2001 – World Social Forum founded

As resistance to global corporate rule grew at the turn of the century, the World Social Forum (WSF) emerged as one of the biggest platforms for enabling global civil society to come together and discuss ways to advance an alternative agenda.

The first forum brought 20,000 participants from over 100 countries to Porto Alegre in 2001, while the most recent WSF in Montreal attracted 35,000 participants from 125 countries. WSF played a key role in galvanizing support for the protests against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The World Social Forum was set up in 2001 to bring together activists opposed to corporate globalization. It was created by a network of Brazilian and French activists, nongovernmental organisations and unions, and was originally conceived as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum (WEF) – the annual gathering of business and political leaders that usually meets in Davos, Switzerland. As such, WSF meetings have always been timed to coincide with those of the WEF.

The WSF promotes a wide variety of agendas, be it women’s rights, small-scale worker-controlled enterprises, public health, or community schools. Economic inequality has always featured prominently in WSF discussions and debates, with participants exploring ways to act together to reduce it; reshape public debate and counter globally dominant free-market ideologies. Rejecting Margaret Thatcher’s oft-repeated mantra that “there is no alternative” to transnational capitalism, the Forum’s slogan holds that “another world is possible.”

Each year like-minded activists attend hundreds of meetings in small rooms, and gather by the thousand in plenary sessions to hear prominent international activists such as Samir Amin, Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy. International media has helped the Forum communicate its demands and its broad opposition to neoliberalism.

These events have born fruit – for example, the 2003 gathering contributed to organizing the global protests opposing the invasion of Iraq. The WSF has been replicated at regional, national and local levels, and among specific interest groups organized around particular themes including democracy, racism, peace, and culture. After meeting fellow activists from so many different places, participants return home believing another world is possible. It has been called a movement of “one no and many yeses.”