The first risk is that it is a fragile movement on stilts, with shallow support structures incapable of dealing with setbacks and shifts in political mood. Live 8, the massive global music concert coinciding with the 2005 G8 summit was an event focused not on raising money but on raising public awareness on Africa, featured barely a single voice from Africa, an event about Africa, not of or from Africa. Criticism of this feature of Live 8 has been well rehearsed, but it is perhaps emblematic of an event focused on the exercise of communicative power by those best in a position to exercise that power, rather than a deliberate attempt to share and invest others with such power. The opportunity of Live 8 was to provide the Make Poverty History campaign with a set of supporters and voices that could nurture it through the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead. Most opinion polls suggest that public support in the UK in particular for efforts to tackle poverty is very widespread, but also very fragile. While the main justification of celebrity-led campaigns is their ability to reach a large number of people, some evidence suggests that their impact is short lived and shallow. Research in Britain shows public concern about poverty in poor countries reached a high of 32%, in April 2005, prior to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in June, and two years has declined to 22%, its lowest level since the study began (Darnton 2007).
Other influences on global civil society include the appropriation of leadership on central issues of concern by those who command and exercise communicative power – in particular, celebrities. The capacities of rock musicians and of wealthy individuals to mobilise their resources and public support base, to catalyse leadership, and to exert pressure on political processes surrounding issues of concern to global civil society, such as global poverty, has been extraordinary.
Grassroots social movements – most notably on HIV/AIDS – have become increasingly powerful, built largely on their capacity to embarrass and hold governments and international agencies to their account through sophisticated public protest and media strategies. This adept use of communications, combined with excellent advocacy campaigns have transformed networks of people living with HIV/AIDS from the subjects of the response to the pandemic, to agents and strategic shapers of it. In this way, the resources, infrastructure and political commitment galvanised around HIV/AIDS and increasingly other global health issues, such as TB, have increased significantly. The HIV/AIDS global campaign echoed other social movements, for example around debt cancellation, fair trade and against globalisation. This move has coincided with and increasingly been overtaken by the rapid increase in the communicative power of celebrities to shape media and public agendas around issues of concern to civil society. Rock stars such as Sir Bob Geldof and Bono have epitomised the shift in sources of action on development issues, with policy agendas not only represented by but increasingly shaped by figures who have instant access to media. For example, Geldof suggested the establishment of a commission for Africa, prior to the G8 Summit in 2005, and as one of its 17 commissioners, he played a key role in shaping its content. This trend is augmented by massive new resources being made available for development work (particularly in health) from new private foundations and individuals, most notably by Bill Gates. The communicative power of such figures outweighs and exerts more influence over policy than virtually any other development actor, be they implementing agencies, grassroots NGOs or research bodies. In addition, a new generation of US foundations, established by new technology entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, are supporting social entrepreneurship and advocacy.