-War Movement, an idea that originated from the Asian Social Forum in November 2003, and broadly coalesced in response to the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. The Assembly had few activists from the United States, but overwhelmingly tried to articulate that they opposed the policy, and not the country itself. The former director-general of UNESCO, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, said at the Forum, "We must state it clearly. We must say to President Bush that we do not agree with the way he controls the world. We must tell him that he has to govern with his mind, not with might."[2]

2005 World Social Forum

The fifth World Social Forum 2005 was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil between 26 January and 31 January. There were 155,000 registered participants at the Forum, with most coming from Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Uruguay, and France. A number of participants in the forum released the Porto Alegre Manifesto. Since Article 6 of the World Social Forum's Charter of Principles bars the event from attempting to represent all participants through formal statements, the Porto Alegre Manifesto was released on behalf of 19 activists. This 'Group of 19' includes Aminata Traoré, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Eduardo Galeano, José Saramago, François Houtart, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Armand Mattelart, Roberto Savio, Riccardo Petrella, Ignacio Ramonet, Bernard Cassen, Samir Amin, Atilio Boron, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Tariq Ali, Frei Betto, Emir Sader, Walden Bello, and Immanuel Wallerstein.[11]

2006 World Social Forum

The sixth World Social Forum was "polycentric", held in January 2006 in Caracas (Venezuela) and Bamako (Mali), and in March 2006, in Karachi (Pakistan). The Forum in Pakistan was delayed to March because of the Kashmir earthquake that had recently occurred in the area.[12]

2007 World Social Forum

The seventh World Social Forum was held in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2007. There were 66,000 registered attendees, and 1,400 participating organizations from 110 countries, making it the most globally representative WSF so far.[13] It was criticized as being 'an NGO fair'[14][15] and movements of the poor in Kenya and South Africa mounted vigorous protests against some of the NGOs that attended and, in their view, dominated the forum in the name of the African poor.

2008 World Social Forum

The eighth World Social Forum in 2008 was not organized at a particular place, but globally, which means by thousands of autonomous local organizations, on or around January 26. They are also known as the Global Call for Action.[16]

2009 World Social Forum

The ninth World Social Forum took place in the Brazilian city of Belém, located in the Amazon rainforest, between January 27 and February 1, 2009.[17] About 1,900 indigenous people, representing 190 ethnic groups attended the event, to raise the issue of stateless peoples, and the plights that they face. The Escarré International Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations helped to organize the tent for the Collective Rights of Stateless Peoples, who are marginalized in an international system that recognizes only states as political units. Various stateless ethnic groups represented were the Basques, Kurds, Palestinians, Roma, Tibetans, Mapuche, Saharawi and Australian Aborigines.[18]

2010 World Social Forum

The tenth edition of the World Social Forum was another decentralized affair, with about 35 national, regional and local forums taking place across the world. In Porto Alegre, the flagship space for the WSF, events and speakers were held from January 25–29, entitled "FSM 10 Years: Greater Porto Alegre". The big event held in Porto Alegre was the International Seminar "10 Years Later: Challenges and proposals for another possible world", which featured over 70 intellectuals from around the world.[19] One of the notable regional forums was the US Social Forum held in Detroit, Michigan and attended by about 18,000 people.[20]

2011 World Social Forum

In February 2011 the World Social Forum took place in Dakar, Senegal with 75,000 participants from 132 countries organizing around 1,200 activities.[21] Among the speakers was Canadian social activist and author Naomi Klein and Bolivian President Evo Morales. The Forum was at first plagued with logistical problems, as a number of events had to be canceled at the last minute because of a lack of space, and a student strike against the policies of President Abdoulaye Wade in Diop University interrupted some scheduled plenaries.

