Violence against transgender people in Pakistan

TW/CW: transphobia, physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual violence, rape, torture, murder, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse

Saro ImranI am Saro Imran, a transgender activist running a community-based organisation in Pakistan. Pakistan is a signatory to several international human rights conventions that are of relevance to transgender people and other marginalised minorities, which the country has systematically failed to protect. The exception is the Trans Protection Act of 2018, which we already have in place. As a consequence of this limited protection, transgender people and other marginalised minorities suffer discrimination and violence in many spheres of their lives. 

Earlier this month, a transgender person was killed and another was injured from gunshots fired by unidentified men in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) region of Pakistan. Both victims were rushed to the hospital, where doctors pronounced one victim dead. The other victim is undergoing treatment. According to the First Information Report (FIR), a group of transgender people had gone to perform at a wedding function and were preparing to leave when unknown people opened fire on them.

In the same month, a transgender person was gunned down by his younger brother from Swabi. The person had gone to Rawalpindi and Islamabad to participate in several dance parties. His family was opposed to his dance performance, and his brother had warned him of ‘dire consequences’.

Human rights violations and discrimination on the basis of gender identity are still prevalent and mount a big challenge for Pakistan. The transgender community and other marginalised minorities face stigma, discrimination and violence much more than non-marginalised groups. Transgender people, and transgender women in particular, face harassment, mistreatment and exclusion from society, from the public health care system, education system, employment and other institutions of government. They face different forms of abuse, ranging from exclusion from society to brutal murder. They are subjected to trafficking, extortion and forced prostitution. After the Trans Protection Act of 2018, things have slowly started to change. However, for the proper inclusion of transgender people in society and the acknowledgment of their basic human rights, the government will have to take a number of measures to address the gravity of the situation.

In Pakistan, transgender people and other marginalised minorities are ostracised by society and sometimes disowned by their families. Transgender women, in particular, live in groups for protection and survival. Due to widespread stigma and discrimination, many transgender women engage in sex work in extremely unsafe environments and circumstances. Their clients or sex partners feel that the sexual abuse of a transgender woman is permissible. Therefore, when they solicit their services, they invite friends over and gang rape them. These abuses cause severe emotional distress and mental agony for many transgender women. To cope with these realities, many survivors start indulging in drugs and alcohol or resort to self-harm.

trans in PakistanAlso, transgender individuals are often responsible for financially supporting their biological families, families who tend to resort to abuse, violence and torture to maintain their control over them. Forced marriage and physical and emotional torture are common forms of abuse against them, recorded in studies done by various organisations. The worst thing is, if police arrest perpetrators of violence, the biological family tends to forgive them in return for money. 

The only support for transgender people in Pakistan is provided by their peers. In the absence of medical care that is sensitive to their needs, relief usually comes from community members looking after them using traditional methods and wisdom. 

Community-based organisations all over Pakistan have arranged a protest against the murders and violence faced by transgender people. We demand justice for victims and survivors and security for the transgender community from the Government of Pakistan. We call for the development of provincial policies and legislation to criminalise offenses such as sexual violence and murder of transgender people.


Case Study on the Power of Radical Collaboration: People Before Projects

Conversation between Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth and Abigail Freeman, Alliance for Gender Justice Liberia in August 2020. 

Transforming information into impactful formats 

1. Who is Abigail?

I am a 22-year-old social justice activist and founder of the Alliance for Gender Justice and Human Rights- a movement formed on the basis of advocating for women’s rights, promoting gender equality, and amplifying the voices of women and youth in  Liberia. I am also a Youth Action Lab participant.

2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the communities you work with?

We had just launched our movement prior to the pandemic. However, due to the preventing measures to spread the COVID-19 pandemic we could not go on with our planned activities which included the construction of a physical space for young women and victims of sexual violence to participate safely in the campaign for sexual violence prevention and gender justice. So in the spirit of people before projects, we decided to adapt our plans to fit in with the needs of people during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Liberia that started in March.

3. How were you able to adapt your plans to accommodate the changing environment? 

My team and I wanted to adapt our plans to address people's needs and not our assumptions of what they needed. So, my team and I decided to see how we can work with communities and  to learn how to better address this issue and direct our efforts to protect women and children.

4. What was a major take-away from the work you were able to produce using this approach?

Gender issues are extremely sensitive in Ganta, Liberia. For instance, during our time working there with fellow grassroots activists, we discovered a case where four rapists had familial ties to the judge that ordered their medical release due to COVID-19. First, I was able to reach out to people working on those issues in the town. Working together, we built a campaign to raise awareness about this and the community demonstrated an overwhelming amount of support by joining us in protests demonstrations and press conferences calling for the immediate arrest of the rapists and along the way we gained traction and got legal support from the Liberia Justice Association. This strategic alliance assisted our advocacy efforts by introducing a legal entity, which we are not qualified as. Now more people know our movement and we are recognized and referred to as a group that stands up for gender justice in a context where this is a sensitive topic. Thanks to this we are reaching more people than if we had stayed with the original project plan.

5. What would you say to organisations/donors who are looking to support youth activists like yourself in these challenging times and post-Covid?

Abigail interview 2Many women and children living in rural communities are vulnerable to violence. Creating a space that will allow women, girls and children to acquire education and skills training will be a radical approach in the fight against GBV. At the SheLeads Academy, women, children and teenage mothers will be given an opportunity to build their capacity through skills training programs, counseling and mentorship,health care and leadership development. This will serve as a means for reducing poverty and domestic violence. 

Funding and logistical assistance is also important. It will help advocacy organisations to expand their networks and support the work we are doing in our communities.

6. Any advice for other youth activists facing similar challenges?

Young people have the power to change the world and as such, it is time we build a united front by bringing young people from diverse backgrounds to elevate our advocacy.

Gender Justice, safety for women and children, women empowerment and girls education is everyone’s responsibility. 

Collaboration is key. We managed to cut across many sectors and have had many people support the work we are doing.  Value the power of collaboration., Young people can cut through the noise and advocate for a fair and just society when they organise with and through their community.


Celebrating our 10,000 strong alliance!

Secretary General’s Update: August 2020



India: Rich Land of Poor People

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August), we commend the work of imprisoned lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, defender of Indigenous communities in India.

 Sudha Bharadwaj

                                                                                                              Sudha Bharadwaj


By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

India’s Adivasi community

For decades, India’s Adivasis, the collective name for the many Indigenous people in India, have borne the brunt of development-induced displacement. Indigenous communities in India have had their lands taken, livelihoods destroyed, and rights trampled on as a result of business activities and urban expansion. Adivasis make-up about 8% of India’s population and rely on their lands and forests for their livelihood.

Over the past year, the CIVICUS Monitor has tracked several cases of arrests, intimidation and violence carried out by state authorities on Indigenous people and their allies. Such harassment and brutality are active in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh, central India, which has the highest output of coal in the country and where limestone, dolomite and bauxite are found in abundance.

In Chhattisgarh, a significant proportion of people are Adivasis from tribal and Dalit communities. Many have been displaced due to businesses seizing land and natural resources, and rampant human rights abuses have been reported in the state. To add to this already complex situation, southern Chhattisgarh is the epicentre of a five decades-long insurgency between the Naxalite Maoist group and the Indian government. The fighting has negatively affected the tribal population, densely forested districts and neighbouring states.

The work of Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights lawyer and former General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties, lies at this fraught intersection. Sudha has lived in the state for 29 years, fighting for the rights of Indigenous and working-class people. However, she has been in pre-trial detention for nearly two years after being charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities and conspiring to incite public unrest.

Political Consciousness

Born in Massachusetts, US, Sudha moved to New Delhi at the age of 11. Her mother, renowned economist Krishna Bharadwaj, founded Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Economic Studies and planning. Sudha spent her childhood years at JNU, where her early political consciousness was formed:

“One of my early memories of JNU in my childhood was when Vietnam won the war against the US. I remember a lot of singing and celebration in the first quadrangle. That was the kind of atmosphere in which I grew up,” Sudha said in a recent interview.

At 18, Sudha moved to Kanpur, central India, to study. At this time, Kanpur was at the peak of its industrial boom, with a string of mega textile mills, attracting migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Through her work in the National Service Scheme (NSS) and its outreach programs, Sudha became exposed - for the first time in her life - to the appalling living conditions of the workers.

She was also introduced to Shankar Guha Niyogi, a trade unionist, and decided to join his organisation in Chhattisgarh in 1986. After Niyogi was assassinated at the behest of a local industrialist, the organisation splintered, with some choosing militant ways and others moderate. It was Bharadwaj who managed to unite the workers.

Women & Workers’ Rights

Sudha began working in the mining trade union of Chhattisgarh and strove to involve women in the fight for workers’ rights. She felt women experienced issues that were not being addressed and made sure the Women’s Committee discussed all topics, even sensitive ones including alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Other issues affecting working class wives were the threat of their huts being demolished, and the daily struggle for water and electricity.

After being involved in the struggles of the working classes for decades, Sudha decided to study law in the early 2000s. She soon gained a reputation as a formidable lawyer and became iconic in the pro-people struggle after standing up to corporate giants and big business. She is now a visiting professor at the National Law University and Vice President of the Indian Association for People’s Lawyers (IAPL).

Much of Sudha’s legal work has revolved around the rights of Adivasi people in India. Since 2016 Sudha has been fighting for the rights of villagers in Ghatbarra, Chhattisgarh, after the government cancelled the rights of villagers and Adivasi people to live in the forest and surrounding areas. It is alleged that the authorities want to make way for a coal mining facility, even though the move would damage over 1000 hectares of land and disrupt an elephant corridor.

Smear Campaign & Imprisonment

Becoming a well-known lawyer who fights for the rights of Indigenous and marginalised communities has pitted Sudha against a government sensitive to any criticism.

In September 2018, Republic TV, a channel known as the ‘FOX NEWS of India’, alleged that Sudha had written a letter identifying herself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj” to a Maoist called “Comrade Prakash,” stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. The television presenter also accused her of receiving money from Maoists.

The Indian Supreme Court ordered that Sudha be placed under house arrest for four weeks. Her home was raided at midnight by police who seized her laptop, pen drives, work papers and mobile phone. In October 2018, Sudha’s bail plea was rejected and she is currently being held in pre-trial detention at the Byculla jail in Mumbai. Recently, a special court rejected an interim medical bail plea filed by her lawyers after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19. The National Investigation Agency accused Sudha of using the threat of COVID-19 as an excuse to seek bail.

As we observe The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples this year, let us not forget the hundreds of Adivasi community workers, social activists, trade unionists, environmental advocates, human rights lawyers, grassroots doctors and nurses who are languishing in prisons - or have lost their lives - fighting for the rights of marginalised people across India. They have shown immense strength and resilience in fighting an increasingly oppressive regime whilst living through a global pandemic.


As the Narendra-Modi government continues to target grassroots activists, student-leaders, academics and anyone who is critical of the state - let us not forget Sudha’s words:

“If you try to be safe in the middle, you will never succeed.”

We urge you not to be safe in the middle. Join our campaign #StandAsMyWitness and demand justice for imprisoned human rights defenders like Sudha. We ask you to stand with them, so they do not stand alone.

Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country and a research partner of the CIVICUS Monitor.


3 funding concerns for civil society during this pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated, accelerated, and further exposed global challenges. For civil society, COVID-19 has also meant new challenges - not least of all stable funding during these increasingly stretched times.

What is the impact of the pandemic on the resilience and sustainability of the sector? Over the last four months, CIVICUS  hosted and participated in several virtual conversations with a range of practitioners and activists. These 3 recurring concerns have been raised across the board:  

1. Economic crisis and lockdown measures put civil society jobs and sustainability at risk 

The COVID-19 crisis hit the global economy pretty hard, including civil society organisations (CSOs), social enterprises, community-based groups, and activists. Many are losing even more donor funding, at the same time as having to stop their income-generating activities due to lockdowns. The result is threatening their already fragile sustainability, the possibility to continue serving communities, and the jobs of many civil society workers around the world.  

“One of the main challenges, in addition to what governments are doing [imposing restrictions on civic space], is that many donors and governments who had supported our work have suspended our grants and are freezing funding. That is causing many civil society organisations to put their activities on hold, and many in our sector have lost their jobs,” highlighted Sarah Ali, Executive Director at HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement, during the webinar ‘Social movements before, during and after COVID-19.’

There is a need for new mechanisms and sustainable regulations that protect people working in this sector. We don't have the same conditions and regulations that protect us in the long term [compared to other sectors]. Every time there is a problem with funds many of us lose our jobs, and we are unable to fight against what’s happening, against violations,” added Ali.


2. Funding for COVID-19 relief is ignoring critical issues that usually affect the most vulnerable 

“Funding is being re-directed to COVID-19 relief efforts, but what qualifies as COVID-19 relief is quite limited and does not always account for the different realities of different communities,” said Vandita Morarka, feminist and founder at One Future Collective, India, in the recent webinar ‘Domestic violence during COVID-19: what CSOs can do to address this pandemic in a pandemic’.

During this webinar, activists expressed concerns about the lack of funding to address other health and social issues that are critical during the pandemic and that usually affect marginalised groups more, for example, mental health, reproductive health, violence against women, and the needs of LGBTQ+ communities.

“CSOs that provide critical support such as mental health services have had funding removed and redirected to other health interventions. This has reduced their capacity to provide sustainable mental health support during the pandemic. We have big expectations of CSOs but we should consider that funding at this time is limited and the access to resources keeps shrinking, affecting their critical work... And we already see the impact of this in many communities,” said Roshika Deo, coordinator of the One Billion Rising initiative in Fiji.


  • 3 months of quarantine could result in a 20% rise in intimate partner violence and cause from 325,000 to 1 million unwanted pregnancies throughout the world, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
  • Mental disorders affect 1 in 4 people worldwide, according to the WHO. Isolation, job loss, barriers to access mental health care, and burnout among frontline health care workers are additional burdens that could hurt people’s mental health during the pandemic. From 75,000 to 150,000 people could die from mental health-related outcomes of COVID-19 in the United States, estimates a study by the Well Being Trust.
  • The UN has called for a US $2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries.

3. The funding pie for youth-led activism is shrinking even more

While youth activism is on the rise, funding for youth and managed by youth is nominal, and young activists are worried that the crisis will make this worse. 

“During the current COVID-19 situation – where we see the governments tightening their controls and civic spaces, and also placing this within the broader context where there is reduced funding [for civil society] – what’s happening essentially is that the funding pie is shrinking and a lot of the young organisations are fighting for a pie that already started shrinking ages ago. And with COVID-19 some of this funding is being redirected to COVID-19 relief efforts,” highlighted Tharinda de Silva, a young activist and Peacebuilding Project Assistant at Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, during the webinar ‘Supporting Youth-led Movements and Groups as Key Drivers of People Power’.

Under these circumstances, added de Silva, the future funding landscape is bleak not only for youth activism but also for LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights and other social causes and development needs in general. However, de Silva insists that young activists must continue working to maintain and grow the space they’ve won in political and civic engagement, especially in countries with restrictive governments. 


  • There are 1.2 billion young people in the world (ages 15-24) and 88% of them live in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, this generation of young people faces the highest risk of being left behind in large numbers, highlights the OECD
  • Youth civil society funding is scarce, fragile, almost exclusively short term, highly restrictive and prohibitive of institutional development, and donor-dependent (Restless Development). 
  • 91% of young feminist organisations consulted for the Global State of Young Feminist Organizing indicated that the lack of financial resources as their top challenge.



Reimagining youth power post COVID-19: Lessons from the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

GoalkeeperspicCIVICUS’ recently concluded experiment with a group of young activists offers interesting insights for youth power in a post-Covid-19 world. Many youth-led organisations say traditional grants by northern donors are not quite suitable for them due to, among other factors, donor’s impact expectations and reporting requirements. Are there better ways to resource youth so they can create effective change towards sustainable development in their communities? Here is what we learned through the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator.

by CIVICUS Youth

The global COVID-19 pandemic is changing the world as we know it. Many organisations have adjusted by adopting new and better ways of working, co-existing and resourcing efforts to defend democracies, hold leaders accountable and protect civic rights.

CSOs are leading the response to COVID-19, including youth groups, who are reimagining and adjusting ways to ensure more resources are channelled towards the most vulnerable and in need around the world.

The story of a youth resourcing pilot

In the spirit of social innovation, learning and experimenting, CIVICUS and partners have  been testing different resourcing models to support grassroots individuals, organisations and movements who are less likely to work with traditional donors. Many youth-led organisations, while addressing some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity today, have limited opportunities to access funding, and when they do receive resources, they often come with rigid requirements and conditions, or relationships with donors that are hard to manage. One of the alternative models we tested is the Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator, which was launched in 2018 with six partners to showcase what young activists can achieve through holistic support that goes beyond funding. The launch of the Accelerator was a direct response to the challenges young people face in accessing sufficient and appropriate flexible resources to meaningfully engage in development decisions and activities that affect their communities. The results were a rich source of learning for us at CIVICUS and all the programme partners and we hope to you too.

Provide resources that support civil society in different ways

The 20 month-long project supported 26 promising youth advocates (ages 18-35) from Africa, Asia and Latin America who are using data and storytelling in innovative ways to address Sustainable Development Goals 1-6 (poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, and water and sanitation). In addition to flexible funding, the advocates received technical support, mentorship, travel, engagement opportunities as well as a space to provide feedback on adjustments to programming to better address their needs and amplify the impact of their work. This ensured a truly “participant-led approach” where their voices were heard and meaningfully engaged and part of the process. 

As a result, all of the participants report having increased their skills, 80% say they have forged new partnerships and more than half of them have managed to secure additional funding to sustain their projects. 

Give activists space in media

After over a year of working with the Goalkeeper advocates, we noticed a significant growth and prominence in the role they play in their countries of intervention. Their projects and profiles were shared publicly and they achieved improved services, scale, recognition and increased accountability among key decision-makers on the issues/thematic areas they are advocating. 

Be open and flexible throughout the process

Being open and responsive to feedback and the context and needs of advocates, allowed space for the programme to experiment new ways of doing things. Every three months, the 26 advocates met in small groups online to share success stories, challenges, needs, questions and suggestions for improvement. The space for reflection among peers also boosted creativity and ideas for collaboration.

While experimenting with flexibility and trust, we learned to prioritise the principle of “do no harm” (especially in potentially dangerous contexts). Traditional grant-making has not always facilitated holistic support that provides for the physical, mental and financial security of young people.

It was also very important to document and evidence the results of this approach so funders and organisations like CIVICUS have the certainty that flexibility, trust and meaningful equal relationships with grantees can lead to valuable learnings, strong partnerships and community impact.

Avoid hefty reporting requirements

We tried to avoid burdening participants by designing a very simple monitoring and evaluation framework that allowed for quick understanding and usability when reporting. Our previous civil society resourcing research revealed that reporting requirements from donors are often rigid, burdensome and come at a high cost, proving an obstacle to activists working towards the actual needs of the community. The framework we used allowed the advocates and us to really analyse progress achieved and it was adaptable to each of their programmes based on their quarterly updates and changes in their contexts. As a result, many participants started to use these tools beyond this particular program and adopted similar methodologies for other work within their organisations. 

The Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator was an opportunity to take part in an innovative piece of work. Young people are the key to sustainable development and their creativity and innovation could be the missing link to solving some of the world’s intractable challenges of today. The Accelerator was a constant process of learning how to support a systemic shift within civil society to address long-standing injustices experienced by marginalized young people, especially in terms of resourcing. And, learning happens not in the moments when we think we are doing well, but most often through the difficult and challenging times – so we need to embrace those.


Here’s what we are achieving through our COVID-19 efforts

Secretary General's Update


Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

This has been a particularly tumultuous period for both civil society and the wider world. While the global emergency unleashed by the pandemic makes it difficult to think back to calmer times, this update includes some wider processes relevant to our strategy that have moved forward in the past few months, and a summary of some immediate outcomes that we are achieving through our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are our COVID-19 efforts achieving?

