Excerpt: Meryem Aslan, head of the C20 Turkey Secretariat, argues that 2015 has seen a dramatic improvement in the level of meaningful engagement of civil society in G20 processes, writing in the October 2015 edition of the Lowy Institute’s G20 Monitor,

Please note that this article was originally published as part of the Lowy Institute’s G20 Monitor. Please see the original article here.



Civil 20 (C20) Turkey has overseen a dramatic improvement in the level of meaningful engagement of civil society organisations with the G20. The 2015 process represents an important milestone in the gradual transformation of official G20-civil society engagement towards genuine and constructive participation in the G20’s agenda.

Turkey became the third host of the C20 when it assumed the G20 Presidency in 2015. However, since the original G20 meetings in 1999, civil society organisations have undertaken a range of activities to make their views known to leaders, including dialogue with G20 representatives, popular petitions, street demonstrations, and alternative summits such as the ‘People’s Summit’ held ahead of the 2010 Toronto G20 Leaders’ Summit.[33] While many of these activities continue outside the formal G20 process, the C20 as a formally recognised mechanism is relatively new, especially in comparison to the more established engagement groups such as the Business 20 (B20), and is still in the process of defining itself.

The Turkish G20 Presidency’s commitment to heed the views of external institutions and countries in 2015 was taken seriously by Turkey’s C20.[34] Chaired by the Foundation for Economic Development (IKV), the 14 member C20 Turkey Steering Committee[35] has sought out the views of a broad range of institutions and countries. Consequently, openness, transparency, and participation have been the guiding principles of C20 Turkey from the outset. In view of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the major success of C20 Turkey has been its broad-based, internationally oriented, multi-stakeholder approach. This success offers a solid foundation upon which the 2016 C20 and other civil society policy initiatives can build.



Drawing on lessons learned from the C20 processes in Russia (2013) and Australia (2014), members of the C20 Turkey Steering Committee were appointed through an internal process entirely defined by civil society organisations themselves. This meant that the C20 was a fully civic initiative for the first time in its short history. The appointment process was a response to the demand of civil society organisations in Turkey, and had the support of the 2015 G20 Presidency, which backed an independent C20 facilitation process.

An emphasis on achieving international inclusion led the C20 Turkey Steering Committee to include both national and international civil society organisations as members and to establish an international advisory committee to provide strategic guidance. Moreover, there has been a particular focus on engaging civil society representatives from Least Developed Countries (LDCs). C20 Turkey also managed dialogue platforms simultaneously with the B20, Think 20 (T20), and Labour 20 (L20). The interaction with these more well-established groups was an opportunity to communicate the goals of the C20, gauge the support of other engagement groups for the C20’s agenda, and coordinate on engagement with the G20 Presidency. Diverse civil society organisations within G20 countries and beyond, as well as the other G20 engagement groups, have constituted a key part of the C20’s stakeholder portfolio throughout the process.



A key goal for C20 Turkey has been to engage a broad spectrum of civil society organisations from a wide range of countries, creating space for global civil society concerns to shape engagement with the G20 and ensure that C20 policy propositions are both representative and legitimate. A robust and broad policy and consultation process began with a comprehensive review of civil society organisations’ previous recommendations to the G20 between 2009 and 2014, as well as the 2015 G20 Presidency’s policy priorities. 

Through an online survey, the organisers of the C20 Turkey then sought the opinions of civil society organisations from around the world about what policy issues should be on the C20’s agenda in 2015. The survey was available in six languages — Turkish, English, Spanish, Arabic, French, and Chinese — and collectively polled more than 1200 individuals and 388 organisations in 91 countries (including all G20 members, 14 LDCs and 55 non-G20 countries). The results were published in real time on the C20 Turkey website, meaning that anyone who was interested in the policy priorities of a wide spectrum of civil society actors could access them with just one click.[36] The results of the survey were combined with public opinion polling on relevant G20 issues.[37] In liaison with the International Advisory Committee, the C20 Turkey Steering Committee finalised the C20’s policy priorities for 2015 based on the highest-ranking survey responses.[38] In this way, the C20’s 2015 policy priorities were determined in a fully open, transparent, and consultative process.

Following the publication of the C20 priorities for 2015, thematic working groups were convened around four issues on the agenda: governance (with a focus on tax justice and anti-corruption); inclusive growth (with a focus on basic social services and employment); gender equality (with a focus on women’s access to social protection and employment); and sustainability (with a focus on renewable energy and access to energy). These working groups were co-chaired by a national and an international chair, and were responsible for the development of policy positions and recommendations on their priority issue. Over 65 organisations from 11 countries have directly engaged as members of these working groups.

In addition to linking to the existing online discussion spaces of civil society networks around the world, the C20 Turkey website hosted a multilingual discussion forum. Professional networks, email lists, blogs, and social media channels were also used in order to maximise engagement and participation. Face-to-face consultations were held with civil society organisations in Europe and Africa. With participation from over 5000 individuals, C20 Turkey’s working groups have produced policy briefs that reflect the policy propositions of a diverse range of civil society organisations from around the world. 

The C20 Summit held on 15 and 16 September was the final event in C20 Turkey’s year-long policy consultation and development process. Bringing together over 500 participants from 52 countries, the summit was an opportunity for civil society organisations to connect and further debate key economic and social policy issues. The major outcome of this year’s summit was the C20 communiqué — a summary of civil society’s policy recommendations to G20 leaders in 2015.[39] The policy briefs developed by C20 working groups formed the basis of the communiqué, and the processes of the summit itself were designed to encourage all participants to contribute. The unanimous endorsement of the communiqué by summit participants is an indication of the broad sense of consensus among civil society organisations about the actions necessary to achieve social and economic justice.