2012 World Social Forum

The 2012 World Social Forum was hosted in Porto Alegre, Brazil and ran from 24 - 30 January.[22]

2013 World Social Forum

The thirteen edition of the World Social Forum took place in Tunis from 26 to 30 March 2013.[23][24]

2015 World Social Forum

The fourteenth edition of the World Social Forum took place in Tunis from 23 to 28 March 2015.[25] It led to the creation of the Internet Social Forum.[26]

2016 World Social Forum

The fifteen edition of the World Social Forum took place in Montreal from 9 to 14 August 2016.[27] It was a multilingual event which featured organizations from around the world. [28]


# Year City Country
I 2001 Porto Alegre  Brazil
II 2002 Porto Alegre  Brazil
III 2003 Porto Alegre  Brazil
IV 2004 Mumbai  India
V 2005 Porto Alegre  Brazil
VI 2006 Bamako and Caracas (January)  Mali and  Venezuela
Karachi (March)  Pakistan
VII 2007 Nairobi  Kenya
VIII 2008 No specific location
IX 2009 Belém  Brazil
X 2010 No specific location
XI 2011 Dakar  Senegal
XII 2012 Porto Alegre  Brazil
XIII 2013 Tunis  Tunisia
XIV 2015 Tunis  Tunisia
XV 2016 Montreal  Canada

Regional Social Forums

The WSF has prompted the organizing of many regional social forums, including the Americas Social Forum, European Social Forum, the Asian Social Forum, the Mediterranean Social Forum and the Southern Africa Social Forum. There are also many local and national social forums, such as the Italian Social Forum, India Social Forum,[29] Liverpool Social Forum and the Boston Social Forum. The first-ever United States Social Forum took place in Atlanta in June 2007.[30] In 2010 Detroit, Michigan, hosted the United States Social Forum during June 22–26.[20]

Regional forums have taken place in the Southwest,[31] Northwest, Northeast, Midwest and Southeast regions of the United States. The first Canadian Social Forum took place in June 2010.[32]

Most, though not all, social forums adhere to the WSF Charter of Principles drawn up by the World Social Forum. The goal of these forums is to decentralize and allow far more people to engage in the open forum atmosphere of the World Social Forum without needing very much money for travel expenses. All of the various social forums in this mold include international attendees and are in no way specifically focused on the problems of a single region of country.


This mural in Seattle's Chinatown echoes the slogan of the World Social Forum: 'Another world is possible'.

2001 Monsanto Incident

Some activities by activists attending the WSF have also been criticised, such as at the WSF 2001, where activists invaded and destroyed an experimental genetically modified plantation of the Monsanto Company.[33]

On January 26, 2001 a number of activists with Brazil's Movimento dos Sem-Terra (MST) reacted in protest to the growing role of Monsanto in global agribusiness, which was considered by the group to be unethically using their seed patents to harm the rights of rural peoples, tore up an experimental plot of transgenic crops in Não-me-Toque, 300 km from Porto Alegre, where the World Social Forum was taking place at the time. Three days later, Jose Bove, a French citizen, was arrested by Brazilian authorities as the World Social Forum ended on January 29, 2001. Connections between the Movimento dos Sem-Terra and the World Social Forum are not well known.[34]

Role of NGOs

The WSF has, especially in recent years, been strongly criticised for replacing popular movements of the poor with NGOs (non-governmental organization).[35] Movements of the poor in poorer parts of the world, like Africa, have argued that they are almost completely excluded from the forum[35] and in countries like Kenya and South Africa they have protested against donor funded NGOs that, they argue, determine and dominate African representation at the forum. It has also been argued that NGOs sometimes compete with popular grassroots movements for access to the forum and for influence there.[36]

The 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya in particular was criticized as a "NGO fair" because of how many NGOs attended, crowding out less formal groups of activists. Also, it has been alleged that at the Forum not all the attendees were properly represented, with the bigger and wealthier NGOs having far more space to talk and lead the events, while others were marginalized.[37]

Raúl Zibechi argues that there is a "crisis" of the World Social Forum in that it has been "weakened" as it has been "taken over" by "those who were most capable of 'leading' assemblies, professionals from universities and NGOs."[38]

