The next World Expo, which will be held in Milan next year, will look to raise awareness about different ways of producing food and contribute to the global food security debate. The main issue is “Feed the world, energy for life”. 20 million visitors will be expected at the Italian city, with the event running between 1 May and 1 October 2015. While the spotlight is increasingly on the construction of the Expo site and the innovative infrastructures connected , Italian and international civil society is working on how to take part to the event bringing a contribution to the planetary debate on food and sustainability. The event will feature pavilions from over 142 countries, for the first time ever a specific participation of civil society has been included in a Universal Exposition. NGOs and other organizations may join the Expo as “ Non Official Participant “. This is in fact one of the main characteristics that have allowed the award of the Expo to Milan beating the other contenders cities .
So, how civil society is preparing for the event?
The first opportunity of participation is offered by the company that will manage the event (Expo 2015 S.p.A) to the civil society organizations belonging to international networks . They may sign up a Participation Agreement with Expo 2015 in order to present an activity workplan of at least 30 events to be scheduled within the six months of the Expo. The so-called Civil Society Participants will have the opportunity to enhance their experience and activities, presenting best practices and promoting their activities in development cooperation, education and awareness raising. As of today the following international organizations have signed a participation agreement: ActionAid , Alliance 2015, Caritas, Don Bosco Network, Fairtrade, IPS, Lions Clubs International, Oxfam, Save the Children and WWF.
Within the masterplan of the Expo there is a physical space completely dedicated to civil society, the Cascina Triulza. The management of this pavilion has been awarded with a public bid to the “Triulza Foundation”, a large consortium composed by 40 leading Italian CSOs. The Triulza Foundation winning project aims to:
- organize events to meet, study , and research to promote dialogue and cooperation between peoples;
- promote information and training activities in order to increase citizens awareness towards a sustainable economy , finance and responsible consumption;
- ensure the management of Cascina Triulza – Civil Society Pavilion and support the participation of other organizations;
Another civil society network that is moving toward the event
is the “People’s Expo” composed by 50 organizations who signed a political/cultural manifesto focused on Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice as main answers to the challenges of hunger, poverty and social injustice. NGOs and CSOs composing the People’s Expo are promoting the idea of organizing an international Forum in Milan in June 2015 (the Peoples Forum) bringing a strong and clear voice of the international civil society and farmers’ movements on the expo theme “Feeding the Planet , Energy for Life”. The Forum aims to gather in Milan the major international networks already active on the right to food, water, land, seeds, gender issues, climate change, as a platform for the civil society mobilization in view of the launch of the new Development Agenda post 2015.
Although the participation of civil society is presented as a potential highlight of this Italian Expo, nobody seems to be concerned that the participation to the event will have high costs, hardly sustainable from non-profit organizations . The challenge of bringing CS ideas, alternatives and best practices is likely to be futile facing the multi-million investments of the Official Participants, mainly States and corporations.
Up to now the Italian government and public authorities have not put in place any special funds to support the participation of the civil society to the Expo while the construction of the Italian Pavilion will cost over 40 millions euros.
Who seems not to have problems on that side is a major but peculiar player of the civil society, the Slow Food Movement. Slow Food will participate to the event with a space from 3,500 square meters dedicated to a path on biodiversity (the hill of biodiversity) with a different status from other Civil Society Participants, a Partnership between Slow Food and Expo signed last November.
In short it seems that the year 2014 will be crucial for the civil society in order to develop programs and ideas and to mobilize the necessary financial resources. The main organizations and networks are now urging the institutions involved in the event to make possible a strong civil society participation with concrete actions and budget support.