Public Alternatives


Lubicon Cree First Nations Solar Project was one of the examples explored in TNI's co-organised online learning course on energy democracy

TNI has worked for more than a decade to build a strong countervailing force that reverses privatization and delivers a more democratic, accountable and effective public services that works better for citizens and the environment.

Goal (2016-2020): To advance viable, feasible and progressive proposals on the democratic provision and financing of public goods and services.

Goals (2020) Results to which TNI contributed in 2016
Establish a ‘decentralized think tank’ on New Politics to boost the development of and enable exchange on desirable, viable and achievable alternatives to neoliberal capitalism.
  • A Latin American regional permanent working group was consolidated for the project launching call for research proposals on struggles over the public sphere that attracted 334 proposals.
  • TNI co-published a new book Public enterprises in Latin America, which explores how states can develop desirable and viable state enterprises in different sectors.
A strong international alliance for energy democracy (ED) is built, strengthening national campaigns, building collective knowledge production and helping shift a corporate fossil-fuel energy infrastructure towards a renewable community energy system.
  • TNI hosted and helped launch the Energy Democracy Alliance with a gathering of key activists and the establishment of a new website as a collective resource centre and an email list.
  • TNI co-organized a 6-week online peer-learning course on energy democracy bringing together almost 100 practitioners, academics and activists.
  • State water companies in Lagos (Nigeria) and Ghana undertake reform processes based on genuine dialogues with citizens and workers.
  • In Colombia, public budget is allocated to community water systems through public-community partnerships.
  • Water provision is successfully re-municipalized in Jakarta and the new public system makes significant progress in securing access to water and environmental protection.
  • The Citizens Bill on water rights and sustainable resource management is successfully adopted in Mexico.
  • In Nigeria, our partner Environmental Rights Action (ERA) successfully presented its policy alternatives to privatization of the state water company in Lagos, with an event and report that engaged the local state governor. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation argued for citizens’ participation in developing policies.
  • The campaign against Jakarta’s water privatization and for re-municipalization however reached an impasse despite two courts’ decisions in favour of citizen-led proposals due to a lack of political will and corporate lobbying.
Proposals for a comprehensive progressive and democratic transformation of the EU is widely debated and embraced by not only the European United Left but by the Greens and Social Democrats MPs, MEPs and other policy institutions.
  • The report, Privatising industry in Europe, was published with considerable media coverage. The report provided new analysis on how legal and financial corporations benefited from privatization in Europe.
  • TNI Board President Susan George actively engaged on behalf of TNI in new networks such as Democracy in Europe (DiEM), Plan B and AlterSummit that are seeking to build forces for a more just democratic European Union.

Project in numbers

  • Six publications
  • 105 participants from 34 countries signed up to online peer-learning course on energy democracy (40 participated regularly)
  • 4,907 people attended activities organized by project
  • 334 proposals received for TNI co-sponsored research project on theme of publicness

Why this issue matters

Energy Democracy network launched

In 2016, TNI helped launch an exciting new international network on energy democracy, connecting a growing movement of cities, communities and activists working to set up democratically accountable, equitable, renewable energy utilities. TNI hosted an international workshop in February that brought together 38 activists, including researchers, campaigners and practitioners, to develop a joint body of research and help establish the network. The first major joint effort of the network was the production of a briefing and a video, introducing the concept of ‘energy democracy’, based on interviews with its leading participants. This was launched and disseminated prior to the UN climate talks (COP 22) in Morocco. A website for the network was also set-up:

TNI then teamed up with Platform London to offer a 6-week online peer learning course in October and November which attracted 90 people from 36 countries, of which an average of 40 people participated consistently. This included key people in a nascent Energy Democracy network, as well as others active in energy policy worldwide. The course produced original materials, such as presentations and video interviews and enabled important learning and exchange through its online discussion forums and a Facebook group. TNI staff and fellows served as tutors and facilitators. The course is now archived as a permanent learning resource along with a database of exemplary cases of energy democracy.

TNI has also engaged with policy-makers to promote energy democracy best practice, including with city officials in Cadiz, Pamplona and Barcelona in Spain, the Labour Party and Green Party in the UK, and the Scottish National Party.

Supporting Lagos in fight for a democratic public water system

Nigeria’s largest city has long suffered from a chronic water crisis with less than 10 per cent of households with connections and fewer than 30 per cent having access to community standpipes. The World Bank’s proposals of private-sector partnerships and privatization have done little to resolve the situation. Working closely with local partner, Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and other international partners, TNI produced a roadmap for the city on how to develop an accountable, efficient public water utility. The report drew on more than a decade of TNI research of best-practice worldwide and was launched in October in Lagos to over 140 activists, academics, media and policy-makers.

The report received widespread favourable media coverage, with one media commentator calling the report "a tour de force... well researched and brilliantly rendered”. As a result the Lagos State government is studying the report. A coalition of diverse social organizations including trade unions, health groups, women’s organizations, anti-corruption leaders and community activists have joined together to back the roadmap.

“We have however, made it clear that we will assist the government in developing real solutions that truly address people’s access to water from the prism of human rights. We have also said that those solutions cannot be found in corporate management of public goods, but in collective investment in water infrastructure and democratic decision-making that prioritizes the human right to water above profits.”