The C20 has collectively arrived at 36 recommendations put forward to the G20 in 2015.

  • Inclusive growth:Devise inclusive growth strategies that explicitly target reducing inequality and track income growth rates of the poorest 40 per cent; facilitate greater access to social protection and public services; operationalise a ‘decent work’ agenda; coordinate strategies for tackling LIDC development challenges; strengthen opportunities for civil society to contribute to G20 processes (including providing a permanent seat at G20 employment and development working groups); and develop a coordinated response to the plight of refugees.
  • Gender equality:Recognise and reduce women’s unpaid care work; champion gender-responsive budgeting and gender equitable macroeconomic policies (such as progressive tax systems and securing women’s property rights); establish legal and policy frameworks to eliminate gender-based wage gaps and occupational discrimination; penalise gender-based discrimination in the workplace and implement gender quotas for employment, public procurements, and increase representation of women on corporate boards up to 50 per cent; implement policies that address the rights and well-being of women in the informal economy.
  • International taxation: Consider Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project outputs as the beginning of a longer and more inclusive reform process which could benefit all countries and truly ensure multinationals are taxed where economic activities take place and value is created; allow direct filing of country-by-country reports; create a multilateral mechanism for automatic exchange of information; and agree to a high-level declaration to end all harmful tax practices.
  • Anti-corruption:Publish a plan of action for implementing the G20 “High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency”; ensure the legal right of access to public information and release key data set; ensure transparency in procurement processes; implement Los Cabos principles on asset disclosure by public officials; limit domestic immunities for public officials; and establish specialised, independent anti-corruption mechanisms to investigate and prosecute high-level corruption.
  • Sustainability — climate change and energy: Agree on fair and equitable long-term emission reduction and commit to 100 per cent renewable energy future by 2050; take the lead in supporting reliable, safe, sustainable, and clean energy access for all by 2030; completely and equitably phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020; shift investment to clean energy; and significantly increase public climate finance to help the developing countries adapt to the impact of climate change.



This multi-stakeholder dialogue and negotiation process has also formed the basis of the C20’s ongoing advocacy throughout 2015. The C20 was granted access to sherpa meetings, G20 working group meetings, G20 symposiums, and ministerial meetings, where it was able to present the preliminary policy propositions and recommendations. In addition, the working group chairs and co-chairs were able to brief Turkey’s deputy prime minister responsible for economic affairs and the Turkish Sherpa[40] on several occasions.

The C20 also made it a principle to inform the G20 Presidency on the progress of the policy consultation and development process at regular intervals. Such open dialogue and participation in G20 processes has allowed civil society organisations to better understand G20 members’ positions and the areas where the countries are able to build consensus, as well as to sharpen its policy propositions and recommendations in an informed manner. 

The final C20 communiqué was presented to the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Cevdet Yilmaz, and Turkish Sherpa Ayşe Sinirlioğlu during the C20 Summit closing ceremony. It will also be handed over to representatives from all G20 countries. The Turkish G20 Presidency has also committed to host a breakfast between G20 engagement group chairs and G20 leaders during the Leaders’ Summit. Should this commitment be realised, it will represent a rare opportunity for the C20 and others to directly communicate their policy recommendations to the highest policymakers, and will be the first time such an opportunity has been facilitated by a G20 Presidency.



The key outcome of the 2015 C20 process to date is the collective statement of civil society’s joint policy recommendations to the G20. The scale of buy-in and support for the C20 communiqué 2015 sets the current process apart from those that preceded it. Initial anecdotal evidence suggests that the approach taken by C20 Turkey has inspired civil society organisations to review and improve their own internal approaches to participation, and set new parameters for civil society engagement in policy forums. This emphasis is indicative of a broader desire for more inclusive, participatory and responsive systems of governance.

The priority moving forward is to ensure that G20 leaders implement all measures necessary to establish a genuinely inclusive global economy, with a particular focus on addressing inequality (including gender inequality), climate change, and international tax systems. The exact way forward for the 2016 C20, including the specific policy priorities and approach, is yet to be determined. However, C20 Turkey has made it a priority to ensure that the 2015 process and lessons learned are documented and can support C20 China in facilitating an even stronger 2016 process.

Nevertheless, civil society organisations are well aware that participation in global processes has not been a linear progression.[41] It has not been granted easily or fully, and has required constant renegotiation of the space in which civil society influences social, economic, and political spheres. The 2015 C20 communiqué stresses people’s right to organise, and their freedom to speak out against poverty, inequality, and injustice. It urges all G20 countries to protect and facilitate the legal, political, and social space in which civil society can speak out without threat or fear of retribution. The hope is that Turkey’s G20 Presidency has laid the groundwork for an increasingly productive collaboration between civil society organisations and G20 countries, especially if future G20 presidencies also embrace civil society, with its large and diverse groups, as a critical enabler in the fight against poverty and inequality and the pursuit of social justice.


A renewed commitment by G20 members to protect civil society platforms would place the G20 in a position of leadership in responding to the global demand for more participatory and responsive systems of governance. Such governance systems are essential to achieve inclusive economic development that responds to the needs of all.