A farewell message from Liv Tørres


Photo: Johannes Granseth — Nobel Peace Center

As I approach the end of my time as Director of the Pathfinders, it is also time for reflection. Reflection on the state of the world, on the health of multilateral collaboration, on challenges for peace, justice, and inclusion, and not the least, on what we have achieved over the last couple of years.

The beginning of my time with the Pathfinders in 2020, coincided with a critical moment in the history of multilateralism. The geopolitical landscape featured rising tensions between the U.S., China, and Russia. Inequality, exclusion, and polarization were on the rise. More than 5 billion people lacked adequate access to justice. In many countries, people had limited trust in their institutions and leaders. Social unrest was increasing. In Pathfinders’ forecasts on violence, we expected more countries to be at high risk of or in conflict unless major investments in lowering inequality, exclusion, distrust, polarization, and unrest were made. Then came the pandemic.

While the virus spread indiscriminately, its effects have been felt unequally. Many of the burdens shouldered during the pandemic were pushed onto groups with the least capacity to manage them. Already vulnerable people were not only at highest risk of infection and death, but also of losing their jobs and livelihoods. While some governments have employed ample resources to relieve the burdens of the poor and most vulnerable, low income countries have had limited capacity to do that. Debt levels increased in many countries, while cuts in public spending occurred in areas critical for those who need it most. Taken in combination, this growing inequality within and between countries, and escalating tension, resentment, and anger among citizens provide likely sparks for future violence and conflict.

So, what are my observations after two years working in New York, so close to the heart of the multilateral system? One may argue of course that this has been, and remains, an extraordinary time. A time in which it is impossible to evaluate how institutions and systems really work. I would argue the contrary: that this crisis is the best time and setting to evaluate the systems in place and how they are utilized by their members.

The multilateral system is under enormous pressure. It desperately needs reform and more serious commitment by its member states, especially amidst a context where several countries doubt that their national interests can be protected within multilateral collaboration. Yes, the UN is bureaucratic, “siloed,” and in serious need of modernization and more robust representation of youth, organized civil society, and the Global South. Yet, it is the best we tool have. We need to make it work better rather than pull back. The UN Secretary-General has spelled this out well in his recommendations for rebuilding and reforming the UN in Our Common Agenda. It is indeed in times like this that the need for coalitions of the willing like the Pathfinders are so valuable and needed.

The vision to “build back better” after the pandemic was both admirable and ambitious, but hardly realistic. Before the lockdowns had been lifted in many countries, money was running out and so was people’s patience. Billions of jobs were affected, millions lost forever. Acute hunger was set to double globally. In the last year, it became abundantly clear that there were, and are, vast differences between the “misery” of an elite “struggling” in their mansions while gig workers did their shopping, and the true suffering of unemployed or low-paid workers living in small homes in townships, squatter camps, and poor suburbs across the world. It did turn out to be difficult, if not impossible to “build back better” with less money, less cooperation, weaker institutions, and higher tension. Yet, we have no choice.

We have to invest in systems and policies that can provide justice for all, reduce the inequality and exclusion, and reduce violence — these actions will determine what the world looks like in 2030. We need people-centered justice with more paralegals, mediation systems and services, and community-oriented policing. We need to close the inequality gap by ensuring universal social security systems and progressive taxation. We need better arms control and to direct more attention towards domestic and urban violence, as well as early warning systems. We need to be innovative in our future justice, distributional policies, and peacebuilding. We need to think bottom-up and cut across silos. Can it be done? Of course it can. We have done it before.

In the midst of a global crisis, Pathfinders has expanded, consolidated this growth, and started new, crucial strategic initiatives. We have grown by 10 per cent since the beginning of 2020 and experience continuous and eager interest from many countries beyond our membership. We have increased our outreach, social media presence, and external communications. We have launched the Task Force on Halving Global Violence with the high-level ministerial leadership of Liberia, South Africa, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. We have taken the high-level initiative of the Advisory Council on Inequality and Exclusion forward and launched our flagship report, From Rhetoric to Action: Delivering Equality & Inclusion during this year’s UNGA. We have simultaneously transformed and taken the Grand Challenge on Justice for All forward and initiated, under the leadership of the Government of the Netherlands, the Justice Action Coalition. We also introduced in mid-2021 the first of what we hope will be an annual publication on “the state of peace, justice and inclusion.”

I will be leaving the Pathfinders soon to take up the position as the International Secretary of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO-Norway). LO-Norway is the largest trade union confederation in Norway and influential on the international scene. It will give me the chance to work for peace, justice, and inclusion from a new angle, with the backing of the collective muscle of several hundred thousand members. When an opportunity like this presents itself it is impossible to turn it down. The role of strong, organized, democratic civil society plays a key role in peace, justice, and inclusion. Countries with the best and strongest organized unions and civil society are relatively stable, successful, and have relatively high trust.

I truly appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with all of you in the SDG16+ community. I will go back to Norway in a few weeks confident that the team will have full control and that the future looks brighter with a coalition like the Pathfinders to light the way. The fact that almost 40 countries have decided to spearhead a movement to fight for peace, justice, and inclusion gives me hope, and has rebuilt my trust in change being possible. Because at the end of the day, it is the levels of inequality and exclusion, the quality of our governance, and the degree to which we are able to provide justice for all, that shape both our social capital and the direction in which we will steer to bring this crisis to an end.

Liv Torres