By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – While world leaders meet in Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, social entities and movements debate in Porto Alegre around issues concerning democracy, poverty, human rights and the environment at the World Social Forum. With this year’s theme, Peace, Democracy, People’s Rights and Planet’s Rights, participants hope to debate the current global scenario and construct a new development model.

Participants discuss globalization and inequality at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil,
Participants discuss globalization and inequality at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, photo by Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil.

The Forum created in 2001 was designed to meet at the same time as government officials were meeting in Switzerland. While Economic Forum participants discuss economic issues affecting the globe, those attending the Social Forum discuss more socially pressing issues from around the planet. Porto Alegre Forum officials expect nearly ten thousand participants will attend the more than 800 workshops scheduled to be held during this year’s five-day conference.

“After fifteen years we see many initiatives popping up in the world. The belief that things will improve as participative democracy advances has increased,” Oded Grajew, general coordinator of the NGO Rede Nossa São Paulo and one of the fathers of the World Social Forum, said in an interview to Zero Hora. “For this we must have a strengthened civil society, one which has power. The idea of the forum is to set up international social networks (to make a difference),” he added.

According to Grajew democracy is this year’s central theme. “Today’s political models are very complex. There is an overall feeling that politicians and governments act more in favor of an economic elite than for the majority of the population,” said the NGO representative in an interview to Agencia Brasil.

Other issues to be discussed are the increasing economic and social inequality in Brazil and around the world, advances made by social movements (women’s, youths, blacks), and environmental man-made disasters such as the one in Minas Gerais in November.

The Porto Alegre forum is a preparation for the global edition of the event, to be held in Montreal, Canada on August 9th-14th. This will be the first time the event will be held in the Northern Hemisphere.

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