Civil society dialogue with WHO Director General Dr Tedros on social participation and accountability

Dialogue meeting on 25 August 2021

“Dear civil society colleagues,

Following the interactive dialogues the WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held last year with civil society representatives (CSOs) on different topics, we have the pleasure of inviting you to the follow up CSO dialogue with Dr Tedros on Social participation and accountability on 25 August 2021 at 11:30-13:00 Central European Summer Time (UTC+02, Paris, Amsterdam), as agreed by the Director General during the dialogue on this issue held on 13 October 2020 . This invitation is open to all members of CSOs so please feel free to share this invitation with your networks.

The CSO DG dialogues are organized to find concrete proposals and solutions on working together to improve global health and to support the achievement of the WHO triple billion targets as well as to accelerate the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. This dialogue is organized to continue discussion in particular on social participation and participatory governance, and on the establishment of a mechanism to strengthen WHO’s engagement with  civil society. In addition, main components on the draft WHO Civil Society Strategy, which is under development, will be presented.

The dialogue is organized by Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2), Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for UHC2030 (CSEM), the UHC2030 Social Participation Technical Network (SPTN) and Community of Practitioners on Accountability and Social Action in Health (COPASAH) in collaboration with an ad-hoc civil society team involved in the follow-up of the first dialogue meeting on 13 October 2020. (..)

Kind regards,

Taina Nakari
Health and Multilateral Partnerships
External Relations, World Health Organization”

Source: Invitation sent out by the WHO Secretariat on 12 August 2001
Civil society contacts: see below

Proposed WHO Civil Society Commission

If you are particularly interested in the proposal of a WHO Civil Society Commission (or similar body):

History and references

13 October 2020: Civil society dialogue meeting with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros on social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the globe, country governments have made swift decisions to put large swathes of the world’s population under mass isolation (lockdowns, curfews) in the race to heed off Covid-19’s lethality, particularly in certain population subgroups. These decisions affect some groups disproportionately, and policy makers and politicians have not adequately consulted communities, civil society and those who have experience and expertise on the secondary effects of lockdowns, social distancing measures and movement restrictions, nor involved them properly in national task forces. At the core of the issue of countries not being responsive to their people, we see the lack or insufficient implementation of social accountability.

Parliamentary and judicial control of governments has been suspended in some countries. Some governments have used the measures as pretext to further restrict the right to freedom of speech, opinion and the press and to reinforce the global trend of shrinking space for civil society. But meaningful participation of civil society actors in international diplomatic spaces is at stake too, and seriously compromised for the time being, due to virus control measures. Virtual multilateral consultations and negotiations are challenging regarding transparency and participation by civil society actors due to the digital divide.

In this third dialogue meeting on the Covid-19 response between civil society organizations and the WHO leadership, civil society speakers did not repeat the evidence already collected and the stories already told by civil society representatives from various countries. We took them as an agreed starting point for deepening the dialogue, and we focused on what is to be done.

Programme and civil society panellists

Panel 1: WHO to promote social accountability beyond providing “technical” guidance to countries

  • Diane Nsubuga, Living Goods, Uganda, SPTN
  • Khuat Thi Hai Oanh, SCDI, Vietnam, CSEM
  • Renu Khanna, Society for Health Alternatives, India, COPASAH
  • Dr Tedros and WHO staff

Panel 2: WHO to consistently deal with institutional civil society interaction as a matter of social accountability

  • Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network, Switzerland, Geneva Global Health Hub (Input: PDF)
  • Angela Nguku, White Ribbon Alliance, Kenya, GAP Civil Society Advisory Group
  • Jake Suett, UK, ACT-A Diagnostics pillar
  • Dr Tedros and WHO staff

Moderator: Justin Koonin, ACON, Australia, CSEM/SPTN

In the two-hours meeting, the WHO Director-General and his team responded quite specifically to the different asks for commitment and action, in particular confirming some agreed action points. This will be followed-up by the civil society co-organizers in a (civil society only) meeting on 27 October 2020, and in a next step again with the WHO Secretariat.

Please note that the recording of the dialogue meeting will not be published nor broadly disseminated but can be requested at the co-organizers (see below for contacts).

Three interrelated challenges

This civil society dialogue with the WHO leadership focused on three interrelated challenges in the promotion of social participation and accountability as a core element of democratic governance within and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • In its interaction with Member States on promoting social participation and accountability at country level, WHO to provide political leadership beyond technical guidance
  • In its own fields of work and related institutional processes and arenas, WHO to consistently deal with civil society engagement as a matter of social participation and accountability
  • Civil society organizations, networks and platforms to get better organized in the promotion of good governance at all levels and at the same time consistently address own shortcomings in the field of participation and accountability.

Civil society input paper with key asks for commitment and action

Read the input paper for the meeting (word – PDF) with introductions and civil society asks for commitment and action. The paper was drafted by the co-organizers and shared with the WHO Secretariat as main reference for the dialogue with Dr Tedros.

27 October 2020: Civil society follow-up meeting 

This “civil society only” follow-up meeting to the dialogue session with WHO DG Dr Tedros, conducted on 13 October on “Social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” was hold again on the Zoom conference platform, but with a minimum of formal input (see below) and active engagement of the attendants. The set-up allowed brainstorming and strategizing in a broader team.


After the civil society meeting, the civil society co-organizers concluded the first step of this dialogue by sending, on 25 November 2020, a letter and memo to Dr Tedros and the WHO Secretariat, including a shortlist of agreed action points: Memo as PDF. Follow-up on the “WHO civil society commission” proposal: see below.

Follow-up on WHO Civil Society Commission

  • 26 November 2020: Initial meeting of an ad-hoc civil society task group
    This group’s agreed task was to to develop, by the end of the year, an initial outline for a “WHO Civil Society Commission”.
  • 11 January 2021: Outline of proposed “WHO Civil Society Commission”
    Submitted to WHO Secretariat by ad hoc civil society task group
    Covering letter and outline as PDF: Outline WHO Civil Society Commission

Contact for information (CSOs):
Thomas Schwarz

Civil society co-organizers of the DG dialogue on social participation and accountability

  • Community of Practitioners on Accountability and Social Action in Health (COPASAH)
  • Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2)
  • UHC2030 Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (CSEM)
  • UHC2030 Social Participation Technical Network (SPTN), Civil society co-chair
    together with the WHO Secretariat.

Contact for information: Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network/G2H2 Secretariat
G2H2 guide to series of civil society meetings with WHO DG Dr Tedros: here