Deputy Executive Director, Frontline civil society group, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Akinbode Oluwafemi

Building public partnerships

TNI continued to work closely with long-term partners in Indonesia and Latin America. In Indonesia, TNI helped initiate research into the impact of the Jakarta Bay project that seeks to prevent further sinking of the city through the construction of dams and 17 artificial islands, funded by Dutch money and using Dutch dredging firms. The islands will be used largely for shopping malls and tourist purposes, while many thousands of people will lose their homes. TNI has supported Indonesians researching the adverse impacts of the project on coastal and fishing communities, and is advocating a participatory model of development for Jakarta Bay.

In Latin America, TNI continues to support the Public Community Partnerships in Americas (PAPC) network which supports community water management projects across the region. In September, PAPC brought 200 people together from community water organizations, public utilities and trade unions from Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay, El Salvador, Bolivia and Honduras to share experiences and learning in Medellin, Colombia. One of the leading organizations in the network, the National Network of Community Aqueducts of Colombia is subsequently working on a popular initiative bill which seeks to legally protect community water management in the country.

TNI also promotes these ideas at the UN level, as an active member of UN Habitat’s Global Water Operators Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA). In 2016, TNI coordinated input from water justice organizations for GWOPA’s submission to the UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda that acknowledged the rise in alternatives to privatization in water services.

Launch of Privatising industry in Europe

Building on its reputation as a critical analyst of the economic crisis in the EU, TNI released the Privatising industry in Europe report that examined nine high-profile privatization deals across Europe, and showed that a small coterie of legal, financial and accountancy firms, many based in the UK, were reaping huge profits from the crisis-prompted privatizations, at times fuelling corruption and rarely improving quality of services.

The report received headline coverage in in Spain and Efemerida ton Sintakton in Greece, as well as in Vice, Le Monde Diplomatique, Open Democracy and other outlets. The report has been used by social movements in Spain resisting the privatization of the airport authority AENA, and by trade unions opposing privatization in Cali, Colombia.

New Politics

In 2016, TNI initiated New Politics, a think-tank project, to encourage exchange of ideas and experiences of activists and academics involved in critical reflections on progressive politics and movements and to share experiences and ideas on alternatives to neoliberalism. The first international workshop was held in February with the participation of 27 activist-scholars from around the world.

A decentralized network with strong nodes in Latin America, South Africa and Europe was established, which produced a report of the meeting and commissioned a series of think pieces syndicated with media outlets, La Diaria (Uruguay), Red Pepper (UK) and Amandla (South Africa). The outputs and research from New Politics are feeding into a book, A new politics from the left, written by TNI Fellow Hilary Wainwright (to be published in 2017).

In May, TNI launched a call for papers on struggles for public control together with the Latin America Social Sciences Council (CLACSO). More than 330 proposals were received and 10 researchers eventually given small grants to carry out research that will be jointly published in 2017. TNI staff evaluated the proposals and will be involved in accompanying the research. In November, TNI co-published a book, Estado, empresas publicas y desarrollo, which examined the experience and lessons of state-owned companies throughout Latin America and included an opening chapter by TNI Fellow Daniel Chavez.


Satoko Kishimoto
Project Coordinator

Dr. Daniel Chavez
Senior Project Officer/Fellow

Edgardo Lander

Hilary Wainwright

Sol Trumbo Vila
Project Officer

Lavinia Steinfort
Programme Assistant

Akinbode Oluwafemi
Research Associate

Nina Aichberger
Research Associate


Partners and networks


  • Reclaiming Public Water Network
  • Municipal Services Project
  • Public Services International
  • International Citizen Debt Audit Network


  • Plataforma de Acuerdos Públicos Comunitarios de Las Américas
  • Censat Agua Viva (Colombia)
  • Queens University (Canada)
  • University of Mexico
  • University of Costa Rica
  • University of the Republic (Uruguay)
  • ANTEL (Uruguay)
  • Blue Planet Project (Canada)
  • Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (USA)
  • Havens Center for Social Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA)
  • Institute for Latin American Studies of the University of Buenos Aires


  • University of the Western Cape (South Africa)
  • Environmental Rights Action (ERA) / Friends of the Earth Nigeria
  • Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) (South Africa)


  • Amrta Institute (Indonesia)
  • Focus on the Global South (Asia)
  • Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU)


  • Corporate Europe Observatory (Belgium)
  • Public Services International Research Unit (UK)
  • European Public Service Unions (EPSU)
  • European Water Movement
  • Multinational Observatory (France)
  • Ingeniería Sin Fronteras CATALUÑA (ISF)
  • Aqua Publica Europea (European Association of Public Water Operators)
  • Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua (Italy)
  • SOSte to NERO (S.O.S. Water) (Greece)
  • Institute for Political Ecology (Croatia)
  • Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Brussels office
  • Platform London (UK)
  • Switched on London (UK)
  • Global Justice Now (UK)
  • Tax Justice Network Netherlands (NL)
  • transform! network (Europe)
  • Alter Summit (Europe)