As with most As with most other agencies across the world, the focus of our efforts has been to ensure a meaningful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our initiatives have accordingly been organised around: (i) Staff safety and support (ii) Coordination with members, partners and donors (iii) Advocacy on civic space and human rights priorities (iv) Acting with others to address wider systemic issues.

Key developments in this regard include:

  • An internal ‘COVID-19 Response Team’ has worked together from the early days of March to ensure continuity of work and context-relevant support systems for staff of CIVICUS. Outcomes of this effort include equipping colleagues to work remotely, moving planned engagements to virtual spaces, negotiating grant deliverables and timelines with key donors and drawing on intelligence from members and peers on responses to a rapidly changing situation. In line with the continued health and economic implications of the pandemic, we have taken steps towards the implementation of the ‘COVID-19 Social Security Protocol’ and have extended our moratorium on travel and in-person events for staff and partners to September 2020.
  • Our first external intervention was to reinforce the need for donor flexibility and responsiveness in line with our focus on civil society resourcing and sustainability. Our Open Letter to Donors was published on 19 March, and followed up with targeted outreach meetings with a range of donor and development networks. In line with this effort, we extended the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund to cover COVID-19 related applications and are continuing to work with our allies in the #ShiftThePower movement to ensure international donors are providing much-needed support to local organisations in the global south in this period.
  • In keeping with our emphasis on the protection of civic space and human rights, we issued a statement urging states to put human rights at the heart of their response on 24 March. This has been followed by a CIVICUS Monitor briefing on restrictions and attacks on civil society that have been recorded since the pandemic was declared. On 16 April, we also launched an open letter to world leaders outlining 12 key actions required to protect civic space and human rights. The letter has received over 600 endorsements in less than a week since its launch, and will inform our advocacy efforts with governments.
  • In accordance with our focus on acting with others on structural challenges, we issued a call for a ‘Social Security Protocol for Civil Society’ on 07 April, in line with the ILO’s COVID-19 policy framework. The Protocol has now been adopted by close to 200 agencies, most of whom are local organisations in the global south with limited resources. This efforts reinforces our broader narrative on the systemic changes that civil society and wider society to act on as part of the effort that is needed to rebuild societies and economies in the aftermath of COVID-19. Our engagement with shaping and supporting international responses to the pandemic through close coordination with UN mechanisms in Geneva and New York as well as the emerging regional platform for COVID-19 policy priorities in Africa.

Acting on our Mid-term Strategy Review

We spent a significant amount of energy last year reviewing progress made against our strategy. The Mid-term Strategy Review resulted in 18 key recommendations which were taken forward by a process of deliberation and planning across the Secretariat, Board and membership. Our consolidated management response to the strategy review was published on 17 March 2020, and will inform our annual plans for the second half of the strategy period, as well as the planning process for the next strategy which will be initiated in 2021.

While recognising that a significant amount of our efforts this year will need to be redirected to respond to the challenges that the pandemic is posing for civic space and civil society, we expect to continue investing energies in areas of work related to the mid-term review that speak to our ability to strengthen the ability of the CIVICUS alliance to organise forces and influence change in newer, more innovative ways.

CIVICUS Midterm Strategy Review

Improving our Accountability

Our 11th Annual Accountability Report (for 2018/19) is now online. The feedback received from the Independent Review Panel includes recognition for efforts taken to ensure dynamic accountability, particularly around stakeholder engagement, partnerships, and learning. Recommendations for improvement include strengthening systems to track expenditure towards strategic objectives, as well as the management of our feedback systems. Both of these are areas that we will be paying attention this year.

We look forward to your continued engagement and insights in the coming months.

In solidarity,

Lysa John

Secretary-General, CIVICUS

(Johannesburg, South Africa)


Leading with our values: Protecting our co-workers during COVID-19 must be a priority

Secretary General’s Update 

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

The past few weeks have been unlike anything we have known or could have imagined. Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has not just changed our daily routines, it has altered entire systems of living and working that we had assumed were indispensable to modern society. And yet, while we strive to come to terms with disruption in practically every aspect of our lives, it is the strength of our values that enables us to act from a place of inspiration, solidarity and shared responsibility despite the overwhelming proportions of this crisis. 

As many influencers have rightly pointed out, the pandemic requires paradigm-changing interventions that not just shift, but transform how the world is organised. Failures in governance and accountability are all too evident as countries organise their responses to the pandemic, and civil society must play a critical role in calling out inconsistencies on one hand, and forging efforts to put human rights and environmental concerns at the heart of interventions on the other.

And yet as we strive to frame the big-ticket changes that the world so urgently needs, there is another immediate action closer to home that we alone can shoulder. A responsibility to protect those who front the battles that we are fighting to achieve a better world. As we know from limited studies on employment within civil society, women comprise nearly 70 per cent of the workforce in our sector and are heavily under-represented in its leadership. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this means that as organisations struggle to stay afloat in a context of limited and shrinking resources, women will be the first to lose their livelihoods, while having a painfully small say in the decisions that their organisations will make in order to tide this crisis.

SGU 0804The ‘COVID-19 Social Security Protocol for Civil Society’ is first and foremost a call for us to recognise that the people we work with and alongside need to be assured of our support for their well-being if we are to remain resilient and relevant in the context of a dire and desperately uncertain future. Without the solid foundations of trust and authenticity, our organisations are not equipped to withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in the coming months. 

This week, we invite you to join a growing group of civil society leaders who have committed to deliberate and adopt context-specific and time-bound actions to protect co-workers from adverse health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To begin with, 67 organisations – representing a remarkable and diverse range of local and global agencies – have agreed that it is important to deliberate the operational challenges that we face in this period and provide clarity on the institutional measures and strategies being put in place. As you will see from this list of signatories, the majority are not large, resource-rich organisations. On the contrary, close to two-thirds of the endorsements received so far are from local organisations of the global south, who have little or limited resources and capacities to tide over the impending crisis.

The COVID-19 Social Security Protocol must therefore be a catalyst for the urgent project that we need to put in place to expose the inherent weaknesses of the funding and operating models that we currently rely on. It must be followed by the painstaking reforms we need to ensure real resilience and sustainability for the sector. The Protocol provides the brief but important breathing space that we need within and across our organisations to reflect on and address these more difficult but important challenges – and we must each bring our strength and courage to this journey.

In Solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS


7 Q&As about participatory grantmaking

In February, CIVICUS hosted an animated webinar called ‘Participatory grantmaking in action’ in partnership with UHAI EASHRI, Africa’s first indigenous activist fund supporting sexual and gender minorities and sex worker human rights, and Candid, an organisation that has extensively researched and promoted participatory grantmaking. Both are strong proponents of participatory funding approaches. You can watch there recording on YouTube

Sarina Dayal, from Candid, shared the characteristics and principles of participatory approaches. Amy Taylor, from CIVICUS, shared their journey setting up a young participatory fund called CIVICUS Solidarity Fund. Lastly, Cleo Kambugu, from UHAI, explored the challenges and opportunities they have faced during their 10-year journey as participatory funders. 

Here, we want to share and answer seven most frequently asked questions sent to our panelists before and during the webinar: 

1. What stakeholders are or should be directly engaged in decision making in participatory grantmaking? 

Sarina Dayal: Across the board, participatory grantmakers agree that the very communities impacted by a problem should be at the decision-making table. But figuring out which community members should be involved really depends on your context and can be difficult, even for those who have been doing this for a long time. One of the most important factors in successful processes is being proactive and intentional about involving people from all parts of the community you are seeking to impact, not just those more likely to participate because of their titles, social capital, or financial status.

In addition, figuring out roles with donors and staff also depends on the context. Some funds are completely community-led in that everyone making the funding decisions is a member of the community the fund supports. Community members are also involved in designing the process, conducting outreach, and other steps of the grantmaking process. Other funds involve staff and donors in parts of the grantmaking process such as reviewing proposals, facilitating discussion, and even in granting final sign-off of the funding decision the community came to. Whatever balance of participation is used between community, staff, and donors, it should acknowledge power, privilege, capacity, and what the value-add is to the process and to advancing equity.  

2. In peer-reviewed applications, do peer reviewers provide platforms to the community stakeholders or their representatives to have any interactions and possibly give feedback? 

Amy Taylor: At CIVICUS, we have a Membership Advisory Group (MAG) that makes funding decisions related to the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund.  When the MAG does not have sufficient insight into the context of an applicant under review, they solicit feedback from other members in the CIVICUS alliance who have relevant knowledge and experience. 

3. Is there a downside to participation (e.g. risk of overburdening constituents)? What is the balance of meaningfully involving them but being considerate too of their limited time?

Sarina: The risk of overburdening constituents is real—but possible to avoid! While we don’t want to overburden constituents, participatory grantmakers agree that the greater risk is not involving communities at all. So, this is an excellent reminder to ask ourselves, what are we offering to communities by involving them in this process? One good practice is to open conversations with the community from the very start, so they can co-create a process that is mindful of their capacity and how they want to be involved. You may need to revisit these conversations and alter the process over time to find the right balance. Also, think about what you can do to compensate constituents for their time and thought, whether that be financial compensation, food, transportation, or otherwise. 

4. How can you handle conflicts of interest within the committees when deciding how the resources are allocated?

Cleo Kambugu: You can’t avoid dealing with different interests if you want to involve activists in participatory grantmaking processes. Activists should have a vested interest in making sure that the granted projects go well - this actually strengthens the process. What we do is provide a strong orientation to the review board. This orientation, beyond focusing on the technical skills, focuses on the value of participatory grantmaking and includes how to identify and manage conflicts of interest. We sign a memorandum of understanding with activists that sit in our review board, which elaborates on conflicts of interests and the circumstances in which these can happen, as well as the penalties for breaching it, like being excluded from the board or cutting funding for the organisation they represent. To help them manage a conflict of interest, we set up space in a way that if someone is feeling conflict, they can walk out, or another reviewer can call them out. What we have noticed is that most of the time people walk out of the room by themselves when feeling conflicted. (Hear an extended answer to this question in the webinar recording).

5. How do you guard against perpetuating inequitable or exclusionary dynamics in participatory grantmaking processes?

Amy: In our case, the group making funding decisions - the MAG - is composed of members nominated by members and selected by the CIVICUS Board’s membership committee. One of the key objectives of the selection process is to ensure a diverse MAG that has a variety of personal experiences and professional backgrounds, which helps to mitigate unintended bias in the group’s decision-making processes. To be more inclusive, the MAG tries to look beyond the quality of the writing in applications and prioritise the potential of the idea or degree of the need, often providing flexible funding that can be used for operational costs like office rent or salaries. In the future, the MAG hopes to expand the mediums of applications receivable to include videos and proposals.

6. Can the organisations of peer reviewers apply for grants during a grantmaking cycle when they are reviewing and how do their applications get treated?

Amy: The organisations of the MAG who serve as peer reviewers for the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund are not allowed to apply during the funding cycles that take place over their terms of reference. These individuals also recuse themselves from decision-making when affiliated organisations or alumni apply in order to avoid conflict of interest.

7. What strategies can help engage more donors in participatory grantmaking processes? 

Cleo: As part of our work, we do philanthropic advocacy with multiple stakeholders about participatory grantmaking, among other topics. We feel that if we speak about this often enough in rooms where activists themselves are not able to be, perhaps we can get donors interested. In the past 10 years, there have been many successes and changes in East Africa. Now activists in the region can participate in funding decisions that affect them. We have had law and policy reforms, LGBTQI organisations can now become registered and transgender people can change their genders. In social justice, this is really fast! To continue, we must document these experiences, challenges, opportunities, and successes. It is also necessary to link up with like-minded individuals and organisations and to think about less confrontational and more community-building, practical ways to be more participatory. Building a community of participatory grantmakers has helped us to keep speaking about this in different spaces. We have seen donors becoming more convinced that participatory funding can happen, while funding has become more flexible and less project-oriented.

Learn more about participatory grantmaking:


Resources for civil society in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

Defending civil society, democratic rights, and our fundamental freedoms can be challenging, let alone having to do it while under “lockdown” practicing social distancing in the midst of a global health crisis spreading rapidly across the world. In times like these, solidarity and social compassion play the most important role. To help connect and inform the alliance and civil society during this time, we will be collecting information, resources, and support to share. 

We will be updating this page as this crisis unfolds and as new information is shared. You can also contribute with useful information by contacting us at:


Civil society and human rights analyses:

Donor messages:

Civil Society statements and messages

Amnesty International

Asian Venture Philanthropy Network


Council on Foundations

Fireflight Foundation Fireflight Foundation

Harvard Kennedy School

Red Argentina de Cooperacion Internacional (RACI)
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights The People's Assembly The World Organisation Against Torture The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights



Now that we all have to be physically distant and isolated from each other, our daily routine will have to change. These resources offer tips and guidance on dealing with isolation, working from home and carrying on our fight for civil society while practicing social distancing. 

working from home 

Working from home? Some resources to help you:

Civil society and online activism:

Do you need help in shifting your campaigns and movements to the online world? 350 Org are giving you the chance to ask a digital organiser to help you!


In the midst of this pandemic, it is very easy to find ourselves face to 'fake news' and disinformation about the virus. Open Democracy has shared this quiz that will help you spot common Coronavirus disinformation circulating on the internet.


5 amazing funds that are making a difference for women

Did you know that only 4% of the total Official Development Assistance (ODA) supports programmes that integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment as the main objective? And only 3% of that fraction goes to women’s rights organisations.

Fortunately, a growing number of groups, organisations, and funds are mobilising and allocating resources for women, their specific needs and agendas. Even better, many of them are led by women! Today, we want to share five funds that are making a big difference for rural women, adolescent girls, women and transgender activists and human right defenders, and sex workers.

Blog 5 funds women


           1. Tewa – Nepal’s women fund

Tewa was founded 25 years ago and since then has been breaking new grounds in fundraising locally to promote self-reliant development and the empowerment of emerging groups of rural women in Nepal. This women-led fund has awarded almost 700 grants to 500 organizations strengthening women’s leadership, voice, visibility, and collective organizing power throughout the country. These organisations work in a wide variety of areas like income-generating activities, skill development training, women’s rights, environmental rights and justice, legal and health rights, and advocacy to stop violence and discrimination against women.

To learn more about Tewa, visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

           2. With and for Girls

This is the world’s only participatory fund by, and for, adolescent girls! It joins a collective of 11 donors who contribute with funding, expertise and time to co-resource and execute the annual ‘With and For Girls Awards’. Under this programme, up to 25 exceptional, local and adolescent girl-led and centred organisations worldwide are chosen every year, by regional judging panels of adolescent girls, to be awarded flexible funding, opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, accompaniment, and profile-raising. Since 2014, With and For Girls has supported 60 organisations in 41 countries, reaching more than 1.5 million people.

To learn more about With and for Girls, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

           3. FCAM - Central American Women's Fund

FCAM is the first and only feminist fund in Central America to raise funds in support of the financial, political, fiscal, and emotional sustainability of groups, organizations, human rights defenders, networks, and movements that work for the human rights of women and their communities. These women are exposed to high rates of violence because of their activism and generally can’t access traditional sources of funding. FCAM’s partners receive flexible, multi-year general financial support, and are the ones who define their agendas, priorities, and methods. Since 2003, FCAM has supported and strengthened almost 400 women’s groups, organisations, networks, and activists in Central America.

To learn more about FCAM, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

           4. Red Umbrella Fund

This is the first global fund guided by and for sex workers. The Red Umbrella Fund mobilises resources, provides grants, and offers capacity building, technical assistance, and communications and donor advocacy to help strengthen and sustain the movement in achieving human rights for sex workers. While it brings together a diversity of funders and sex workers, the fund’s grant decisions and overall governance are led by sex workers themselves. Since its creation in 2012, the Red Umbrella Fund gave out 157 grants to 104 sex worker-led groups and networks in over 60 countries to organize themselves and speak out against the human rights violations they face.

To learn more about The Red Umbrella Fund, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

           5. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

This feminist fund can be a lifeline for women and transgender human rights defenders at critical moments. It provides rapid response grants and advocacy and alliance-building support when activists are poised to make great gains or face serious threats to their lives and work. They use online, text and mobile funding applications to respond to requests from activists within 72 hours and have funds on the ground within 1-7 days. They work in partnership with three sister funds, Urgent Action Fund-Africa, Urgent Action Fund-Latin America, and Urgent Action Fund-Asia & Pacific. Collectively, they support women’s leadership and activism in over 110 countries.

To learn more about Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Staying true to ambition: Priorities from our mid-term strategy review

Secretary General’s Update

lysajohnDear CIVICUS members and allies,

January was replete with the signals that the coming months will require significantly increased levels of ambition and action if we, civil society, are to remain relevant to the issues of our times.

Alongside threats of global military aggression and the devastating consequence of the wildfires in Australia in this first month of the year, we were alarmed to see the rapid escalation of violence against citizen protestors – largely women and youth – in India and dismayed at the massive pushback on civil society in Uganda. The introduction of new registration rules has threatened the operation of over 12,000 NGOs in the country, while also putting the work of the LGBTIQ community at significant risk.

And yet, despite these difficult times we continue to see civil society act together with courage and determination. While Oxfam’s new report, Time to Care, drew the attention of media and decision-makers globally, the report’s call to ‘abolish billionaires’ and ‘fight inequality’ was converted to street action in over 30 countries through localised protests and public events. At Davos, young climate activists including Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg demanded decisive action on the climate emergency – a call that was reinforced by a joint civil society statement for greater accountability for climate justice from decision-makers at the World Economic Forum.

CIVICUS also joined the call for a ‘Decade of Action’ to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We celebrated the emphasis on civic freedoms in UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ address to the General Assembly on priorities for 2020, and commend efforts made by governments such as Denmark to ensure that human rights objectives are firmly integrated into strategies for sustainable development.

For CIVICUS, the impetus to review and refine our strategies for change is both urgent and specific. After a successful Strategy and Action Workshop with CIVICUS members, staff and the Board, the outcomes of our mid-term strategy review are now publicly available, even summarised in this infographic (available in Spanish, French and Arabic) – and point to several important choices that we must make in order to harness the full potential of our strategic ambition. The review report identifies five priority themes – coherence, systems, simplicity, leadership and metamorphosis – and makes eighteen specific recommendations for action. This includes the need to invest in a composite program model for change and future design on one hand, and the importance of working with new actors and strengthening our engagement with ‘people power’ on the other.

CIVICUS staff and Board members will be reviewing the recommendations that have emerged from the strategy review across February with a view to integrating priorities into immediate and future plans. Your feedback on the directions provided by the review would be immensely helpful at this stage. Do share your insights!

You can send them directly to me by email or via twitter. I look forward to hearing from you!

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS


Democratising information is key to democratise funding access for grassroots and activists

By Anna Kolotovkina, a civil society resourcing intern at CIVICUS, social volunteer and activist.

AnnaI once talked with a woman who has been helping homeless people for many years in Siberia, Russia, where I live. She and other self-organised volunteers prepare and deliver hot dinners, collect and donate clothes and medicine, help them get documents, and find housing and jobs. They really go beyond their means to do this work. When I mentioned the possibility of applying for a grant as a volunteer organisation, she laughed in disbelief and said – “Are we an organisation? We are just people with good hearts.”

Her words struck me. Last summer, volunteers were key to extinguishing the massive forest fires in Siberia, while State officials said that fighting the fires was “economically unprofitable.” The story repeats in Australia, where thousands of volunteer firefighters, individuals, NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) are leading emergency efforts during the biggest forest fire in Australian history.

Turns out that the “people with good hearts”, including volunteers, activists, community groups and CSOs around the world, are solving social, economic and environmental problems that states don’t address, or do it poorly. They’re also the brave challenging corruption, safeguarding human rights, and standing up for climate justice and for the most vulnerable populations.