Role of Corporations

There was also criticism of the way that CelTel had exclusive rights at the Kenyan event, the virtual monopoly of a local hotel offering food at rates that the average Kenyan could not afford, and the physical and financial exclusion of local business.[39]


According to Jai Sen the forum "remains largely led by aging males, mostly white or honorary white, from middle and upper class and caste sections from settler societies around the world".[40]

Further reading


  2. 1 2 3 Smith, Jackie The World Social Forum and the challenges of global democracy Global Networks 4 October 2004 pg. 413-421
  3. Charter of Principles (World Social Forum) - Wikisource, the free online library. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  4. The 1999 Seattle protests gave birth to a global movement. Retrieved on 12 August 2013.
  5. Interview with Oded Grajew - Initiator and Secretariat Member of the World Social Forum / Global Eyes / In Motion Magazine. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  6. A variation on this creation story is reported by Bernard Cassen in "On the Attack," New Left Review 19, January–February 2003, pp. 48-49.
  7. "Inter Press Service - News and Views from the Global South".
  8. "UNESCO and the World Social Forum page". 2007-03-07. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  9. Tyler, Patrick E. (2003-02-17). "THREATS AND RESPONSES: NEWS ANALYSIS; A New Power In the Streets". The New York Times.
  10. Porto Alegre Manifesto. OpenSpaceForum. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  11. wsf 2006 karachi Resources and Information. This website is for sale!. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  12. Frank Joyce. article on Alternet. Retrieved 2007-02-16.
  13. "PZN - World Social Forum: just another NGO fair?". 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  14. Jens Glaschiøt happening 'In the Name of God'
  15. "Jan. 26, 2008 - Act together for another world! | WSF2008". WSF2008<!. 2008-01-26. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  16. "World Social Forum 2009"
  17. "Inter Press Service - News and Views from the Global South".
  18. World Social Forum 2010. Choike. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  19. 1 2 US Social Forum | Another World Is Possible | Another US Is Necessary. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  20. Archived from the original on February 9, 2011. Retrieved March 17, 2011. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. "Brazil Hosts the 12th Annual World Social Forum Meeting - GEG Project". 24 January 2012.
  22. "Maghreb Social Forum 2013"
  23. الكرامة. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  24. . Retrieved on 2015-09-11.
  25. Katsiaficas, George. "The World Social Forum and the Internet Social Forum". Sri Lanka Guardian. Sri Lanka Guardian. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  26. . Retrieved on 2015-09-11.
  27. "LegalEase Radio - CKUT 90.3 FM Montreal - Building a Better World". LegalEase Collective. 2016-08-12. Retrieved 2016-10-14.
  28. World Social Forum. Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  29. Americas Social Forum | United States Social Forum. (2007-07-01). Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  32. "Folha Online - Brasil - José Bové, militante francês antiglobalização, chega a Porto Alegre - 28 January 2002". 2002-01-28. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  33. (1/30/2001) WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Don't Let Corporations Control Food Supply, Beg Farmers. (2001-01-30). Retrieved on 2013-08-12.
  34. 1 2 Another World is Possible: Reflections and Criticisms on the World Social Forum, 2009, in Belem, Mzonke Poni, 2009
  35. Abahlali baseMjondolo (2007-03-06). "Article by David Ntseng on NGOs and grassroots movements at the forum". Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  36. World Social Forum: just another NGO fair?, by Firoze Manji, Pambazuka News, 2007
  37. Raúl Zibechi, Territories in Resistance, (AK Press: Oakland), 2012, p. 310.
  38. "World Social Forum: just another NGO fair? — WSF 2007". 17 March 2012.
  39. the Civil. Engaging Critically with the Reality and Concept of Civil Society, Jai Sen and Peter Waterman, eds, (2010) - Worlds of Movement, Worlds in Movement. Volume 4 in the Challenging Empires series. New Delhi : OpenWord

See also

News reports
Past forums
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