Launch of the WHO Civil Society Commission
Update, Background, Perspectives…

The WHO Civil Society Commission is a new body launched by the Director-General of the World Health Organization in August 2023. The mandate of the Commission is to strengthen dialogue and foster collaboration between WHO and civil society and to provide advice and recommendations to WHO on its engagement with civil society at global, regional and national levels.

The Commission has been set up by the World Health Organization to collect advice and recommendations on issues related to the interaction of WHO with civil society. The Commission is not a separate legal entity but hosted and administered by the WHO Secretariat, and its mandate, setup and modalities of work are based on Terms of Reference drafted and published by WHO.

With the launch of the Commission, the Director-General of the World Health Organization is responding to a series of civil society initiatives that recommended to WHO to explore what can be done to allow civil society organizations engaging with WHO in a better and more meaningful way. The launch of the Commission takes place at a moment when WHO is developing new strategies to engage systematically with key constituencies such as civil society, youth, academia, parliaments and the private sector.

The Commission is set up as a network which aims to have a broad and diverse membership including grassroots community organizations, civil society groups and networks, faith-based organizations, professional groups and patient groups working at global, regional, national and local levels. After an initial call launched by WHO in early 2023, the membership application process remains continuous, with no cut-off date. The Commission consists of a General Meeting, a Steering Committee and Working Groups. The overall strategic direction and main deliverables for the work of the Commission will be provided by its Steering Committee, which initially includes 21 members appointed by the WHO Secretariat for a term of two years, with Ravi Ram and Lisa Hilmi as Co-Chairs.

To accomplish its mandate, and to contribute to the development of a core set of instruments for improving the interaction between WHO and civil society, the Steering Committee is expected to set up working groups and hold public hearings. The General Meeting of all members of the Commission will take place once a year, to review the annual reports provided by the Steering Committee as well as the proposed work plan for the next year.

Launch of the WHO Civil Society Commission on 24 August 2023

The WHO Civil Society Commission held the inaugural meeting of its Steering Committee on 24 August, in a virtual session. According to a WHO press release published on the same day, the Commission “provides, for the first time, the ability to channel advice and recommendations in a more structured and systematic manner from civil society to WHO on health priorities and related issues. The historical role of civil society organizations (CSO) in bringing about change in public health is well-known. While WHO has a long-standing tradition of working with CSOs, the establishment of the Commission takes the collaboration to a new level.”

The meeting was opened by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and brought together the members of the Steering Committee. “We know from our experience in so many areas that listening to and responding to the voices of the communities we serve is essential to properly addressing the health challenges they face,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. ”We have set up the WHO Civil Society Commission to bring civil society from different backgrounds together to advise us and work with us so that we can learn from you and be guided by your ideas.”

Steering Committee-Co Chair Lisa Hilmy (CORE Group) and Ravi Ram (Medwise Solutions) shared with the WHO team a preliminary set of priority action fields identified by the emerging team in its preparatory sessions,  and some suggestions of what the WHO Secretariat and Director-General can contribute to the success of this new body. These include regular meetings with the DG, financial resources for the Commission work, beng an an advocate and “enabler” for the WHO CSO SC and Commission, and provide the space for the Commission to work freely. All this was well received and supported by the DG and his team.

“This is an historic opportunity for close collaboration between WHO and CSOs around the world, and we are excited that many organizations will have an active role. We welcome all civil society organizations committed to improve global health to join the WHO CSO Commission and look forward to their engagement and thought leadership for addressing critical health issues.” (Co-Chairs)

  • Meeting website (WHO) with webcast of opening session: here
  • WHO Press release: here
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