These individuals should be considered by themselves and others as important subjects for funding and support. The problem is that, in fact, they do not have access to enough resourcing opportunities and widespread funding practices usually exclude them.

Only 15% of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) provided by states around the world is directed to or channelled through CSOs, and less than 1% is earmarked directly for CSOs in the global south. Too often, the main sources of development and philanthropic funding don’t prioritise grassroots, small groups or civic action challenging the status quo, and tend to favour Northern and larger organisations.

Ironically, some existing resources and donors who do provide this kind of support are just hard to find. The information about them and provided by them is not quite accessible, often for those who need it the most. This became clear to me while mapping and profiling donors during my internship with CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance.

We’ve been building a directory of funders, INGOs and other entities that provide funding and non-financial resources to activists, CSOs and to small, less formal civil society groups, especially those located in the global south. CIVICUS will publish this directory in several languages to make it more accessible to the people struggling to obtain this type of information.

For 4 months, I reviewed around 200 websites of entities that support civil society. I gathered information to create their profiles, contacted them and requested approval to feature them in the directory. This exercise allowed me to experience first-hand some of the obstacles faced by the above-mentioned groups when seeking suitable support and funding.

accessible info 1

Let’s start by the language barrier: half of the websites I consulted were available only in English, even when the organisations targeted non-English speaking countries. This clearly limits the accessibility of information and opportunities to a considerable number of activists and CSOs in some countries of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America who do not speak English at all or well enough to navigate websites looking for specific information and to file support applications.

The next barrier I met was a bit unexpected. I was not able to open about five websites because access to users with a Russian IP was limited by those organisations or due to restrictions apparently set by my country. This made me think of the number of people in need based on countries with similar constraints… I overcame this by using a proxy server set up by our IT expert. Would they be able to do the same?

Then I realised that the information provided by the funding/supporting organisations on their websites was not always complete or helpful. On about 50% of the websites I spent 5-7 minutes gathering all the information needed to understand what they do, the type of support offered, target groups, selection criteria, application processes, etc. But on the other half, I devoted 15-20 minutes, sometimes more, and left with big doubts – Were they a fund at all? How/who/when can people actually access the support offered? Many did not even provide basic details, such as phone numbers or e-mail addresses.

Several entities delivering rapid response assistance, funds and other resources to human rights defenders or groups facing emergencies, threats and high-risk situations (like life-threats and wrongful imprisonment) related to their activism, did not specify crucial information like response and turnaround times, duration of the assistance offered or selection criteria.

Lastly, many supporting organisations do not accept unsolicited funding requests, but they do not state it clearly on their websites! This fact, as the selection criteria, should always be included and highlighted in websites to save time, efforts and frustrations to those who seek help and those who provide it.

These barriers may seem small to some, but think about activists and organisation who do not have time to surf the Web for hours or days to find those resources because they are facing urgent situations or are too busy doing fieldwork and don’t have staff dedicated to fundraising of any type. A good number may also lack the skills (language, computer literacy) or tools (software, good Internet access, a contacts database) needed. And many others, like the volunteer woman in my city, don’t even know or believe that they qualify for funding.

There is a long way to go to democratise the access to resources for civil society, but we can start or accelerate that journey by democratising the access to quality and practical information about existing resources and how they are granted.


The CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion journey continued

Diversity and Inclusion has become a hot topic within civil society in recent years. Knowing there is no ‘people power’ without true principles of diversity of inclusion, many in the sector are taking a step back and evaluating how this core principle is being integrated into programmes and operations.

The CIVICUS alliance sees the diversity and inclusion journey as one that civil society must embark on as a collective. Organisations may be at different stages of this fluid journey but we must encourage each other to push forward and engage in dynamic accountability. This area of focus is forever expanding so there is no end point that we are striving for, but instead we must ensure that we go beyond surface level commitments to tackle institutional structures from all perspectives.

CIVICUS has also had many moments of reflection over the past year in particular, on the principles of diversity and inclusion (D&I). CIVICUS also launched the Social Inclusion Toolkit in 2018 to help members assess their work on social inclusion.

December 2018

A delegation of CIVICUS members from across the globe convened on the 16 December 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay at the Global Learning Exchange to i) discuss what diversity & inclusion means within the civil society sector, ii) identify obstacles that organisations and individual activists face, and iii) share best practices and tips. The exchange drew perspectives from a wide breadth of civil society geographically and thematically, with representation from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Ireland, North Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa and Zambia. 

Each participant had unique perspectives and had tested different approaches to diversity and inclusion, they had the opportunity to share and learn from each other. This led to discussions on the need to continue this conversation with broader civil society, to further the positive learning exchange. After the exchange, this group kept in touch, and identified the need for a safe space to discuss diverse and inclusive principles within civil society.

At the Global Learning Exchange the participants brainstormed and created the following working definitions of diversity and inclusion:

Diversity is a free and safe space in which complex perspectives, differences and intersectionality are celebrated as strengths and opportunities for innovation, acceptance and collaboration. Trust is a key concept, between and within diverse communities and groups.

Inclusion is the action point of diversity, a dynamic and continuous process that works on multiple political, economic and social levels, and leaves no one behind. It works to build meaningful connections between groups, and sometimes unlikely allies, toward a positive outcome for disenfranchised populations. Tokenism and quotas vs meaningful inclusion as a complex system (there is no ‘one size fits all’) was emphasized

January 2019
As the conversation on D&I within the CIVICUS alliance took off, the secretariat decided to launch its own commitment to diversity and inclusion by publishing the CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion Statement that went through each of the main functions of the CIVICUS secretariat and added how that function would commit to ensure diversity and inclusion.

April 2019
The conversation from the Global Learning Exchange continued into International Civil Society Week (ICSW), held in Belgrade, Serbia 8 – 12 April 2019. CIVICUS members held a session on the practicalities of D&I within different spheres. These discussions focused on the workplace, education systems, intergenerational collaboration and access to justice. The discussions in Serbia reinforced the need for deep dive dialogues as many excluded groups felt that civil society still only practices D&I on the surface level rather than pursuing meaningful culture shifts.

April – June 2019
CIVICUS members from the Global Learning Exchange, as well as interested members from ICSW and the Youth Assembly, then took these conversations online and contributed to a brainstorm document. Using an online google document, questions were posed on what kind of space was needed, what was the purpose, what were the long term objectives, what is the best way to run, is a structure necessary etc. Members then had the opportunity to enter their input and interact with each other’s input to add on and track the progression of the conversation. This method was a great way to capture everyone’s input without a note-taker’s implicit bias, and was also easy to find the points of intersection amongst everyone’s perspectives. These conversations led to launching an online platform in July 2019 (please see further below).

May 2019
CIVICUS facilitated a peer exchange learning experience for its AGNA members on incorporating diversity and inclusion within their organisation and networks. This workshop focused on unpacking concepts (ie. diversity, inclusion, intersectionality and power), looked at the benefits of diversity and inclusion within civil society, analyzed case studies within the sector, and worked on mapping all of the different areas within an organisation that could require a D&I strategy. This conversation led to the AGNA members present share the findings and importance of D&I at the AGNA Annual General meeting in June 2019 where AGNA decided that D&I was going to be a priority for organisations within the network.

July 2019 Launching DIGNA: Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action
Using the brainstorm document, the alliance pulled out the most agreed upon steps forward and circulated an informal concept note proposing concrete steps forward:

  • The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) will use facebook as its platform for people to interact directly.
  • A rotating advisory group (8-10 people) will help moderate this space, beginning with an incubation advisory group that represents each region.
  • The purpose of this group is:
    • The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) brings together change-makers and thought leaders passionate about strengthening an inclusive and diverse civil society – including CIVICUS members, civil society organisations, groups, and activists, and their allies. This working group seeks to understand, conceptualise and identify innovative practices on what diversity and inclusion (D&I) can look like within different thematic areas and operating models.
    • The group is a safe space where members can support each other to improve organisational structure and processes, ways of working and impact with a focus on D&I. Regardless of our fight against all the backlash and consequences of inequality and segregation, we will shine a spotlight and learn from positive examples and benchmarks from around the globe. This group encourages discussion and debate on D&I issues, is a space for sharing positive experiences and practices, resources and tools, and lessons learned, and offers a channel to request for help, support and collaboration, and post potential opportunities.
  • The group was launched in July 2019 and has already now amassed almost 1000 members interested in making civil society a more diverse and inclusive place.
  • In September 2019 the Incubation Advisory group met in Tbilisi, Georgia to analyze how the group was being received and how to plan activities accordingly.

September 2019 Launching the D&I Pilot Programme
In September the Diversity and Inclusion Pilot Programme was launched as 8 member organisations were selected through an open call to enter into a 9 month programme designed to help increase the organisations’ commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. Each organisation went through a stocktaking audit exercise where external consultants spent time in the organisation and provided recommendations on how to improve policies in place, create new policies, and how to address workplace culture to ensure diversity and inclusion are championed principles on all levels of the organisation. The pilot organisations have been working on action plans on how to address the recommendations and had a meeting in December 2019 in Manila, the Philippines with each other to share and learn from each other’s experiences.

November 2019
CIVICUS organized a training on Feminist Leadership for its AGNA members facilitated by a member of the DIGNA Advisory Group. This training unpacked concepts such as power, intersectional feminism, leadership and systems of oppression such as capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Through the understanding of traditional leadership, participants were able to identify how traditional power structures lead to exclusion and harmful cultural practices. Participants were able to identify areas within their organisation that could benefit from a Feminist Leadership approach that focused more on values and principles.

2020 and onwards!
There is so much coming up from the CIVICUS alliance surrounding diversity and inclusion that is to be excited about! Keep an eye out for engagement opportunities and reach out to with any questions or inquiries.

Read part one of the Diversity and Inclusion journey here

[Image Iain Merchant]


It's time for radical collaboration: Our experience co-designing with CIVICUS

By: Youth Co-Design Team

YAL Logo

The challenges of grassroots activism

Citizens are organising and mobilising in new and creative ways. New tools have made it easier than ever before for citizens to come together and take collective action. Yet, in far too many parts of the world, there are major threats to civic freedoms and the environment for civil society is highly disabling. Trust and confidence in civil society is being tested like never before. Complicating the situation even more, the resourcing landscape makes it difficult for southern, grassroots organisations to advocate for change sustainably.

Young people are at the centre of countless movements working to ensure safe communities and a protected environment for themselves and for future generations. They work to resist forms of systemic injustices in their communities, countries, and regions. Yet their work is particularly impacted by the rising threats to civil society.  Young activists in the 21st Century are organising themselves in ways that are decentralised, informal, and radical, often contradictory to traditional ways of working, Increasingly, young activists do not align themselves with the traditional structures of civil society, and face a variety of barriers because of it. 

Why resourcing youth-led groups is so critical? 

Based on CIVICUS youth members’ experiences and extensive research on the trends in resourcing youth-led groups in the Global South, CIVICUS has concluded that thinking about an alternative resourcing mechanism while practicing meaningful youth participation is imperative to achieve a sustainable, resilient, diverse and inclusive sector. 

Currently, the majority youth-led groups are operating under a budget of 10,000 USD per annum. Most of the funding they receive is unsustainable and project based. This often leads to the systemic abuse of the labour of young people, ultimately resulting in burnout and disengagement. 

The question of how to better resource grassroots activists and movements working in the Global South has provoked interest among donors, funders and civil society organisations. Given this context and with the purpose of advancing towards a more vibrant civil society that has the agency and resources necessary to realise a more just and sustainable world, CIVICUS, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation signed a three-year agreement in 2018 aimed to design, test and scale a new initiative to fully explore alternative resourcing strategies and techniques to better resource grassroots activists and movements working in the Global South. 

Co-Designing Solutions Together 

In July 2019, CIVICUS launched a call for a Youth Co-Design team to embark on a journey to create a unique program for grassroots activists. After a rigorous selection process, our team of nine regionally balanced, diverse, creative and dedicated young activists from Asia-Pacific, East, West and Southern Africa, Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean was selected. We were thrilled to embark on this co-creation journey of designing alternative, equitable flexible and innovative ways of working between young activists and civil society organisations. 

We call ourselves “The Ubuntu Team” as we believe global issues are too complex to address in an isolated manner, but require a collective and connected approach in solving them. The team is centred around the philosophy of “Ubuntu,” meaning ‘’I am, because we are’’. With  diverse and complementary wealth of experiences, we have a collective average of 7 years of expertise around the topics of citizen participation & human rights, democratic innovations, community development, gender equality, diversity and inclusion, education, environment, and food security in the sphere of civil society, governments and NGOs, and international organisations. 

Designing the Youth Action Lab

Our team met in September 2019, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and initiated the co-creation process for a new prototype, through which we came up with the Youth Action Lab

The Youth Action Lab is a one year co-creation lab for grassroots youth activists based in the global south which works to support their movements to become more resilient and sustainable in their pursuit of a more sustainable and equitable world. The Lab is an innovative, safe, active, inclusive, collective, representative and connected space, online and physical for grassroots activists, which thoughtfully considers diverse contexts and ecosystems to better resource them to flourish with their communities. Participants in the Lab work to build political solidarity and networks, strengthen capacities in engaging with policy processes, and access resources to support their movement. The Lab will act as a hub for testing new ways of working within civil society and mobilising learnings from across sectors in support of youth-led movements.

Applications for the Youth Action Lab are now open! Click here for more information. Applications are due 5 February 2020. Contact for more information.


Handy tips and techniques to help you with your next proposal

CIVICUS invited its member, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) to facilitate a proposal writing and resource mobilisation workshop for staff in 2019. The workshop offerings included tools and techniques to assist individuals and teams prepare and deliver compelling proposals to donors. As we begin a fresh new 2020, we thought that these easy reference videos will provide you with helpful tips and tools for preparing a winning proposal. These info bites cover;

  1. How to write an effective proposal.
  2. The theory of change: what is it and how does it fit into your proposal writing exercise?
  3. Top Tips for your next winning proposal
  4. The importance of an elevator pitch: making it count.
  5. Red Flags: what to avoid when writing your next proposal.


Defiant and undeterred: Looking back at a year of extraordinary civic activism

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

Lysa John portraitWe are ending the year as we began – with awe for how civil society and citizens have been unstoppable despite widespread and often brutal backlash by governments, and with a stronger resolve to do more - much more - to reinforce struggles for human rights and social justice across countries and communities.
From Khartoum to Hong Kong, across Chile, Lebanon and Malta, we have seen large-scale civic protests against governance failures. In other parts of the world, people have organised in unprecedented numbers, including through mobilisations such as the Global Climate Strike which saw over 7 million people in 150 countries, to call for fundamental changes in global governance and corporate accountability.
What the protests have in common is anger and frustration with political and economic systems that are failing to uphold rights and meet needs. As we have observed in our State of Civil Society Report, most protests started small - often addressing specific, local issues - but quickly grew to ask more profound questions of governance, democracy and human rights. Furthermore, people have unfailingly devised new methods to organise and demand change despite severe restrictions on the right to protest.
Our latest report, People Power Under Attack 2019, draws on 536 updates on fundamental rights from across the world. In a short span of one year, we recorded instances of detention of protesters, disruptions of protest, or the use of excessive force to prevent people from fully exercising their right to peaceful assembly in 96 countries across the world. The CIVICUS Monitor has documented the detention of protesters and excessive use of force to disperse and disrupt protests in countries with closed or repressed ratings such as Egypt, Honduras, Iraq and Zimbabwe, but also in countries where people typically have been able to exercise their freedoms without major hindrance, such as Belgium, Canada, France and Panama.
Our refreshed ratings for 2019 reveal that just 3% of the world’s population are now living in countries where their fundamental rights are in general protected and respected – last year it was 4%. Two significant democracies - Nigeria and India – are only one step away from the worst end of the CIVICUS Monitor rating spectrum. This has contributed to a dramatic increase in the number of people who now live in contexts, i.e. 40% of the world’s population as opposed to 19% last year. We invite you to take a closer look at the latest findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, and let us know how we can strengthen efforts to protect and expand civic freedoms in your country and region. Two other CIVICUS publications released last month are excellent resources to inform civil society related analyses and strategies. Our report, Against the Wave, assesses the impact of the rise of anti-rights groups on civil society, while our thematic paper, We Will Not Be Silenced, takes stock of the growing restrictions that climate activists face across the world.

In line with rise of movements for dynamic accountability across the world, we have spent a fair amount of time this year reviewing how effective our efforts at CIVICUS have in relation to the outcomes that we are committed to achieve as part of our Strategic Plan for 2017-22. Many of you will recall that the current Plan was developed with wide ranging inputs and participation from the breadth of the Alliance.

Since August this year, we have had the opportunity to bring various stakeholders, including the Board, CIVICUS staff and members of the Alliance, together to take stock of the progress we have made so far and provide recommendation for the outcomes that we need to prioritise in the final two years of our Strategic Plan period. This includes our ‘Annual Constituency Survey’ and the Annual General Meeting which have been an all-important source of feedback on the things we are doing well and what we need to be doing more of in this context.

The CIVICUS Board and staff have also combined efforts to create a strategic reporting framework aimed at optimising learning and accountability outcomes across the Alliance. Our refreshed reporting guidelines now include monthly updates to our members, quarterly trend analysis reports from our online database, and opportunities to engage with critical learning questions outlined in our Accountability Framework. More broadly, the ‘Resilient Roots’ initiative has allowed us to contribute to new metrics that prioritise outcomes related to long-term accountability and resilience in restricted civic space contexts. Work progressed in this period through AGNA, the Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (Spanish - French) and the Innovation for Change platforms are other examples of how a collaborative approach to strengthening civil society legitimacy and impact is informing our core work.

We look forward to sharing more about the outcomes of our mid-term strategy review in January, and anticipate that the recommendations generated will enable increased opportunities for solidarity and joint action across the Alliance. We now have twice as many CIVICUS members as we did last year, a significant number of whom are young change-makers. Our increased reach of 8500+ members across 165 countries provides us with an incredible opportunity to strengthen civil society legitimacy and impact. In doing so, we must continue to challenge ourselves to integrate diversity and democratise resources in ways that directly benefit those on the front lines of the fight for human rights and social justice. We must be able to decisively demonstrate how our actions and investments are making a difference to the communities in the world’s most restrictive and marginalised contexts.

In 2020, we must look beyond institutional mandates to firmly locate ourselves in a wider trajectory for change that connects and inspires transformative action across the world.

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS


3 lessons learned about resourcing civil society in the 21st century

By Yessenia Soto, Community Engagement Officer on Civil Society Resourcing at CIVICUS

In 2019, CIVICUS set out to find ways to better support and resource citizen action in the 21st century. Why? Resourcing challenges are not new to civil society, but in this century we are in the middle of changing political, social and economic dynamics that have made those challenges even more complex

Authoritarian, repressive and anti-rights governments are gaining ground around the world and they are imposing restrictions on the civic space and on the access to both foreign funding and domestic support for citizen action. International donors are withdrawing from middle income countries despite their ingrained social problems, and most funding is focused on service delivery, providing little to nothing for social change, accountability and safeguarding human rights. Grassroots and youth actors have stood out as key changemakers, but their resourcing needs are mostly unmet by the existing modalities of international and domestic funding and support, which usually favor adult-led and more established civil society organisations (CSOs). And let’s not forget how the digital age has transformed civil society’s actions, reach and the threats it faces. 

To help promote an environment that sustains a diverse array of civil society forms and responses in these contested and uncertain times, this year we focused on two priority areas. First, identifying the greatest needs and challenges of individual activists and new generation changemakers who may not work within or associate themselves with established or traditional CSOs; and, second, exploring more meaningful, direct and democratic resourcing avenues for smaller and spontaneous civil society formations. 

We ran two consultations to understand the resourcing landscape of youth-led groups and movements and of grassroots – we emailed, called, and met face-to-face over 50 activists and donors. Using consultations’ findings, design thinking and co-creation methodologies, we identified and sense-checked four potential resourcing mechanisms for grassroots. And, currently, a team of nine young diverse activists from the Global South is co-creating an innovative mechanism for resourcing youth.

We also brought together a diverse range of entities that provide rapid response funds and support activists and a few back-donors to coordinate actions for enhancing rapid response grant-making across the world and to make it more accessible to the increasing number of attacked and threatened activists and CSOs. Lastly, we published an experimental data-driven analysis that offers evidence about the barriers that CSOs in Latin America face to access resources, which has fueled important debates between civil society and donors in the region. 

This work will continue during 2020. We will roll out the youth co-designed resourcing mechanism, called Youth Action Lab 2020, explore ideas of pilot activities based on the four resourcing prototypes and support a grassroots-led advocacy initiative aimed at influencing funder’s behavior. Moreover, we will mobilise the CIVICUS alliance to advocate for changes that could lead to more accessible and meaningful resources for civil society.

As we prepare for these next steps, we would like to share three key lessons we’ve learned so far about resourcing citizen action in the 21st century: 

  1. Youth-led organisations, groups and movements have specific resourcing needs and it is time to address and prioritise them

Our engagement with youth activists has been a truly eye-opening and transformational part of this workstream. For years, youth leaders around the world have been tackling important social problems, leading political and environmental protest and providing innovative solutions to development issues, however, resources specifically available to support them directly remain minimal. We realised that barriers to accessing resources not only limit the impact and sustainability of their work, but make them feel undermined, misunderstood and even disconnected from the development sector, other CSOs and donors. Young people request and should get now more financial resources but also more acknowledgment, spaces and connections with funders, CSOs and other stakeholders based on empathy, understanding and respect.

  1. More co-creation and collective work is needed

These activities emphasised the importance of co-creation, participatory decision-making and collective approaches in the development, testing and rollout of effective resourcing modalities. Different views, voices, lived experiences and contexts of civil society groups, donors and other actors, who may benefit or be affected in any way by proposed actions, should be included in these processes. However, we also learned that co-creating and being truly inclusive and diverse requires a significant investment of time, efforts, coordination and plenty of dedicated resources. 

  1. Civil society-donor relationships must improve

We are not speaking here about the transactional relationships between donors and civil society actors (which have their own set of challenges). After several workshops and dialogues between youth, grassroots and donors, we realised that there are tensions, frustrations, communication barriers and even lack of trust between them. It is not rare to hear civil society actors saying that “donors don’t listen, don’t reply to emails, have very different values.” On the other side, donors share frustrations of being under-resourced, overworked, and of the language gaps between donors-youth/grassroots. We learned that facilitating safe spaces and moments where donors and civil society actors can meet, speak and connect beyond that transactional dimension of grant-giving was highly valued by both groups, and this is a stepping stone towards improving some operating challenges that limit access and quality of resources for civil society groups.

This year of listening, experimenting and learning would not have been possible without the support of all CIVICUS members and partners who believed in the importance of finding new and better ways of resourcing civil society groups on the frontline of change. We would like to specially thank the support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) who dared investing in innovative approaches to strengthen 21st century citizen action and is blazing new trails towards more effective development aid.


CIVICUS Annual General Meeting

From the 30th October to the 8th November 2019 members gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa from all over the world for the CIVICUS Annual General meeting. This, as always, is an opportunity to come together and set the agenda and priorities of CIVICUS Alliance. It included approval of the Annual Report and financial statements, reflecting on key outcomes of the annual constituency survey, a look at the first year of CIVICUS Solidarity Fund, a new membership Code of Conduct, and analysis of a mid-point review of CIVICUS’  Strategic Plan 2017-2022.

Board Meeting

During this year’s Board Meeting, we explored a range of topics and questions that will shape CIVICUS Alliance’s activities in the months -- and years -- to come. These included:

  • Political polarisation and what this means for inequality and exclusion
  • People power movements including mass protests. CIVICUS Alliance is eager to respond and connect!
  • Our impressive and rapid membership growth. We have a keen eye out for what this means for the CIVICUS Alliance’s future activities.
  • A benchmarking review of where we stand to date, and where we need to keep moving, especially in terms of the Alliance’s Southern presence, identity, and focus.

Code of Conduct

This year, CIVICUS Alliance touched base with you about a new, more detailed Membership Code of Conduct, so we can best support and look after each other in ever-growing solidarity. Stay tuned for updates!

Annual Constituency Survey

On the 31st of October, we held a Zoom meeting to follow up with you from our Annual Constituency Survey -- hearing from you personally on your experiences over the last year, your hopes and ideas for the future, and how we can continue to support and connect with you in the year to come.

This discussion centred around a major overarching question, “How can we bolster member engagement?” In responding, our members reported that:

  • Much of CIVICUS Alliance’s activity is already making very positive headway, especially in terms of capacity building support and opportunities
  • An area for ongoing growth in CIVICUS Alliance is in terms of member-to-member engagement and networking, especially along the lines of regional or thematic contexts where our members can share knowledge and experience more closely with each other

Mid-point strategic priority review

In 2016, CIVICUS developed its 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. This was to set the strategic direction for the Secretariat and Alliance by articulating who we are, what we strive to achieve, how we work and how we define our success. As November 2019 marked the mid-point of this plan, it was only right to take a moment to analyse our achievements and shortcomings so far. 

On 6 November, the CIVICUS Secretariat along with Board members and invited voting members gathered at the University of Johannesburg for our Strategy and Action Workshop. 

The morning session was dedicated to a review of Goals 1 through 4 and recommendations for improvement. Some of the big questions asked included: How should we measure and communicate the effectiveness of civil society? What kind of data do we need to collect from our members and how can we best put that data to use?

The afternoon session was organised around reimagining the CIVICUS of the future. The following trends informed the discussion:

  • Civil society is changing. Mobile, adaptive and progressive people power movements are taking centre stage.
  • Digital security: There is no longer a sharp distinction between offline and online organising. All in-person activism now has an online component and civil society must defend itself accordingly.
  • Civil society is under attack but the threats have changed. Far-right authoritarian movements are challenging the notion that the defence of human rights is an enshrined priority.

Participants in the Strategy and Action Workshop submitted overwhelmingly positive feedback about their experience of the workshop (Mohammad HasanJean-Gilles Gbewouenondo Houmenou). It was an engaging day and provided many opportunities for the Secretariat, the Board and for voting members to meet and exchange ideas. The final review report will be published in early January 2020. 

CIVICUS Solidarity Fund (CSF)

On Monday 4 November, the Membership Advisory Group (MAG) met at the CIVICUS head office in Johannesburg to review the submissions for the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund. The MAG received 265 applications which they began reviewing in October. The group’s tireless efforts have resulted in the selection of 14 grantees, whose projects will be announced to the membership soon!

On Tuesday 5 November, the MAG hosted four separate webinars on the CSF in three different languages! Our dynamic hosts Maggie Musonda, Nandini Tanya Lallmon and Victoria Wisniewski Otero responded to questions from CIVICUS members and shared some exciting video content from our previous CSF grantees. Links to the webinar are here (English), (French), (Spanish). 

The MAG also took the opportunity of being all together in one room to discuss some significant changes to the fund for the future. The MAG is working with the CIVICUS Secretariat to implement the improvements and we look forward to sharing these updates with you soon. The next application window for the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund will open in February 2020.


COP25, UN Climate Change Conference, 2-15 December, Madrid, Spain

From 2 to 15 December, more than 20,000 people from almost 200 countries attended COP25, the UN climate change conference. The meeting was held in Madrid, Spain, under the Presidency of Chile, which abruptly withdrew from hosting the conference in Santiago one month before the conference took place. 

cop25 event lyndal

In a year when millions of people have mobilised to call for international cooperation on climate change, it is symbolic that COP25 was unable to find a host in South America, after both Chile and Brazil withdrew. CIVICUS new position paper ‘We will not be silenced: Climate activism from the frontlines to the UN’ published just before COP, details the different ways that the UN is failing to adequately respond to and  protect the growing climate movement.

CIVICUS participated at the official COP as well as civil society alternate COPs in both Madrid and Santiago with a focus on improving youth participation and protecting environmental defenders.

On 12 December, CIVICUS co-organised an official side event at COP25. The event was live-streamed by UNFCCC and can be viewed here. Former President of Ireland and Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson delivered a keynote speech highlighting the centrality of human rights to climate action and urging governments to ratify the agreement. Speakers at the event included representatives from UN ECLAC (UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), the governments of Costa Rica and Mexico, COICA (Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica), DAR-Peru, FARN-Argentina, and CIVICUS.

During COP25, Panama and Colombia both moved closer to ratifying Escazu following pressure from civil society. as December 22 countries have signed the treaty, Colombia signing during COP,  and 5 have ratified it.

Following a year of unprecedented public mobilisation for climate action, COP25 was no exception with Indigenous, youth and civil society delegates staging sit-ins and a “cacerolazo” during proceedings. Unfortunately, at least one of these civil society interventions was met with undue force from UN  and private security guards, as detailed in this joint civil society statement.

Cumbre Social por la Acción Climática: December 2-12, Santiago, Chile

More than 130 CSOs from Chile organized around the Civil Society for Climate Action Platform (SCAC) to put together an alternative COP that showcased civil society voices. Despite the change of venue, the summit was held with less participation from international civil society groups but with more energy from latin american groups, especially those from Chile. In the current context of social protests around the region the summit was an important space for solidarity and to lift the voices of those more affected by the climate crisis. Civicus was invited to be part of SCAC’s international advisory group.

SCAC Declaration

SCAC worked for several weeks with various groups from Latin America to create a declaration that highlighted the needs from the region in terms of climate action. The declaration was officially launched on Monday 9 both in Santiago and Madrid. Civicus was invited to speak at the launch.

SCAC declaration PDF

Launch of the SCAC Declaration:

Note on the launch event:

On December 10 and commemorating Human Rights Day Civicus participated in the side event “El Acuerdo de Escazú: La deuda de Chile con los Derechos Humanos”. In this opportunity we reflected on the different civic space restrictions climate and environmental defenders are facing in the region and in Chile as reported in our position paper and why Escazu Agreement is an important tool for the protection of defenders.

Further reading, media coverage of CIVICUS engagement:

Activists Demand Urgency At UN Climate Change Conference, NPR

Chile y la ‘COP ciudadana’, El Pais

Are Global South experts sidelined in climate conversations?, Al Jazeera

Interview Radio Universidad de la República, Santiago: On social protest movement in Latin America, the restrictions facing activists and COP


CIVICUS strategy review workshop: a step into social cohesion and sustainable development

By Mohammad Hasan, Yes Theatre Palestine

YesTheatre Palestine3CIVICUS’ process to mid-term review its strategic plan (2017-2022) is almost finished. The plan reflects the vision, ideas, and priorities of over 8,000 members of civil society organisations distributed everywhere in our world. It also builds on CIVICUS’ Action plan for 2020-2022, which is focused on defending civic & democratic freedoms, strengthening the power of people to organise, mobilise and take action, and empowering a more accountable, effective and informative civil society.

I still remember the words of Mrs. Anabel Cruz (former Chair of the CIVICUS Board) just before the launching of CIVICUS’ strategic plan (2017-2022): “As we launch our new strategic plan, we are fortunate to find ourselves in a position of strength at CIVICUS. With a stable financial base, a committed and diverse board, a broad and growing membership and a talented secretariat team, we are poised to be bold and brave”.

The CIVICUS strategy review workshop on 6th November 2019 was a translation of Anabel’s words. The workshop was a space for participants to stress the importance of CIVICUS as a leader and model for diversity and inclusion, ensuring that civil society is empowered and active at all levels.

Participants in the review sessions emphasized the importance of defining CIVCUS and its role as an international organisation that working side by side with multipliers of effect. People articulated the critical need for CIVICUS to partner with different actors to find creative ways to respond to the big global challenges for civil society and the world. Participants have agreed that the main job of CIVICUS is to connect, amplify and scale professional responses that lead to strengthening the citizens' contributions in realizing a more just, inclusive and sustainable world. YesTheatre Palestine

Yes Theatre for Communication among Youth (YT) in Palestine is one of the CIVICUS voting members. YT has designed solutions grounded in a belief that theatre and drama are effective tools to empower right-holders to know about, and claim their rights. This goal goes directly with CIVICUS mission: “to strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world”. The review process was very relevant to the projects that Yes Theatre is running such as: the Completely Connected and Youth-Quack. These projects aim at encouraging the marginalised population to take an active role in fulfilling their needs and claiming their rights constructively and creatively, which will lead to the betterment of their livelihood as well as social cohesion and sustainable development. 

CIVICUS, Yes Theatre and other members must learn and evolve. The CIVICUS strategy review workshop is just a step to transform our world into a different situation in which each human being lives in dignity and enjoy freedom. 


Innovative 15-year old activist driving social inclusion movement in India

This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

blog Naman

In January 2019, around 600 people celebrated a unique event in Vadodara, western India. They gathered to play percussion instruments in public, but they were not musicians, in fact, most of them had never played a musical instrument before. Half of them were differently abled* children and youths and the other half were abled peers. They achieved perfect symphony in just a couple of minutes, amusing their families, friends and over 80,000 participants of the Vadodara International Marathon.

The event, called the ‘Divyang Dost Drum Circle,’ was organised by a group of students led by 15-year-old activist and tech enthusiast Naman Parikh, founder of the DivyangDost Foundation (DDF), a web-based movement and social enterprise promoting social inclusion of differently abled people (called ‘Divyangs’ in India) through friendship, music and technology.

“Differently abled individuals receive financial and educational aid, but they are deprived of emotional support and friendship, especially from abled children,” explained Naman.

To help change this issue, Naman created an app that facilitates social connections between differently abled and abled youths and children (called ‘DivyangDosts’).

The app operates as a sort of supervised Facebook and friendship-matching platform, connecting differently abled and abled youths and children, and NGOs that serve this population in India. Users create a profile, are matched with other users in their area, can befriend and coordinate meetups to spend quality time over educational, sports and leisure activities. ‘DivyangDosts’ can upload pictures and videos of their meetups with ‘Divyangs’ on the platform, gain cumulative points and be rewarded with certificates, medals and trophies as recognition for promoting social inclusion. Additionally, DDF organises large public gatherings, like the drum circle, to provide more spaces for inclusion.

DivyangDost Foundation has positively impacted almost 500 differently abled children, while 27 NGOs and almost 600 abled youths have joined the movement. Surprisingly, Naman started all of this with a visionary idea, creativity and the power of non-financial resources.

Thriving without money – how?

Achieving such impact may seem very costly but, for almost two years, the foundation thrived without funding. Naman invested his own time and technology skills, mobilised the support of valuable volunteers and mentors, established collaborations with NGOs and reached out to local media to promote their work.

“Knowing your context, connecting back to your roots and your own past experiences can help you see what alternative resources you can use and how to find them,” explains Naman. Having been a volunteer in different social projects in the past and being a student in the present, he was able to find members, volunteers, mentors and build alliances at school, in his community and through the organisations he met and helped before.

The young activist also emphasises the power of technology. “Young generations see technology as a powerful platform where we can promote change without focusing only on doing field activities, which can be more costly. I think technology is what allowed this project to amplify in a short time and without initial funding,” added Naman.

Blog Drum Circle

Divyang Dost Drum Circle 2019 

Adapting to change

When the DDF decided to organise the drum circle and other public events, money became a need. Believing in the power of technology and collaborations, Naman and his team set up an online crowdfunding campaign and asked local media to help spread the message. They raised almost USD 10,000 from that single campaign – more than what they needed for the first event.

“One of my mentors once told me that running a nonprofit doesn’t mean you won’t hold profit. You will and have to learn to deal with it,” highlighted Naman as he recalled how they went from having zero funds to holding a small financial surplus.

Since DDF continues to operate with minimal organisational costs, this surplus will be used to expand their services. They are creating an online marketplace where differently abled users can order and buy assistive technology directly from suppliers, at a lower cost.

Naman acknowledges that this will require a bigger financial investment. Therefore, they plan to reach out to high profile investors who can help with funds and mentorship, and to experts and people working in social inclusion and technology, who can provide expertise, volunteer work and connections. Public giving will continue to be a strong pillar of their funding strategy and, why not, they may even apply for traditional grants in the future.

“We [activists and civil society organisations] have to be more adaptive and not resist change. Needs change and we have to change too,” said Naman. He knows that having a larger and steadier flow of financial and non-financial resources will be key not only for this expansionary phase, but for the entire sustainability of the foundation’s mission. To achieve this, they are consolidating their concept, building plans for the next two years and have put more focus on demonstrating impact. DDF’s dream is to find support to scale their work at a national level.

Get in touch with DivyangDost Foundation, member of the CIVICUS alliance, through their website and follow the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

*Note: Regarding the terminology, the DivyangDost Foundation specifically uses the words “abled” and “differently abled” instead of “people with disabilities” or “disabled,” and we are running a local campaign in India to remove that label while addressing this population.


Celebrating our right to protest!

Secretary General’s Update (Aug-Sep 2019)

Lysa John headshot

In the context of increasing attacks on civic space around the world, it seems far more unusual to have an opportunity to celebrate the progress being made through civil society and citizen activism around the world. Fortunately, the months of August and September have been replete with inspiring instances of how CIVICUS’ work has made a difference, and how ordinary people are more ready than ever to overcome restrictions and take direct action for the causes they believe in. 


A tribute to the power of solidarity

Palestinian human rights activist Ameer Makhoul shared a touching tribute to the value of CIVICUS’ solidarity messages and actions undertaken in the course of his 9-year imprisonment term. In an email message shared a few weeks after his release this year, he said, “….among nine years I got more than one thousand worldwide solidarity letters and postcards. two major things make prisoners feel happy and not forgotten; the family bi-weekly 45 minutes visits as well as letters of solidarity… when I think about solidarity, CIVICUS is on the front of my mind, I'll never forget your stand and your support to my family and me.”

We are incredibly proud to have supported Ameer in his fight for justice. As members of CIVICUS, each of us has an important role to play in supporting and honouring the efforts of human rights defenders around the world. Our recently released Protest Resilience Toolkit is, in this context, a useful reminder of the range of strategies and tactics that we have developed across civil society to foster collaboration and overcome challenges in the design and implementation of direct action for change.

Joining forces for global civic action

SPEAK 2019 banner

We had several opportunities to join global mobilisations for climate action, sustainable development and social justice across September. As part of the SPEAK! initiative, CIVICUS partners organised 179 events in 55 countries, ranging from peace dialogues in DRC and Kenya to digital safety workshops in Pakistan. SPEAK! is an annually coordinated global campaign aimed at breaking down social divisions and enabling engagement across diverse groups of people.

In other parts of the world, we were part of #StandTogetherNow actions that drew attention to the timely achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and walked with the inspired millions who came out in support of the ‘Global Climate Strike’ in a range of locations including Johannesburg, Berlin and São Paulo. Read our interview with Arshak Makichyan, the student who started weekly climate strikes in Moscow earlier this year, and has now been joined by students in other cities of Russia and beyond as part of the #LetRussiaStrikeForClimate campaign here.

Making our civic space resourcing and research initiatives stronger

Following on from the excellent response to our study on alternatives for civil society resourcing released earlier this year, we have just concluded an analysis of development funding in Latin America in partnership with the Colombian social impact start-up, Innpactia. The review of over 6,500 calls for proposals – amounting to USD 5.9bn from 2000 donors - exposes the barriers that local and change-seeking organisations face when accessing grant-based resources in the region. Further, only 3-6 percent of the funding proposals reviewed provided support to work related to human rights and the strengthening of CSOs.

We also had an opportunity to bring core research partners of our online civic space tracking platform, the CIVICUS Monitor together in August. The group reviewed opportunities and challenges related to the methodology and overall uptake of the Monitor, while also agreeing on a set of priorities that need to influence its work going forward. This includes putting in place mechanisms that will allow access to greater levels of disaggregated data, with a stronger focus on access to country-specific reports and sub-regional findings.

Act with CIVICUS!

  • Review our 2019-2020 Annual Plan and let us know how we are doing against our strategic priorities!
  • Get up to speed with non-traditional approaches to financial resources and sustainability with the ‘Alternative Funding Model Guidebook’ for Civil Society Organisations in Africa. The guide has been developed with feedback from agencies across 10 countries, and is available in English and French.
  • Look out for training and exchange opportunities available through AGNA – the Affinity Group of National Associations. This includes new tools in the AGNA Legitimacy, Transparency and Accountability platform that are available here.
  • Find out how we are applying ‘Primary Constituency Accountability’ principles within CIVICUS and let us know how your organisation relates to our work on Resilient Roots!

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS


Keep moving until the departure of the corrupt

By Ziad Abdul Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

Ziad ANND blogThe popular protests in Lebanon began after the government announced its intention to impose new taxes on citizens and in an atmosphere of tension and mounting fears of continued economic collapse. The spontaneous movement was not surprising because it was an accumulation of anger and humiliation. However, it surprised everyone with its decentralization and rapid spread to all areas in Lebanon and abroad. The diversity of the parties involved in it was also surprising as it targeted all parties involved in governance without exception. The number of participants exceeded hundreds of thousands and in spite of this diversity, the unity has been maintained: the unity of slogans and positions, and unity reflected raising one single flag, the Lebanese flag alone.

In Lebanon, we are witnessing an economic crisis but political in nature as well. Indeed, the chants of the protesters show us that economic and financial reform cannot be achieved without addressing the structural imbalance in the political system based on sectarian quotas.

Since the Taif Agreement, it became clear that the cost of this quota system in Lebanon has been high for society and the state and came at the expense of citizens.

It is no longer possible to continue it without moving to the civil state. Political and economic reform is not possible in the presence of officials involved in the quota system because they will hold onto their privileges and interests and will not easily abandon them. Nevertheless, the protection of the corrupt sectarian system and guarantees through quota system came at the expense of enhancing citizenship, achieving development and activating participation. It is behind the weakening of the public administration, which is burdened with patronage and clientelism. This system has become a burden on the national economy and society, rather than being the catalyst in supporting and providing all its rights and serving to the people.

Therefore, the right approach in the long term can only be to abolish the system of sectarian quotas and the establishment of the civil state, the rule of law and the separation of powers, to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and rely on efficiency and enhance transparency and mechanisms of control, accountability and accountability. This requires the formation of a transitional technocrat government and the establishment of participatory mechanisms with civil society, independent experts and independent trade and professional unions. These mechanisms are supposed to reflect the movement and its space and those who abstained from participating in the elections.

The transitional government should work on two parallel tracks. The first is moving towards the adoption of a just democratic electoral law that achieves transparency and validity of representation. The second track begins by discussing the reform steps that allow the approval of the general budget, to eliminate wasteful public spending based on quotas, patronage and clientelism, and boosting the income.

Further austerity measures should not be proposed; but rather focus should be on a review of the social protection system and a fair distribution of the burden of reform to society. The next government should abolish monopolies, which are protected in the confessional system, especially in the basic sectors of oil, medicine, wheat and other markets and strengthen customs levies, especially on some consumer goods that are considered luxury. It should work on restructuring the public debt through negotiations with creditor banks to reduce interest rates.

It must achieve a fair and progressive tax system that addresses evasion and reconsider exemptions. New types of taxes should be imposed aiming at achieving justice and balance in revenues such as tax on land ownership and tax on the investment of marine and river properties. Customs exemptions and customs evasion (based on the control of land, sea and air crossings) should be reexamined as well.

Public sector should be restructured, starting with the abolition of public institutions and funds that are distributed among the sects. Restructuring of the wage mass in the public sector (in which 7% of senior officials are heads of departments and general managers account for 50% of wages in addition to additional compensation exceeding 50 times the wages in some cases) is equally important.

Only as such, Lebanon can send positive signals to the people and to the international community and restore the lost confidence of people in Lebanon to Lebanon as a sovereign and independent state.

To achieve all these, the street should keep on moving. The movement must coordinate to develop a new model of shared governance. A dialogue among its constituents on the requirements for continuation until the demands are fulfilled is critical. It is utmost importance that the movement should not give up, particularly with regard to any attempt to eliminate the power of mobilization. It must be aware of the traditional methods resorted by some of the forces of power who aim at wreaking havoc and abuse and create the justification for the security forces to use force. We have seen this since the second day in the streets of Beirut, where the security forces used tear gas and arrested hundreds of demonstrators in violation of the right to peaceful assembly, demonstrate and express opinion. The protection of the right to demonstrate and assembly is the responsibility of the security forces and the task entrusted to them.


This piece is an edited version of the article written by ANND Executive Director for Annahar on 19 October 2019.


What Constituents Say about CIVICUS in 2019!

By Marina Cherbonnier, CIVICUS member engagement specialist

Final ACS Infog English 2019 White

Each year, CIVICUS Constituents are asked what they think about CIVICUS - a global alliance of over 8000 organisations, movements and individuals. It is our vision at CIVICUS to create a community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity. CIVICUS’ constituents are front and centre to this vision, so it is very important as we work together every year that we identify our successes, what can be improved and new ideas. This strengthens our work as an Alliance and helps us to be of greater impact and relevance.

Thank you to the 736 respondents who took the time to contribute their feedback, and if you have not done so, do not hesitate to use the CIVICUS feedback form to get in touch at any time during the year!

What we heard

The number of responses to the survey increased significantly - 60% increase compared to 2018 - but so did the number of members also. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) remained average (42), similar to the 2018 feedback. An NPS is graded on an index of -100 to 100 and captures respondents’ satisfaction about a specific matter or an organisation overall. This score could be partly due to the number of respondents who were still new members and therefore not able to provide a strong opinion about the alliance, as mentioned by some of them. The NPS from Spanish-speaking members dropped significantly and they expressed they do not feel close enough to what is happening with CIVICUS.

We also received a lot of positive feedback, particularly on who we are as a CIVICUS Alliance, the vision, the added value of it and the efforts to be member-led, inclusive, and accountable. The work around youth, advocacy, capacity development and support on funding and fundraising was also applauded. It is worth noting that it did not include direct funding only but also capacity development (e.g workshops) and networking as a means to help them boost their resource mobilisation. Finally, a lot of emphasis was made on CIVICUS being a great place to learn and better understand civil society and innovative ways to act, thanks to all the research, information and communications activities.

At the same time, and similarly to the previous year, what CIVICUS seems to be doing well is also what we need to improve on. Members have asked:

  • To walk the talk as civil society in tackling the issues of competition and power dynamics within the sector.
  • For more grassroot and decentralised outreach and work through regional and country chapters.
  • To boost members engagement and the member-led governance of CIVICUS, with the need to broaden members engagement opportunities as well as making these opportunities more explicit and inclusive.
  • To increase youth engagement, including stronger leadership and engagement of young members in CIVICUS programs and activities.
  • For better fundraising support, particularly through stronger feedback to unsuccessful applicants and capacity building.
  • For a series of specific causes for advocacy and capacity development needs as well as more information services and space for storytelling.

All this feedback will input into the on-going mid-term strategic review of CIVICUS and thus contribute to assessing the way forward on a strategic and programmatic level. The different thematic inputs will be shared with CIVICUS staff members based on their areas of expertise for more thorough consideration and integration in their work where possible. Indeed, one of the major limitations is that a number of members’ suggestions are mentioned once in the survey responses and we thus need to understand if they respond to a collective need or single demand. If the latter, we will assess to what extent we can respond to these and how we can prioritise them. This will be thoroughly discussed by voting members, including the board, and the CIVICUS secretariat, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November and over the coming months.

8 ways CIVICUS Constituents’ feedback led to action in 2019!

To respond to the key members asks and praises shared through the 2018 Annual Constituency Survey, the CIVICUS secretariat used the input to inform the annual strategy and took the following concrete actions:

  1. The secretariat has been thriving to build a true member-led organisational culture amongst   staff and the alliance. It also focused on connecting members better as a community through collective action (e.g. through the International Civil Society Week, Democracy Dialogues and consultancies, engagement around the Human Rights Council, signed statements, the youth initiatives etc). This entailed increasing the ability for members to fully get involved and stay updated about CIVICUS activities through more open calls for action. We are thrilled to see the feeling of being part of a family of like-minded people working for a better world on a global, regional and national level only getting stronger!
  2. A new dedicated stream of work was designed and a coordinator recruited to ensure stronger diversity and inclusion practices within CIVICUS and  wider civil society, and ultimately that no one is left behind and that everyone is given the space and capacity to take part.
  3. The CIVICUS Communications strategy and practices were revised to refocus the perspectives around CIVICUS as a global alliance while keeping up with providing fresh information on the role of civil society all around the world and how to engage better as civil society.
  4. While AGNA – the Affinity Group of National Associations - and the DataShift programme (for instance) are keeping up with building mutual learning, a new consultant was hired to explore ways to provide more opportunities to strengthen civil society capacities including through mentorship, as well as bringing more value to the numerous CIVICUS toolkits available online. The team aims to build capacity development programmes – and keep doing so in a participatory manner - around specific member engagement opportunities, in order to boost our impact as an alliance of members (e.g. in advocacy, public speaking, communications, digital security, human rights, community engagement, leadership, strategic thinking etc)
  5. The team has been striving to enhance impactful advocacy for ordinary citizens and keeping up with creating avenues for members to be part of key strategic discussions, by building synergy and inclusivity among members, especially through the CIVICUS @ the UN workstream.
  6. Along the design and implementation of a new membership policy, the team reassessed membership conditions and verification processes to make them both more inclusive and yet stronger to ensure the credibility of the alliance
  7. While CIVICUS staff was recognised by members for being inspiring, transparent, warm and knowledgeable, the team yet focused on building stronger feedback mechanisms and loops (check the annual constituency survey process, for instance) to strengthen two-way communications with members. More is yet to come to not only boost two-way secretariat to members communications but also members-to-members communications, which will be key in the upcoming year!
  8. Boosting action on national and regional levels and creating more networking abilities and opportunities between members and partners are landmarks for the second phase of the strategic plan 2017-2022, starting now!


Why do we need to #RewriteHerStory?

Female leaders in 2018 top films were 4 times more likely to be shown in revealing clothing. Did you notice? This is one of the striking findings of Plan International’s “Rewrite Her Story” research.


This new report is the second phase of a research project looking at female leadership. It focuses on the role of media in shaping girls’ and young women’s ambitions and aspirations to leadership and includes an analysis of 56 top-grossing films in 2018 across 20 countries.

The results resonate with our diverse experiences from across the world. We are a group of youth advocates advising Plan International on the Girls Get Equal campaign.

In Malawi, for example, most of the award-winning movies are directed by men, and most are about the plight of women. We see sad movies sensationalising women’s poor plight, and even female directors perpetuating stereotypes such as the cheating man with a sad stay-at-home wife waiting for his return. There is no space for the reframing of storytelling of women and girls.

In Bangladesh’s cinema industry, only one superhero movie featured a female protagonist. A similar picture is painted in Hollywood with only two blockbuster superhero movies featuring female protagonists in 2018.

If so few women are in these powerful roles, then how can girls perceive women as equally powerful as men? To young people, power in superhero movies is defined in “making the impossible possible”, with simple mechanics like shooting lasers out of one’s eyes. Women who are not superheroes will never shoot lasers out of their eyes – or feel they can tackle the impossible. This perception is internalized while growing up.

In Germany, decisionmakers in media tend to duck away from their responsibility to tackle gender inequality through ensuring equal gender representation. In Sudan, women with light skin tones, in passive roles, wearing a lot of makeup while serving as a background decoration are the preferred way to see women on screen.

These are just a few examples from the countries where we are from. In all of these countries and many others, it is clear that media is often the creator of public opinion, and is a great vehicle to influence gender roles. However, this relationship is often not recognized as a responsibility by stakeholders. How does this gap emerge? If a problem arises and the solution is at your hands, why not act?

Power-holders still attribute the responsibility to society and the consuming public itself. It is said that there is simply no demand for films with strong women but this is not true. The ‘Rewrite Her Story’ report shows that girls would love to see these inspirational characters. . We cannot expect change from consumers alone, it’s time to request it directly from the content creators.

Apart from finally acknowledging the responsibility of all involved in the film industry and creation of media content, certain inclusion targets need to be set. As Justin Trudeau recognised: “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice”.

For the media landscape to perform an overall change, governmental involvement and collaborations with media stakeholders is required. Policies and legislation need to ban the constant reinforcement of gender stereotypes and make sure that the stories of the millions of women and girls of the world are being told.

Girls and young women need to be supported to create content and we need more women in media production roles. Let’s have more women superheroes and leaders and less obvious, stereotypical female characters. Media can be a very effective tool by intentionally breaking the stereotypes that diminish girls until it woman leaders and influencers are a realistic image for each and every girl.

Women and girls around the globe are heroes who drive solutions, and we need to show this in media and entertainment.

This Day of the Girl we are coming together in Stockholm for the annual Girls Get Equal Live summit where we will meet with decision-makers in the media and share these recommendations. We hope you tune in online and tell us how you want to #RewriteHerStory.


Kim from Germany, Memory and Matilda from Malawi, Razan from Sudan and Sifat from Bangladesh.


Human Rights Council Elections 2019

HRCIn October 2019, in New York, the UN General Assembly will elect 14 new members of the 47-member State Human Rights Council.

Two of the rotating 14 seats are currently open to countries from Latin America and the Caribbean regional group.

Until last week, only Venezuela and Brazil were standing as candidates for these two seats – which meant that both were guaranteed election to membership.

This all changed at the beginning of October, when Costa Rica announced that it was throwing its hat into the ring. It is standing explicitly as an alternative to Venezuela, whom it has deemed unsuitable to be a Human Rights Council member because of its grave human rights violations. Now, with three candidates standing for two seats, the election is suddenly much more meaningful.

At the last Session, the High Commissioner delivered a report on Venezuela which stated that over the last decade, in particular since 2016, Venezuela’s government has implemented a strategy “aimed at neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the Government.” The High Commissioner found that a series of laws, policies and practices have constrained civic and democratic space, allowing patterns of violation. The Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela to continue to monitor and report on these serious human rights violations. Many organisations believe that with its current record, Venezuela should not even stand for election, much less be voted in.

As a current member of the Council up for re-election, Brazil has supported resolutions tackling human rights crises around the world. But since the beginning of the new administration it has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment in human rights protections, anti-minorities policies and attacks against Human Rights Council mechanisms. Its influence in the region and beyond, Brazilian and regional and international organisations believe that it could pose a significant threat to multilateralism.

There have been substantial civil society efforts from within both Brazil and Venezuela to advocate against their respective election to the Council. CIVICUS has members in both countries. Following the lead from our members on the ground, we believe that neither Brazil nor Venezuela should be elected to a seat on the UN’s main human rights body. CIVICUS recommends that states do not cast a ballot in favour of either country in a symbolic gesture to reject both candidates.

There have always been repressive governments on the HRC – China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, are among the Council’s current members – and this upcoming three-way fight can almost be seen as a microcosm of this wider dynamic.

The Human Rights Council is the main intergovernmental body within the UN responsible for addressing human rights violations. As such, we believe that its members have a responsibility to uphold universal human rights and multilateralism. CIVICUS will continue to advocate for that states with poor human rights records, or states which undermine the aims and commitments of the Human Rights Council, should not be elected to its membership, and we call on UN member states to refuse to cast their ballots for those who fall short. This may only be a symbolic gesture, but it is an important one: for the Human Rights Council to adequately protect human rights around the world, it needs to demand more of its membership.

In the meantime, we welcome Costa Rica’s courage and commitment in standing for membership, and we look forward to working with the delegation in Geneva in our shared vision for universal human rights.

The other States up for election are:

African Group: Benin, Libya, Mauritania and Sudan (with four seats available)

Asia-Pacific Group: Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Marshall Islands and Republic of Korea (competing for four seats)

Eastern European Group: Armenia, Republic of Moldova and Poland (competing for two seats)

Western European and Others Group: Germany and the Netherlands (with two seats available).

For more information on the human rights records of these states, see ISHR’s ‘scorecards' for each State standing for election to the UN Human Rights Council.


Enabling Members to Truly Drive the CIVICUS Alliance

By Belen Giaquinta and Merle Rutz

As a World Alliance, CIVICUS holds, in its essence and identity, the principles of “people power” and democratic values. There would be no CIVICUS without its members and partners – their presence, needs, voices and collective action. CIVICUS also thrives to live this principle within its Secretariat – by fully engaging staff members in co-defining and designing strategic decisions and actions that relate directly to their missions. But how do we increasingly strengthen CIVICUS’ different constituents’ leadership?


More just resourcing, more inclusive workplaces!

Secretary General’s Update (July 2019)

July has been an incredibly exciting month and I’m excited to share key headlines from our work in this period!

Progressing our efforts on civil society resourcing reforms

Since the start of this year, we have had the privilege to hear from activists, organisers, young leaders and progressive funders from around the world on the resourcing challenges faced by civil society – and to understand how bold ideas and creative solutions can help address these barriers. A remarkably resourceful report summarising these insights is now available online. Aptly titled ‘Shifting Power to Grassroots Movements’, this practical guide on how grassroots groups and activists based in the global south can mobilise support to overcome civic space challenges and achieve positive change is an important step forward in the reforms we need to enable greater civil society resourcing. Your ideas on how we can activate the alternatives proposed in this report are eagerly awaited!

Launching a new, interactive platform on Diversity & Inclusion

In an equally exciting move, our newest networking initiative - The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) - was launched on 10 July. The group is a safe space for members to support each other to improve organisational structures and processes for diversity and inclusion and has already connected over 600 thought leaders and change makers in its first few weeks! If you haven’t already, do join the conversation and help us advance the transformative outcomes that DIGNA wants to achieve, which includes ensuring a sustained discourse on diversity in civil society organisations, enabling the exchange of tools and resources to increase workplace inclusion and creating a dynamic channel for the learning and collaboration that can help us all achieve high standards of diversity and inclusion in our organisations.

Working with CIVICUS members to improve our response to civic space restrictions

We had at least four important opportunities to engage CIVICUS members in analysing and proposing improved approaches to how we analyse and respond to the threats faced by civil society. In Mexico, we joined members of the VUKA! coalition to co-design methodologies to counteract the demonization of civic space, civil society and human rights defenders. The interaction resulted in a campaign design that we are committed to implement alongside our allies.

In Nairobi, members and friends of CIVICUS came together to discuss how anti-rights groups are organising and being supported, what tactics they use to attack human rights and how civil society can respond to this growing threat. Participants in the dialogue attested to the real challenges they face from hard line groups closely linked to state structures and politicians. The dialogue underscored that while human rights have always been contested, what is new is that extremist and ultra-conservative groups are now working with and being sheltered by the state. Vulnerable and excluded groups, it was observed, are on the frontline of violence. They are attacked first and most frequently, and often as a prelude to attacks on civil society as a whole. 

Over 20 research partners of the CIVICUS Monitor met in Accra to review progress and propose how we further improve and enhance this work. The CIVICUS Monitor is a cutting edge research tool that allows access to live updates from civil society around the world, track threats to civil society and learn about the ways in which our right to participate is being realised or challenged. Each of these organisations plays a vital role in keeping information on this platform up-to-date, accurate and grounded in local realities.

We also worked with partners to make UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 4 countries – Armenia, Kenya, Kuwait and Laos - in advance of the 35th UPR session. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We also provided an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

Amplifying local struggles at the UN High Level Political Forum

Our activities at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) this year provided an important opportunity to amplify the work of grassroots activists including Yineth Balanta, the Afro-Colombian environmental defender from Colombia who highlighted the dangers faced her community at two of our events; Corlett Letlojane from HURISA who spoke at South Africa’s Voluntary National Review and highlighted issues related to violence against women and other rights concerns; and 16-year old climate activist, Jerome Foster.

We also joined of the civil society delegation that met with the UN Secretary General António Guterres to present the ‘Belgrade Call to Action’, developed at the International Civil Society Week earlier this year. The delegation drew attention to the urgent need to address civic space challenges as part of effort to achieve the 2030 Agenda. More broadly, statistics from the CIVICUS Monitor drew attention to the status of civic space in the 47 countries participating in the HLPF through a statement urging stronger linkages between human rights and the sustainable development agenda.

Opportunities to act with CIVICUS:

  • We are proud to announce the launch of our Spanish twitter channel, which is one of several steps we are taking to respond to the increasing demand for multi-lingual channels and capabilities across the Alliance! Connect with us on @CIVICUSespanol.
  • The review report of the International Civil Society week (ICSW) is now available in three languages - English, Spanish and French, with acknowledgements due to the ICSW-2019 event partners and supporters whose collective efforts made the ‘Power of Togetherness’ possible in Belgrade earlier this year. We want to hear your reactions to the conclusions and recommendations laid out in the report, which will help us shape our strategy for the next iteration of ICSW!
  • We are mid-way through our Strategic Plan period (2017-22) and will be coordinating a review process across the second half of the year! The mid-term review will serve the important purpose of reviewing how we have progressed so far and providing recommendations on the implementation of the final 2 years of our Strategic Plan. Do look out for opportunities to engage, the first being the Annual Constituency Survey which we will be initiated in August!

Please continue to share your feedback and inspirations. We look forward to hearing from you!

In solidarity,

Lysa John

Twitter: @lysajohn


State supported anti-rights groups gaining ground

By Andrew Firmin & Sylvia Mbataru

Human rights have always been contested, and groups that attack human rights are nothing new. But what is new is that extremist and ultra-conservative groups are now working with and being sheltered by the state.

This was one of the key points raised during a dialogue with Kenyan civil society held in Nairobi in July 2019. The backdrop to the dialogue was CIVICUS’ current research on the impacts of anti-rights groups on civil society, to be published in November 2019. Our research aims to understand how anti-rights groups are organising and being supported, what tactics they use to attack human rights and how civil society can respond to this growing threat.

Nairobi dialogues attest to hardline groups linked to state structures

Participants in the Nairobi dialogue attested to the real challenges they face from hardline groups closely linked to state structures and politicians. They identified that in some cases, state agents are clearly working through proxy organisations to attack rights, and powerful political leaders are mobilising criminal gangs. Rather than uphold rights, the police are frequently on the side of these criminal gangs. Corrupt business interests are also attacking communities and activists who demand rights and environmental protection. Anti-rights groups are taking succour from political leaders who promote hatred and exclusion. In Kenya, participants noted that dominant political elites clearly have a campaign of publicly vilifying civil society, and this encourages others to attack.

Some state structures are even accused of having made it easier for anti-rights groups to operate, while simultaneously making it harder for legitimate groups that stand for human rights to do so. The government’s failure to implement the enabling provisions of the 2013 Public Benefits Organisation Act, despite repeated civil society advocacy, as well as bureaucratic restrictions in registration of civil society groups that represent vulnerable groups, remain a crucial area of concern and indicate the generally shabby treatment of civil society by those who hold political power.

Vulnerable and excluded groups, it was observed, are on the frontline of violence. They are attacked first and most frequently, and often as a prelude to attacks on civil society as a whole. Proxy groups often attack LGBTQI rights. Meanwhile, appeals to tradition and culture, defined narrowly and exclusively rather than broadly and inclusively, are used as a pretext for the repression of women and girls.

High-profile bloggers and journalists justify attacks on rights

Participants also pointed to a worrying trend where some high-profile bloggers and journalists are using the platform offered by their status to justify attacks on rights, sending a reminder of how the freedom of expression, a key right for us all, can be contested and abused in the service of hate. So much online space, which once offered such promise, has been captured to propagate messages that divide and polarise. At the same time, journalistic voices that stand for human rights are being silenced and stifled because of state capture.

The story is, however, also one of civil society response, to defend those under attack, make a case with the public as to why rights matter and work to hold those liable for abuses to account. As civil society, participants also asked themselves what they could be doing better.

Need to change the way we connect with concerns

Perhaps our old models, of how we organise ourselves and are resourced, need to change, and as part of this, we need to rethink how best international civil society can support and enable local civil society response. We need to learn from the mobilising power and energy of people’s protests – seen most recently in Hong Kong – and understand how to spark and sustain that energy. Because the messages of anti-rights groups find resonance with many people, we need to change the way we connect with, listen to and understand concerns at the community level. And we need to put aside our differences to offer a collective response.

CIVICUS members are holding dialogues and contributing to this research in a range of other ways. If you’d like to make your voice heard in our research, please contact .


CIVICUS en RightsCon2019!

Por Marianna Belalba Barreto y Belén Giaquinta

RightsCon TunisiaTodxs aquellos interesados en la interfaz entre derechos humanos y la tecnología sabrán que el mes pasado se celebró RightsCon 2019 en Túnez. Por primera vez la conferencia que reúne una mezcla extraordinaria de más de 3000 activistas, personas defensoras de derechos humanos, organizaciones de sociedad civil, sector privado (incluyendo compañías como Google y Facebook), donantes, emprendimientos sociales, expertxs en tecnología y humanistas, tuvo lugar en el Medio Oriente.

La celebración de una conferencia sobre derechos humanos de esta magnitud en un país parte del Oriente Medio y África del Norte es bastante significativo, ya que de acuerdo al CIVICUS Monitor,el espacio cívico se halla gravemente restringido en la región.

Este año CIVICUS participó activamente en varias de las 450 sesiones organizadas durante los 3 días de conferencia, y tanto el equipo del CIVICUS Monitor como la iniciativa Resilient Roots estuvieron presentes. Quieren saber cuales son nuestras reflexiones?

Por un lado, el CIVICUS Monitor participó en una sesión en alianza con RNW Media y activistas de Burundi, República Democrática del Congo y Libia. El objetivo fue intercambiar testimonios y experiencias de jóvenes activistas provenientes de países donde el ejercicio de las libertades fundamentales de asociación, protesta y expresión se encuentran seriamente restringidas. Con miras a promover y construir nuevas narrativas y espacios alternativos de activismo en contexto restringidos y sumamente polarizados, la sesión incluyó una breve descripción del espacio cívico a nivel global, seguido por testimonios y estrategias por parte de los y las activistas de los países mencionados.

En tiempos donde el activismo y el ejercicio de los derechos humanos se encuentra sumamente restringido en la mayoría de los países del mundo, según data reciente del CIVICUS Monitor, hace falta resaltar la resistencia y persistencia de activistas para ejercer estas libertades fundamentales, quienes a pesar del contexto hostil, de manera creativa buscan espacios alternativos para continuar su labor.

Resilient Roots, por el otro, organizó un taller interactivo sobre cómo crear lazos más fuertes con los grupos y personas para/con las que las organizaciones trabajan, a través de la rendición de cuentas. Uno de los (muy) pocos talleres en todo el programa, la sesión incluyó un breve mapeo de los grupos meta (stakeholders), seguido de una lluvia de ideas sobre cómo mecanismos de rendición de cuentas pueden ayudar a fortalecer estos lazos y generar más confianza en las OSC. También discutimos cómo una mejor rendición de cuentas contribuye al bienestar organizacional en un contexto donde las OSC están operando en entornos cada vez más hostiles.

La sesión formó parte del #Wellness track, o la rama de eventos centrados en el bienestar, tanto individual como organizacional, y la resiliencia del tercer sector. Incluso dentro de nuestra rama temática, quedó claro que Resilient Roots (y nuestro enfoque) realiza contribuciones importantes y muy necesarias al debate que existe en nuestro sector sobre la #RendiciónDeCuentas y la #Resiliencia.

A diferencia de aquellas sesiones enfocadas en la rendición de cuentas social (o de los gobiernos) o sobre la necesidad de tener una mejor rendición de cuentas en el sector privado - especialmente en relación al uso (o abuso?) de datos personales - Resilient Roots resaltó la importancia de la autocrítica para la auto práctica. Es decir, como los mecanismos internos de rendición de cuentas de las OCS también tienen que mejorar si queremos construir la legitimidad de nuestro sector, principalmente hacia las personas y grupos que se ven más afectadxs por nuestro trabajo (lo que se conoce como primary constituent accountability (PCA) por sus siglas en inglés).

Similarmente con la resiliencia, donde la mayoría de las sesiones capitalizaron en la resiliencia financiera de las OCS o la resiliencia (salud) individual del personal, faltó argumentar a favor de la resiliencia como práctica estratégica y organizacional para hacer frente a las amenazas de espacio cívico.

Principalmente, RightsCon nos sirvió para recordarnos, una vez más, de la importancia de seguir adaptando nuestra narrativa y ampliando nuestros diccionarios. Si nuestros objetivos incluyen crear espacios alternativos para el ejercicio de nuestras libertades fundamentales, entonces los lentes que usamos para entender los retos que hoy enfrenta la sociedad civil deben, y como resultado las estrategias que ideamos deben ser igual de flexibles.


Lack of funding slowing down young African changemakers

This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

YALFNever before have there been so many young people in the world, reports the United Nations. There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24 on our planet, who are increasingly taking action to drive change, development and innovation for themselves and their communities. They are also loudly expressing their discontent with Governments, corporations and other power holders who have failed to effectively address many of their needs and challenges. But while they are many and daring, young people still lack the resources, recognition and spaces to reach their full potential as agents of change.


The CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion journey

Spanish | French

Diversity and Inclusion has become a hot topic within civil society in recent years which has prompted the sector to take a step back and evaluate its own programmes and operations. CIVICUS has also had many moments of reflection over the past year in particular in order to increase its principles on diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the actions of the secretariat and to best serve its wide and diverse membership.

At the Global Learning Exchange the participants brainstormed and created the following working definitions of diversity and inclusion:

Diversity is a free and safe space in which complex perspectives, differences and intersectionality are celebrated as strengths and opportunities for innovation, acceptance and collaboration. Trust is a key concept, between and within diverse communities and groups.

Inclusion is the action point of diversity, a dynamic and continuous process that works on multiple political, economic and social levels, and leaves no one behind. It works to build meaningful connections between groups, and sometimes unlikely allies, toward a positive outcome for disenfranchised populations. Tokenism and quotas vs meaningful inclusion as a complex system (there is no ‘one size fits all’) was emphasized

CIVICUS members from across the globe convened on the 16 December 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay at the Global Learning Exhange to i) discuss what diversity & inclusion means within the civil society sector, ii) identify obstacles that organisations and individual activists face, and iii) share best practices and tips. The exchange drew perspectives from a wide breadth of civil society geographically and thematically, with representation from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Ireland, Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa and Zambia.

The exchange led to positive learning opportunities as each participant had unique perspectives and had tested different approaches to diversity and inclusion. This led to a discussion on the need to continuing this conversation with broader civil society to continue the positive learning exchange. This group continued to keep in touch after the exchange to begin identifying the needs of a safe space to discuss diverse and inclusive principles within civil society.

The conversation continued into International Civil Society Week (ICSW) that took place in Belgrade, Serbia on the week of the 8 – 12 April 2019. CIVICUS members held a session on the practicalities of D&I within different spheres. These discussions focused on the workplace, education systems, intergenerational collaboration and access to justice. The discussions in Serbia reinforced the need for deep dive dialogues as many excluded groups felt that civil society is still only practicing D&I on the surface level rather than pursuing meaningful culture shifts.

CIVICUS members from the Global Learning Exchange as well as interested members from ICSW and the Youth Assembly then took these conversations online and contributed to a brainstorm document. Using an online google document, questions were posed on what kind of space was needed, what was the purpose, what were the long term objectives, what is the best way to run, is a structure necessary etc. Members then had the opportunity to enter their input and interact with each other’s input to add on and track the progression of the conversation. This method was a great way to capture everyone’s input without a note-taker’s implicit bias, and was also easy to find the points of intersection amongst everyone’s perspectives.

Using the brainstorm document we pulled out the most agreed upon steps forward and circulated an informal concept note proposing the concrete steps forward. The agreed upon steps were as follows:

  • The group will use Facebook as its initial base as many people already use this platform and it will be easy to access the group. Once the group grows we will consider moving some conversations to more secure platforms like slack
  • The name of this group will be The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA). In Spanish DIGNA means worthy, dignified or deserving, which we think is very fitting for this group.
  • We will have a rotating advisory group (8-10 people) to help moderate this space. We will begin with an incubation advisory group that represents each region and after 6 months we will rotate half of the group out and have an open call for new members. Each 6 months half of the group will step out to ensure continuity but also fresh perspectives.
  • We will help collect the resources shared on the platform and post them on CIVICUS’ toolkit page under Diversity and Inclusion so that everything is in one place
  • The purpose of this group is:
    • The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) brings together change-makers and thought leaders passionate about strengthening an inclusive and diverse civil society – including CIVICUS members, civil society organisations, groups, and activists, and their allies. This working group seeks to understand, conceptualise and identify innovative practices on what diversity and inclusion (D&I) can look like within different thematic areas and operating models.  
    • The group is a safe space where members can support each other to improve organisational structure and processes, ways of working and impact with a focus on D&I. Regardless of our fight against all the backlash and consequences of inequality and segregation, we will shine a spotlight and learn from positive examples and benchmarks from around the globe. This group encourages discussion and debate on D&I issues, is a space for sharing positive experiences and practices, resources and tools, and lessons learned, and offers a channel to request for help, support and collaboration, and post potential opportunities.

It is really important that the DIGNA remains a safe space for all to engage within, so before joining the group everyone must read and accept the community guidelines. We hope you join us on this journey and check out the platform!

The diversity and inclusion journey is one that civil society must embark on as a collective. Organizations may be at different stages of this fluid journey but we must encourage each other to push forward and engage in dynamic accountability. This area of focus is forever expanding so there is no end point that we are striving for, but instead we must ensure that we go beyond surface level commitments to tackle institutional structures from all perspectives.

Let’s push forward together!


AGNA: Sharing Lessons Globally to Scale up Domestic Impact

By Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Head, Knowledge Management Unit, WACSI

IMG 9913Civil society organisations (CSOs) across the globe thrive on the implementation of best practices. Some of these are found within organisations (intrinsic), learned from other organisations (extrinsic), learned in the course of implementing projects (operational) or learned as a result of obligatory requirements organisations must fulfil in contractual agreements with their partners (contractual).

Many CSOs learn sector-based best practices from others. This is often achieved through their membership in networks. Networks comprise of a group of CSOs and or individuals who work together to achieve a common goal. There is often an underlying motive or need to be addressed that binds members of the network together. They usually commit effort and resources to achieve their common goal and influence social change.

As Keller Easterling puts it;

“A network allows a broad range of people and organisations to identify their shared interests, to deepen their understanding of the systems they are seeking to change, and to find a shared framework from which to act. Members of a network are unlikely to agree on each and every philosophical point, but they can use their relationships and sense of shared purpose to coordinate actions capable of producing social change.”

Networks could be at a community level, a regional level within a country, a national level, a regional level either across a geo-political subset of a continent, or at a continental level or at the global level. They could also focus on specific thematic areas within different areas of the development spectrum. Often, CSOs are keen to be members of networks to leverage on the rich expertise, opportunities and the value addition networks give to its members.

One such network, at a global level, is the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA). Created in 2004 and championed by CIVICUS, AGNA comprises of national networks of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that seek to strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world. This is to ensure that there is a worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity.

Between 12 – 13 June 2019, over forty of AGNA’s eighty-seven members convened in Amman, Jordan for its 2019 annual general meeting. This was a space for reflections on AGNA’s operations and governance in the past year. It was also a space for reflection as a network, sharing of members’ experiences with a focus on initiatives driven by or in collaboration with AGNA. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for members to assess the governance of the network to consolidate its strengths and highlight areas for improvement where necessary.

As a member of AGNA since 2012, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) gained several lessons from the rich and expanding work of AGNA. The learning, transparency and accountability dimension of AGNA’s work was enriching for the Head of WACSI’s Knowledge Management Unit, Jimm Fomunjong who represented WACSI at this year’s AGM. It was enriching because it marries well with WACSI’s ongoing efforts to equip CSOs in West Africa to promote social accountability in the region. Although WACSI focuses on social accountability (holding duty bearers to account) and AGNA focuses on CSO accountability (ensuring that CSOs are accountable to all their stakeholders equally), Fomunjong admits that there is a strong nexus between CSOs’ accountability and social accountability because; “CSOs need to be veritably accountable to be able to demand accountability from duty bearers (social accountability)”.

“At a time when civil society regulation is a topical issue for governments and CSOs in some West African countries, notably Nigeria and Ghana, CSOs need to put in place practical, feasible and results-oriented measures to demonstrate their legitimacy, prove that they are transparent and showcase an unbiased accountability as a means of paving way for the highly demanded civil society self-regulation by us (CSOs),” he said.

At the AGM, Fomunjong shared WACSI’s experience in holding three successive national convenings that brought together CSOs, representatives from state institutions, national and international donor organisations and corporate institutions to reflect on feasible ways of facilitating CSOs’ capitalisation of domestic resource mobilisation opportunities in the country.

Timo Lappalainen, Director of the Finnish Development NGO (FINGO) in Finland considered WACSI’s experience of bringing together diverse multi-stakeholders around the same table to reflect on a common issue to be outstanding. He committed to apply this practice in Finland and make sure that FINGO convenes diverse stakeholders to reflect on feasible ways of mobilising resources to support the work of CSOs in the global south.



Why we need more women leaders in civil society worldwide

By Helene Wolf, Chair, FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders

Half of the delegates at CIVICUS’ International Civil Society Week (April, Belgrade) were women. This is a great achievement and shows the major role women play in civil society as activists, staff members and changemakers. At a time when we are witnessing a backlash against women’s rights and women are disproportionately more affected by climate change, inequality, violent conflict and poverty, civil society at large stands in solidarity with women around the world.

Yet, the majority of civil society organisations (CSOs) are led by men. Based on the first FAIR SHARE Monitor we researched and published this year, we now know that most international CSOs have a significant gap of women leaders in comparison to the number of women on their staff.

Most CSOs include gender issues in their programming and advocacy but a talented woman working in a CSO is less likely to take on a leadership position than a man. We advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where gender equality is featured prominently (SDG 5) but do not address our internal barriers for women to fulfil their leadership potential. Altogether, it means that many CSOs do not yet live up to the demands and standards we expect from governments and companies within our own organisations. This puts our credibility and ultimately our impact on women’s and girls’ rights at risk.

That is why we did not only collect the data on women leadership but also asked CSOs to sign a commitment to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women leaders within their organisations by 2030 at the latest. CIVICUS has been one of the first signatories. We are now calling on all CSOs, small and large, from the Global South and North, whether they explicitly work on gender issues or not, to join the pledge to achieve a FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders by 2030. 

Watch Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International, speak about why he committed to a FAIR SHARE.

We know this is a big task and that CSOs work in very different contexts that may support or block women from taking on leadership positions. We know that different organisational set-ups and working environments call for different measures to increase internal gender equality. We also know that we need to increase the number of women, cisgender, transgender, intergender people from all ages, nationalities as well as social and economic backgrounds. That is why we want to create a global movement around the objective of FAIR SHARE that learns and works together to take on this large challenge.

We will not only monitor progress but want to develop a community together with the committed organisations that designs and drives the necessary changes together. This community has to be based on the principles of inclusivity, intersectionality and solidarity. As a newly founded organisation, we aim to put the principles and values of feminist leadership into action because we believe in the power of cooperation, dialogue and transformative change. To achieve this, we need as many different voices, experiences and perspectives in the room as possible and we invite all CIVICUS members to become part of this conversation.

To join FAIR SHARE, all CSOs are invited to sign our letter of commitment and submit their data on women leadership. As our community grows, we want to develop national FAIR SHARE Monitors and are looking for partners to develop the appropriate concepts and implementation. Please contact us at with any questions, ideas or to become part of the FAIR SHARE movement.

Helene Wolf is the Chair and Co-Founder of FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders e.V. Before starting FAIR SHARE she served as Deputy Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre for eight years. She has two sons and lives in Berlin, Germany.


SG Update: For May-June 2019

Dear members & friends of CIVICUS,

The past weeks have been a busy but exciting time for a number of our networks and initiatives! We were proud to have hosted over 80 activists representing work on civic freedoms from across the world in Johannesburg in May for a dialogue with Clement Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association (FoAA). The discussion focused on understanding the impact of civic space restrictions on sustainable development, and made it evident that for the Agenda 2030 to be fully realised, governments must collaborate with civil society and communities at all levels during the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in monitoring their impact. Our take on the rich inspirations gained from this discussion – including mechanisms for civil society organisations to engage more actively with national SDG mechanisms - is available here.

In another exciting development, AGNA and CIVICUS Youth announced the launch of a Youth Engagement Platform in May. The platform serves as a peer-learning site on strategies to break down barriers to youth participation and strengthen relationships between young activists and experienced organisations. It also showcases innovative ways in which member organisations have addressed the unique challenges they face in engaging youth. In this period, we also joined our peers within the Fair Share for Women Leaders initiative to explore how we progress efforts to create equitable opportunities for women to take on leadership roles. In addition to publishing an annual Women’s Leadership Monitor, the initiative aims to bring together a community of gender specialists and feminist leaders in civil society. More information on how to engage is available here.

CIVICUS joined a number of other organisations to convey our deep concern regarding the impact of the failure of UN member states to pay their assessed contributions on the operation of its human rights mechanisms. We also joined the world in expressing our outrage against the brutal clamp-down on citizen protesters in Sudan and continuing attacks on activists in the Philippines. And yet despite these concerns, we had occasion to celebrate new breakthroughs that civil society (and CIVICUS members) have directly contributed to, including the landmark judgement by the Gaborone High Court decriminalising same sex sexual relations in Botswana. A policy brief calling on the government of Equatorial Guinea and the African Union to take the urgent steps needed to ensure an enabling environment for civil society in the country was also published in collaboration with EG Justice in this period.

In the lead up to the G20 Summit, held across 28-29 June, we contributed to the development of the C20 Policy Pack which made recommendations to G20 countries to support freedom of action for civil society; policies to facilitate legal creation and operation of CSOs and to enable mechanisms to create sustainable partnerships for development. We also used the opportunity of the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, held in Thailand across 22-23 June, to highlight Monitor ratings for the 10 ASEAN countries, namely Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines. Findings from our civic space research were also presented at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit 2019 held in Ottawa, Canada across 29-31 May.

Opportunities to act with CIVICUS:

  • We received a remarkable number of responses to our call for support to organise local dialogues around the State of Civil Society 2019 report and shape the next iteration of SPEAK! actions by signing up to be regional champions. Thank you for your enthusiasm! We are keen to find more ways to ensure our global reports and tools are enriching civil society efforts and outcomes locally – please continue to reach us with your suggestions in this regard.
  • Did you know that most youth-led groups and movements operate with an annual budget of less than 10,000 USD? Learn about how youth-led movements can be resourced in the 21st century through this read out from a webinar on the subject organised by CIVICUS Youth and RECREAR. Further perspective on how donors and youth movements can improve their relationship is available through this blog by CIVICUS member, Gioel Gioacchino.
  • We will be active at the UN Human Rights Council which will be in session from 24 June to 12 July. In addition to tracking a number of key issues, we will be sharing preliminary findings from research undertaken with Solidarity Center and other partners on the civic space challenges of migrants and refugees in 5 countries, namely Mexico, Kenya, Jordan, Germany and Malaysia. Watch this and other events we are co-hosting at the UNHRC online through our Facebook page.
  • The High Level Political Forum will be held in at the United Nations, New York from 9-18 July. Join us at the events that we are co-organising this year! More information here.
  • Learn more about the ‘Affinity Group of National Associations’ (AGNA), which reflected on its progress and set goals for the coming year at its Annual General Meeting, held in Amman, Jordan across 12-13 June.

In solidarity,

Lysa John



Key Lessons from Testing Non-Traditional Development Approaches in Malawi

By Dinah Sandoval & Alexis Banks, Root Change

This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

Real change happens when local communities are in the lead—leveraging their assets, ideas, and expertise to implement solutions to their own problems. Unfortunately, too often, development initiatives bypass local communities and local resources in designing and carrying out programmes. At Root Change, we aim to break this pattern within the development sector. Our recent work with the USAID-funded Local Works programme has given us the opportunity to test alternative approaches to the traditional development model.

Over the course of two years, we teamed up with the innovative thinkers at Keystone Accountability and the leading Malawian civil society organisation Youth and Society (YAS) to convene two social labs in Malawi. The labs brought together diverse local stakeholders to create, test, and reflect on short-term experiments to address local challenges, while improving trust, voice, and accountability at a local level.

This work surfaced critical insights about the importance of listening to communities before engaging, developing partnerships based on trust and mutual accountability, and creating an environment for communities to recognise and leverage local resources. Below, we share the key lessons that we learned from each approach.

Listening Tour

Group 3 meeting Malawi

To gain an understanding of the climate around foreign assistance and development in Malawi, our work began with a listening tour with 120 diverse stakeholders throughout the country. We asked the simple question: "What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of aid?"

Participants voiced frustration with the “extractive” nature of endless surveys, needs assessments, and field visits. Most could not recall a time when results were shared and explored through dialogue and reflection and some believe that these learning and evaluative exercises are simply ways to validate the power holder’s pre-existing agendas.

From the listening tour, we identified four recurring development “traps”:

  1. restrictive financing that has created dependence;
  2. lack of established channels for constituent engagement and feedback;
  3. capacity development efforts that ignore complexity; and
  4. extractive measurement practices that prevent communities from benefiting from data they produce.

A Local Partnership Based on Mutual Accountability

The idea to convene the social labs was born out of the listening tour. However, the feedback we had received made it clear that we needed to radically rethink the way we, as international NGOs, engaged with local actors. We needed a trusted local partner and an alternative partnership model.

YAS was nominated by many during the listening tour as a dynamic local change maker with a deep and trusted social network in Malawi. Unlike traditional, highly directive funding relationships, Root Change and Keystone Accountability sought to establish a partnership with YAS built on respect, mutual accountability, collaborative decision making, financial transparency, and dignity. YAS was involved throughout the entire decision-making process: facilitating programme activities, creating tools and engaging as an equal partner in budget and project planning discussions. The "value of radical equality was present in our partnership and in the social lab," confirmed YAS founder, Charles Kajoloweka.

In order to create a partnership based on mutual accountability, we needed to develop a new set of skills. The teams at Root Change and Keystone Accountability had to develop a comfort with letting go of control, engaging authentically, genuinely believing in the capacity of the local partner, and accepting that there are many ways to achieve our shared goals.

Social Labs & Micro-Action Grants

Two social labs were launched – one in Rumphi in the North and another in Mulanje in the South – through a 5-day design workshop that convened representatives from civil society, district governments, community leaders, and citizens. Over 60 people participated in each lab to identify local problems, design, and test solutions through two-month experiments called micro-actions. They formed 11 teams to lead micro-actions ranging from incorporating citizen feedback into local government decision making, to drafting a citizen charter to hold local NGOs accountable for the projects they implement. Every two months, teams came back together to reflect on the results of their micro-actions and learning, and iterate on their designs.

Each team received US $500 micro-grants to facilitate transportation and meetings to carry out their micro-actions. We did not require teams to submit traditional grant reports, rather short feedback surveys were used to enable discussions among lab participants about the use of funds by the entire social lab. Through these discussions, the lab itself surfaced and resolved issues of misuse and distrust related to the grant, building internal accountability.

The Changemaker Innovation Challenge

Citizen voice group

Throughout the experimentation process, the social labs’ teams encountered a systemic and cultural challenge created by the foreign aid system: demand for allowances (or monetary compensation). In the beginning, teams struggled to engage community members in their micro-action activities because community members requested allowances to participate.

To tackle this problem, the teams decided to crowd-source a solution: they published a solicitation in the national newspaper to identify innovative ideas to increase participation without allowances, and called it the Changemakers Innovation Challenge. Of the many submissions from throughout the country, three winners were selected to join the lab and test out their recommendations. All three proposed to engage community members in the entire lifecycle of the micro-action experiments, from project identification to implementation. They argued that involvement was critical to fostering transparency, accountability, and ownership of the experiments, which they anticipated would drive greater participation. Their approaches are being tested and the initial feedback indicates that the demand for allowances is no longer a substantial obstacle. “That tells you that we have solutions locally,” said Kajoloweka.

Through Local Works, we have had the opportunity to explore alternative models of development that surface and leverage local resources. While reflecting on the social labs' sustainability and its participants, Kajoloweka said “today they are no longer ‘participants’, today they are active players, they are the owners of the social lab. They have even opened their own bank account and started putting together their own resources into this initiative."

Get in touch with Root Change through their website or follow @RootChange on Twitter


Webinar: “How to Resource Youth-Led Movements in the 21st Century”

Did you know that most youth-led groups and movements operate with an annual budget of less than 10,000 USD? It´s known that young people in the activism and development sector in the Global South face significant resourcing challenges: little capacity to attract funding and comply with donor requirements; ​restricted social, political and economic spaces to participate and grow; extensive gaps between the funds available to serve youth versus those managed directly by youth, and significant disparities between the resourcing opportunities that target young individual leaders within groups and movements rather than to the group itself, just to mention a few.

These and other challenges, as well as potential resourcing opportunities, best practices and innovative models that can help to overcome them were discussed during the webinarHow to Resource Youth-Led Movements in the 21st Century”. This event was organised by CIVICUS with representatives of the CIVICUS Youth network and RECREAR on June 26th, 2019. If you missed it, watch it on CIVICUS’ Youtube channel and share your thoughts in the comment box.

This webinar is part of CIVICUS’ efforts to help increase the resiliency of civil society in a context of systemic repressions and discriminations against it, and to promote changes in the behavior and culture of the funding community and the traditional civil society sector.

The 21st century has showed us new dynamics in how citizens claim their rights, which is more evident in the case of youth-led civil action. Both funders and civil society organisations are invited to be part of this change by re-thinking how to work with this generation of young change-makers, especially those in the Global South, working at the local level and organising in more innovative ways. Together, we must advocate and raise awareness on the need for wider support to leverage our common networks, knowledge and visibility within the funding community to push for more and better resourcing mechanisms for young activists.

The webinar’s panelists were Elisa Novoa, CIVICUS Youth Engagement Coordinator; Gioel Gioacchino, director of research at RECREAR; and Wilson Villones, researcher and a Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator advocate.

We invite you to watch the webinar session where the panelists shared:

  • The key findings from CIVICUS’ “Landscape and trends ​analysis on resourcing​ youth-led groups and movements” ​
  • Why youth-led movements and groups need differentiated resourcing practices and models
  • Personal experiences with program that is intentionally tailoring support and resources to young activists: Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator

The “Landscape and trends ​analysis on resourcing​ youth-led groups and movements” ​will be published as a toolkit and available to the public in September. Stay tuned!

If you have any questions about this webinar or the analysis, please contact  

Watch webinar:



UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Clément Voule meets with civil society to discuss threats to rights


More than 80 representatives of civil society organisations, community leaders and academics met in Johannesburg on 30-31 May and on 3 June with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clément Voule to discuss the impact of restrictions on freedom of assembly and association on sustainable development. Participants discussed the relationship between human rights and development and how governments perceived the two as separate from each other.  Participants were of the view that the targeting of civil society organisations using a range of restrictions slows down the attainment of development outcomes. That there are existing tensions around the rise of authoritarian models and development and that over the last decade countries like China and Rwanda have experienced some levels of economic growth despite the fact that they are under authoritarian leaders.  Other key insights from participants:


ICSW 2019, New Board, Opportunities: Updates from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG



For those of us who were in Belgrade a few weeks ago, it is hard to think of April as anything but the culmination of months of preparation towards the International Civil Society Week (ICSW). Themed around the ‘Power of Togetherness’, the ICSW brought together over 700 international delegates from 92 countries to engage with dialogues and actions organised by 42 event partners across 8-12 April. Events on the ground were accompanied a stream of media and online commentary aimed at profiling relevant issues beyond the event.


How ICSW empowered me to become a better activist

How ICSW empowered me to become a better activist

By Augustine Macarthy, Sierra Leone

AugustineLast month, I had the opportunity to attend International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW). It was a turning point for me, as my participation gave me the opportunity to share experiences and ideas with brilliant civil society representatives from every corner of the world. The event built my skills and gave me access to tools and resources that will effectively steer my future work.

Firstly, this year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness,” helped me better understand the relevance and impact of collaboration. Building alliances with other civil society actors, stakeholders and community members which will contribute towards a sustainable civil space and strengthen our interventions. Collaboration and co-creation are key in responding to some of the pressing challenges we face as activists.

ICSW 2019 also helped me realize the scope of the challenges facing civil society in an increasingly restrictive civic space. Activists have it harder than ever: according to the CIVICUS Monitor, nearly six in ten countries globally are severely impeding on people’s freedom to protest, engage in activism and defend human rights. In this context, collaboration is key. Working together will be essential in   ensuring respect to civic space. This event has inspired me to keep the momentum and continue promoting civic freedoms. Human rights are fundamental and universal, and defending them is crucial in order to  initiate changes and address social issues.

As per the sessions, one that turned out to be particularly useful for me was organized by Bridge47. Under the title “Global Citizenship Education: the Power of Sharing Power,” the event inspired me with new ideas and resources for collaboration. Moreover, this session introduced me to the concept of Global Citizenship Education, a transformative approach meant to develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed for a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world. Since I am involved in an education, peacebuilding and youth organization, becoming acquainted with this concept has been a crucial development, and I will definitely use the learnings from this session to improve our strategies.

One of the most inspirational stories I heard came from Dessy Aliandrina, Executive Director at Sociopreneur Indonesia. Dessy uses entrepreneurship and innovation to boost the creativity of the young generation in Indonesia. Through education and experimentation, her organization fosters an environment where future entrepreneurial leaders can thrive and create the jobs that are required to solve people’s problems. This is a fundamental undertaking: not only does Dessy help ensure the availability of crucial skills to tackle important challenges, but she also plays an important role in training Indonesian youth to boost their self-reliance and realize their potential.

Furthermore, my organization Movement towards Education and Youth Empowerment-Sierra Leone was one of the six partners that helped plan the Youth Assembly, which took place the weekend before ICSW in Novi Sad, Serbia. As a planning team member, I had the privilege of working for four months with a group of very bright youth leaders from across the world. We were tasked with designing a program that would strengthen young activists’ skills to become resilient against threats and more effective in responding to other challenges. This not only gave all of us the opportunity to share ideas ahead of the event, but it also enhanced my ability to take action, use my creativity, and improve my communication skills.

As a young changemaker, I will employ all this knowledge and skills and I will tap into the networks I contacted during the event. My community is experiencing pressing humanitarian crises, and the strategies we develop to respond to them will be largely informed by learnings from ICSW 2019.

If you would like to connect with Augustine, you can find him on Facebook.













Webinar: Youth for Diversity

On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), we will hosted a Youth for Diversity webinar under the theme "South-South experiences on the human rights of LGBTIQ+ youth."

The webinar brought together a panel of young activists from 4 regions in the Global South: Asia, Africa, Middle East and North Africa and the Pacific. Followingn this year's IDAHOBIT theme: Justice & Protection for All, the focus was to share insights into specific situations that young LGBTIQ+ communities experience, including the state of human rights and civil society engagement in their regions.

The webinar went hand in hand with the Youth for Diversity Statement presented at one of the plenaries at CIVICUS’ International Civil Society Week in April. If you have not read and signed the statement yet, you may do so here.

The panel explored how inclusion and diversity can ensure objectives are met or exceeded in civil society initiatives. Discussions were centered around the following questions:

- Programming, interventions and solutions; how do we ensure we leave no one behind?
- Practices and resourcing of inclusion and diversity.
- What can come of South-South exchange, learning and collaboration?
- The middle ground: how best do we move from passive ally-ship to meaningful partnership?

Watch the full webinar below.


Why don’t we get a say at the UN?

By Caroline Vernaillen, Democracy International

Capture decran 2019 05 21 a 12.05.45When it comes to global issues, citizens have to trust that their governments will do their bidding. But what if our governments, willingly or accidentally, overlook an issue that is important to us? As citizens, our options to take influence on the global stage are limited. Together with Democracy Without Borders, we at Democracy International are launching an initiative to help remedy that. We need a World Citizens’ Initiative, a tool that allows citizens to table something at the UN General Assembly if they can gather enough support. I had the honor of presenting our idea at the CIVICUS International Civil Society Week in Belgrade, Serbia.

In the past months, young people all over the world have been cutting school to protest against global warming. Week after week, they implore their political leaders take urgent action on climate change. But the overall political response has been indifference at best. In Belgium, the country I’m from, the Flemish Minister for Environment in an unheard-of outburst of vitriol, alleged that the protests were an “orchestrated conspiracy” against her. She has had to step back for proffering that lie, but what hasn’t been rectified is her insistence that Belgium is doing everything it can to prevent global warming. And this seems to be the fate of climate marches in many places: citizens are turning out in huge numbers to urge their governments to act, but governments insist they can’t do more.

The appropriate arena to deal with an issue of the magnitude of climate change would be the United Nations (UN). The institution was built to collectively deal with global issues and is the most important hub of international politics. But here’s the thing: at the UN we are represented by our governments.

Now, I may agree with 90% of what my government works towards at the UN, but if climate change happens to fall under the 10% where I feel that I’m not represented. Going on the growing crowds at demonstrations everywhere, I’m probably not the only one. The UN at least is aware of this issue and has made efforts to include civil society in some of its deliberations, but individual citizens remain markedly voiceless at the UN.

With a World Citizens’ Initiative, a tool that would allow individuals who’ve gathered enough support to table a proposal at the UN General Assembly, citizens would be allowed to complement member states’ proposals with issues that they feel are missing. This is not a radical idea – instruments like this exist in numerous countries and even in other trans-national institutions. Since the entry-into-force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2012, EU citizens have the possibility to propose legislation to the EU Commission through the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). If a group of citizens manages to gather one million signatures in at least seven EU member states, the Commission has to respond to their proposal. Now, the ECI is far from perfect: it’s not well-known, very few initiatives succeed and those that do often don’t see concrete follow-up. But it’s a start and it has proven to be a useful tool for civil society and citizens alike to put their issues on the EU’s agenda.

CIVICUS’ International Civil Society Week was the perfect place to pitch our idea for the first time and the response we received was incredibly encouraging. So many people came up to us to tell they liked the idea of a mechanism like this one, that it could be useful for their work. And this is exactly what we hope for: the introduction of a democratic tool that empowers citizens and civil society alike and includes them as important stakeholders in global decision-making.

So, we’re gearing up to launch a campaign for a UN World Citizens’ Initiative. We’ve asked two legal experts to look into the technicalities of the tool and we’ve started building a broad, global coalition of civil society organizations who support this idea. But, much like anything else in this world, we can’t do this alone, so if this sounds interesting to you, we need you: Go to our website, sign up for our updates, write us, join us!


25 years later, looking back at my CIVICUS journey


by Anabel Cruz, Board Chair 2016-2019

Anabel Cruz Action ShotIn early 1993, democracy was rather “young” in many parts of the world. Only less than four years had passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall; Apartheid had not yet been totally dismantled and the first elections in South Africa held with universal suffrage were to happen the year after, in 1994. At the same time, the early nineties saw several countries in Latin America taking their first steps towards elected democracies, after more than a decade of military dictatorships.

Internet did not exist yet, and global communications were something at least very new, slow and difficult. Only one year earlier, in 1992, a professor of sociology at the University of Aberdeen had described globalisation as the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole.

So, in that context, isn’t it really admirable that a group of individuals, from diverse regions and parts of the world, came together to found CIVICUS, as a global alliance of civil society organisations? Those visionaries defined the mission of the new Alliance as: “to strengthen citizen action and influence, based on the underlying principle that free and effective societies exist in direct proportion to their degree of citizen participation and influence." (CIVICUS Organising Committee, minutes Lisbon meeting January 1993).

Today, more than 25 years later, this mission is still valid and current, and it is also our permanent challenge. Freedom, participation and solidarity remain as one of our basic goals and fundamental values.

My 25-year journey with CIVICUS

As I reflect on my own journey with CIVICUS, a series of images come to my mind, and I relive my first contacts with CIVICUS like one of those high-speed movies. I learned of the new organisation in the first months of 1993: while helping to consolidate local democracy, civil society organisations in Latin America were seeking new international horizons and collaborations.

I never imagined that my visit to Independent Sector in Washington DC, at that moment hosting the recently founded Alliance, would result in such a long-lasting and enduring relationship. For the last 25 years, I have had the privilege of following and participating in CIVICUS history, its achievements, challenges, strategies and course corrections, from diverse positions: I have been a member, a partner, a Board member, the Chair of Board in two different opportunities.

One of CIVICUS first successful steps was probably its first international meeting. Soon after the organisation was founded, in 1995, the first CIVICUS World Assembly took place in Mexico City: 500 people from more than 50 different countries came together to learn about the new organisation and to have conversations on how to strengthen citizen action and cooperation opportunities. Since that moment, 16 global events have been organised in all parts of the world, global gatherings for civil society to connect, debate and create shared solutions, now known as International Civil Society Week (ICSW). The most recent one, in Belgrade, Serbia happened just last month, and was a vibrant gathering attended by over 700 delegates from 92 countries.

From the very beginning, CIVICUS prioritised activities such as networking, information-gathering and building the capacity of existing and new national and regional associations. Consistent with this, the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) was one of CIVICUS’ first, and still enduring, programmes, bringing together national associations and regional platforms from around the world for more than 20 years to foster greater cooperation across boundaries.

Building civil society knowledge in a changing world

From its inception in 1993, CIVICUS has sought to make a significant contribution to recording the rise of civil society around the world, and to building a knowledge base on civil society by civil society. A first World Report on Citizen Participation came out as early as 1995, intended to get a grasp on the state of civil society worldwide. Later in 1997 The New Civic Atlas was published, as a compilation of civil society profiles from 60 countries around the world. In order to provide consistency with regard to the issues covered and a more rigorous comparative framework and after a number of consultations, in 1999 CIVICUS was ready to launch a new idea, the Civil Society Index (CSI).

I remember so well the words of former CIVICUS Secretary General Kumi Naidoo, reporting years later that participants of the CSI consultations had described the project as “an exercise in madness,” especially due to the lack of data on civil society in most countries, and the contested definition of civil society that would not allow comparisons or global analysis. But CIVICUS challenged the paradigms once again and the so-called Diamond Tool was presented in the CIVICUS World Assembly in Manila, as the preliminary methodological design for the CSI project.

Subsequently, CIVICUS developed a fully-fledged project design and the CSI had its pilot phase from 2000 to 2002, with the CSI implemented in 13 countries. The evaluation of the pilot phase recommended modifications in the methodology and considered the Index project as “an innovative, contextually flexible, empowering and uniquely participatory tool for self-assessment by civil society stakeholders of the state of civil society in their countries” Two full phases followed, from 2003 to 2006, with the participation of 53 countries, and from 2008 to 2011, with the CSI implemented in 56 countries and also at regional level in six African countries.

The results of the decade of CSI implementation yielded an enormous contribution to the body of knowledge about civil society around the world. The world was changing very fast, new actors burst onto the scene: The Indignados Movement in Madrid, the student protests in Chile and in other countries, the Arab Spring, all these new started to rise in late 2010 with peaks during 2011 and 2012. The CSI findings were clear and very well oriented, pointing out a noticeable disconnect between established civil society organisations and the increasing number of citizens involved in both new and traditional forms of activism. It does not come as surprise that the final CSI report title was “Bridging the gaps: citizens, organisations and dissociations” (2011) and concluded that the CSI needed to evolve to encompass the changing landscape.

Conditions for civil society proved to be volatile and can change very rapidly, so information cannot be out of date. Indeed, more agile tools were needed, without compromising the rigor that characterized the CSI tool, in order to continue providing a leading barometer of that human impulse to freedom, justice and collective endeavour.

CIVICUS has listened and has tried to respond to the changing situations and the multiple demands. The State of Civil Society Report, published annually since 2013 and the CIVICUS Monitor launched in 2016, are part of that necessary evolution. The State of Civil Society Report has become CIVICUS' flagship annual publication, providing the key trends affecting civil society organisations (CSOs) and citizen movements. Furthermore, the CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool aimed to share reliable, up-to-date data on the state of civil society freedoms in all countries. Danny Sriskandarajah, our Secretary General from 2012 to 2018, defined the CIVICUS Monitor as “the first robust and comprehensive tool to track conditions for civil society around the world”.

The road ahead…

CIVICUS is indeed one of the few organisations whose main job is to protect and promote civil society writ large, all over the world. And in the years to come, no doubt that CIVICUS will continue listening to our members, partners, to our primary constituencies and will always be ready to innovate, will work hard to understand realities to defend civic and democratic freedoms, to strengthen the power of people, and to empower a more accountable and innovative civil society.

As we prepare to address new challenges, we are fortunate to find ourselves in a position of strength at CIVICUS: with a stable financial base, a committed and diverse board, a broad and growing membership and a talented secretariat team led by Lysa John, our inspiring new Secretary General. We have the best conditions to continuing strengthening citizen participation around the world.

As I step down from the Board soon, I can only say how privileged and grateful I feel. Thank you for the opportunity of having served for so many years, for all the learnings, for the love and friendship that I have received, for having met the most committed people to justice that can exist. CIVICUS is about shared values, solidarity and inclusion. I will always be a champion for those values. Thank you CIVICUS!

Anabel Cruz

Chair of the Board of CIVICUS 2016-2019


With mentoring and incentives, CSOs venture into raising key resources and support at home


By Yessenia Soto, Community Engagement Officer on Civil Society Resourcing, CIVICUS

The Change the Game Academy provides classroom training on local fundraising to CSOs.

It’s something that many in the development and civil society sector have been painfully aware of for several years now. But the reality is hitting home harder than ever.

Official Development Assistance (ODA) – government aid designed primarily to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries – is steadily decreasing. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently announced that ODA fell almost 3% from 2017, with even larger reductions for developing countries. As foreign aid has long been a significant source of funding for southern CSOs, this news reminds us that civil society can’t rely on it in the long term, so, those who haven’t started diversifying their resource base, should do it now.

“There will be an end to foreign funding, at least as we now know it,” said Robert Wiggers, manager of programs and policy development at the Dutch Wilde Ganzen Foundation (WGF), during one of several panels about the financial sustainability of civil society held at the International Civil Society Week convened in Serbia from April 8-12. At ICSW, various organizations shared why and, most importantly, how CSOs can leverage more support, money and other resources in their own countries and communities to face financial pressures and gradually lessen dependence on ODA and other foreign aid.

“This is more than a funding alternative, highlighted Wiggers. “CSOs that mobilise their own resources locally get closer to their communities and the people they serve, gain independence from donors, have more control of their own development and feel even more empowered to hold their governments accountable.”

There is a wide consensus about the power of local resources to boost the financial sustainability, legitimacy, ownership and independence of CSOs. Even in a world with endless supplies of international assistance, weaning civil society off it should be the goal. But how can a small community organisation or one that has always relied on foreign aid start fundraising “at home” and on their own?

Agencies, associations, and foundations like the WGF are providing special training, mentoring sessions, online learning platforms, campaigning support and even dedicated grants to prepare CSOs for this journey. And the results are encouraging.

For example, the WGF partnered with the Smile Foundation from India, the Kenya Development Foundation and Brazil’s CESE, to create the Change the Game Academy, an innovative blended-learning program specially designed for civil society organisations that provides both online and classroom training on local fundraising, lobby and advocacy to hold governments and duty bearers accountable through civic participation.

The classroom training is delivered in a total of six months by local certified trainers. It includes individual coaching sessions to implement a fundraising plan and uses materials adapted to country contexts. The online platform contains 11 interactive modules of e-learning available in four languages, plus 40 toolkits and 88 inspiring success stories, all freely accessible and free of charge.  

More than 800 small NGOs and community based organisations have been trained through the Change the Game Academy in fourteen low- and middle-income countries. They intend to implement this initiative in four more countries this year.

In the Balkans, there is a similar initiative called the Sustainability Academy, created by the SIGN Network, a group of indigenous grantmakers who support the sustainable development of local communities and civil society. This academy focuses mostly on CSOs at a grassroots level, which have an annual budget of less than 10,000 euros, on average.

Their training program covers strategic planning, financial sustainability, networking, local fundraising techniques and campaign development, and is delivered in three modules over six months. At the end of the third module, the organisations receive small technical grants to implement their fundraising campaigns for four to six months. When the campaign is over and they meet their goal, the SIGN Network provides 100% matching grants.

“We have had very successful examples where, through our training and accompaniment, small organisations managed to fundraise even half of their annual budget and developed relationships with many local donors,” said Biljana Dakic, director of the Trag Foundation, a SIGN network member. “And most of them consolidated their causes and work in their communities, which brings invaluable support.”

Since 2014, the Sustainability Academy has supported over 100 CSOs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

CISU - Civil Society in Development, an association of Danish CSOs with members engaged in development work in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is also providing knowledge, training tools and assistance for local resource mobilisation in these regions. Additionally, they offer a co-funding modality through which the local CSOs can access 4-year grants if they leverage a small percentage of the total grant, explained Souad Bourrid, advisor at CISU.

Together, these opportunities have been key to reducing the initial resistance and fear that keep some organisations from exploring and testing new resourcing avenues.

“Many organisations still think that the only way to get funds is applying for donor grants. So, when we approach them about leveraging local support, they are skeptic and don’t believe is possible. But those who receive the training and try it, see how many more doors open to them and end up very thankful for the push,” emphasized Bourrid.

Besides strengthening skills, many civil society networks and coalitions (including CIVICUS) around the world are also advocating the need to create or improve other crucial conditions for facilitating the mobilisation of domestic resources for civil society, including legal frameworks and incentives for local philanthropy, establishing alliances with the public and private sector, and promoting policies to support the financial sustainability of CSOs.


“Open Up The Space”: A call for inclusivity by CIVICUS Youth

Header image Open Up The Space by daisuke 1230 CC BY SAThe world is filled with injustice, hate speech, violence and oppression. Variant forms of power are exercised to police bodies, groups and human rights work in the interests of privilege. This should not reflect within spaces of advocacy and accountability.

Civil society should understand the importance of sharing power and enabling inclusion in a meaningful and uplifting manner. We as young people of diversity acknowledge and recognise the importance of having voices of vulnerability at the forefront of change. We need to redefine how we provide solutions and build togetherness. Everyone's area of influence should consider issues of displacement, migration, decolonisation, disability, albinism, indigenous origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics and mental wellbeing.

Young people are present and ready to steer the mantle of challenging the complex systems and ideologies that impede our progress. We are willing and able to ensure no one is left behind.

At the Youth Assembly of International Civil Society Week 2019, many topics about youth empowerment were discussed among delegates. We were particularly interested in collaborating to identify ways to bring forward the narratives and concerns as young people of diverse identities. We hence call upon civil society organizations, donor and funding agencies, youth-led and youth-serving organizations and especially, CIVICUS member organizations to:

1) Continue engaging young people and enhancing civil society organizing without discrimination of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religious belief, political affiliation and any other social, economic, cultural or political identity.

2) Target the most vulnerable groups, including youth and LGBTIQ, to ensure equity and not just equality in achieving your programming.

3) Provide resource for youth-led marginalized organizations at country level without pre-empting and restricting

4) Open up the space, in anyway you can,by listening, linking and learning to/with/about the most marginalised in society.

5) Broaden your perspective in sharing these elite/exclusive spaces because the voices that are not in the room is likely to be most affected

Sign the call by filling in this form.


This call was endorsed by the following youth activists at the Youth Assembly:

Justin Francis Bionat - Youth Voices Count, Philippines

Amanda Segnini - Engajamundo

Dariele Santos - Brazil

Nini Oñate - DAKILA, Philippines

Marijoy Liwag - Commission on Human Rights PH

Wilson Villones - ANSA East Asia and the Pacific, Philippines

Peng - China

Natasha - India

Malebo- South Africa

Nikhil Taneja - India

Oliver Andreevski - CYA Krik, North Macedonia

Jelena Mitrovic, Serbia, Youth Worker, Board member of National Youth Council of Serbia

Fouzi Mathey, France, Yes! For humanity

Alan Jarandilla Nuñez, IYAFP

Wiem Chamsi, Tunisia YAT CIVICUS

Cynthia Muhonja, Kenya Life Lifters

Vandita Morarka, One Future Collective

Ximena Arrieta, Mexico

Joseph Kagabo, Rwanda

Dumiso Gatsha, Success Capital NGO, Botswana

Dessy - Indonesia

Tracey Martin - Plan International, United Kingdom

Ripley Wang - Beijing Gender

Christine - Jordan

Sohou Enagnon Brice, Bénin

Karin Watson, Chile

Kalisito Biaukula , Fiji

Abdul Mufeez Shared, Fiji

Jasmina Golubovska, Republic of North Macedonia


Photo by daisuke1230 (CC-BY-SA)


The Power of Art in Activism

By Mohammad Issa, Yes Theatre, Palestine, CIVICUS Voting Organisation Member

Some people say that our world is a mess right now. Others predict that it could be worse. This depends on who you are and what it is your vision for the future.

Yes TheatreIn the light of the ever-growing list of challenges, the International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019 taken place in Belgrade - the Capital of Serbia. CIVICUS and other partners have mobilized a group of 900 activists to address the shrinking space for civil society.

I had the pleasure to represent my country (Palestine) and contribute effectively to this global debate. The shrinking space is not only connected with civil society in Palestine. It is more connected with the space that people use to live in. I was not really interested to share with ICSW participants stories about my country.

I was there to convince activists that art is a part of the fabric of our societies. It is a tool that could be used by anyone to convey strong messages and resonate with large audiences. It is the context that makes our work more creative and understandable by others, especially the people with fewer opportunities.

In our world today, we have a lot of things that connect us. Art is one of the main methods that make us inter-connected. This interconnection was very clear in the workshop that I delivered: “DramaNass” was a professional journey to accompany activists while they were discovering a new theatre methodology called Youth-Quake. This methodology is unique in that it gathered the energy and commitment of 14 activists to foster new dialogue necessary to encourage people to take an active role in order to work together and address the shrinking of civil society.

Participant activists went through a simulated exercise that use drama exercises, music, painting and theatre in a creative way to activate people and mobilize resources in oppressed contexts. The main slogan of this process is: “Art is everywhere in our daily life. Art connects us to others. It is the best way to support people in raising up their voices and achieve the social change that they are looking for”.

The workshop participants came from different countries. They had different academic and professional backgrounds but they were unified thanks to the power of art. Art was able to unify them and gather them to achieve one vision and same goals.


A Belgrade en Serbie, PJUD-BENIN ONG parle de la redevabilité au service de la démocratie béninoise.

Par DJOWAMON  A. Cyrille, PJUD - Promotion Jeunesse Unie pour le Développement, Benin ; organisation membre votante de CIVICUS

Cyrille 1La semaine internationale de la civile (the international civil society week ICSW) s’est déroulée du 06 au 12 avril 2019 à Belgrade en Serbie sous le thème : «Le Pouvoir de la Solidarité». Elle a donné l’occasion aux organisations, aux défenseurs des droits humains et aux activistes d’explorer les moyens par lesquels ils peuvent fédérer les efforts pour libérer le potentiel d’une l’action collective. Le programme de cette semaine constitué de plusieurs sessions a donné l’occasion à PJUD-BENIN ONG d’exposer ses actions sur la thématique de la redevabilité au Bénin. Autour du thème : « Government accountability towards Democracy and Rule of Law » le directeur exécutif de PJUD-BENIN ONG a partagé avec l’assistance constituée d’acteurs de la société civile mais également de partenaires techniques et financiers les efforts des OSC béninoises pour créer l’interaction entre les détenteurs de droits ou demandeurs de redevabilité et les débiteurs d’obligations qui offrent la recevabilité.

Cyrille 3Avec une démarche pédagogique, il a démontré que le recul des trois obstacles fondamentaux à la construction d’une bonne gouvernance et d’un État de droit que sont : la corruption, le clientélisme et la captation des marchés n’adviendra qu’avec l’appropriation du concept de redevabilité tant par les détenteurs de droits que par les débiteurs d’obligations. Pour lui, la corruption, le clientélisme et la captation des marchés sont des maux à combattre avec vigueur. En effet, la corruption, outre qu’elle enrichit directement des bureaucrates individuels, fausse les marchés et entrave la fourniture du service.

Le clientélisme, outre qu’il canalise de manière inéquitable des ressources publiques vers des groupes de clients spécifiques, altère les dynamiques de la compétition politique et mène à une fourniture inefficace du service public. Enfin La captation, outre qu’elle fournit des rentes à des acteurs économiques spécifiques, altère elle aussi grandement les marchés et aggrave la position des consommateurs, travailleurs et l’environnement entrepreneurial. Il a, pour conclure invité à une action à l’endroit de la jeunesse qui doit faire un parcours initiatique dans l’apprentissage de la responsabilité, de la culture de la vérité et du refus de la corruption sous toutes ses formes.        


Power of Togetherness Never Ends

Strengthening Civil Society Membership Platform

By Sin Putheary, Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, AGNA and CIVICUS voting organizational memberPutheary

Coming from the largest and longest established membership-based organization in Cambodia, I have a privilege to be part of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Belgrade, Serbia while several other colleagues of civil society are not able to physically present themselves at the conference due to visa issues. However, this cannot stop us from moving together.

Strengthening Membership Platform for CSO Effectiveness, 29 year-experience from Cambodia context, is one of the buzz sessions I shared during the event. At the same time, participants also exchanged their experiences of civil society in Finland, France, U.S.A, Argentina, West Africa and Cuba. The discussion showed that our challenges are similar particularly the claiming for civic space.

Facing many obstacles on space, CSO realized the importance of working together in the collaborative manner. The power of common voice brought so many great examples of positive change in the region. At the meantime, the critical question on representation of CSO in policy discussion with the government remains unanswered for decades.

My observation through the discussion is that the risk is not just CSO as an institution, but it threatens to individual CSO staff mainly advocacy and human rights defenders. Since the adoption of Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998, the estimated 1,000 human rights defenders lost their lives in the cause of their work. It is a sad story, but I still believe that CSO has a home grown, and other members, partners, and networks of CSO are not static. Therefore, the dynamic of joining efforts will bring the success near.

One of the lessons learned from the event I noted is that CSO need reassess our function in society. Additionally, CSO also require a long-term vision, clear strategy, and flexible tactic to ensure their effective role in responding to the need of the people. These cannot happen by working alone, but together.

Throughout more than ten years working for civil society sector, I found out that dialogue on membership platform is beyond the classical NGOs meetings. It spiritually builds a momentum of hope and solidarity among CSO although they are coming from different colors, ages, social status and political view.


CIVICUS Accountability’s journey – some updates! 

Have you been wondering what’s up withCIVICUS’ accountability actions? Are you looking for examples and opportunities to strengthen your own organisation’s accountability or connect with others to take more concrete accountability steps? Then, this blog is for you!




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