14 member states elected to UN Human Rights Council

Yesterday, 14 new member states were elected to the 47-member state Human Rights Council for the 2020-2022 term.

Among them were 11 states with a rating of ‘narrowed’ or worse by the Civic Space Monitor, a platform which tracks the state of civil society freedoms worldwide.

In the Latin America and Caribbean regional group, Brazil and Venezuela, respectively rated as obstructed and repressed, were elected in a three-way contest with Costa Rica, which is rated as open. We regret that states did not take the opportunity presented by Costa Rica’s late-stage candidacy to build a stronger Human Rights Council, which can only be achieved through a membership committed to cooperating with its mechanisms and upholding its aims and values.

Since the current administration of Brazil came to power in 2018, the country has seen an increase in violent rhetoric and, over the last year, a curtailment of human rights protections and undermining of Human Rights Council mechanisms. This falls far short of the behavior which any member of the Council should demonstrate, and we are particularly concerned by Brazil’s reelection given its influence in the region and beyond. 

Just one month ago, a report presented at the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed serious human rights violations by the Venezuelan government, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Nevertheless, 105 states at the UN General Assembly states voted for Venezuela to join the Council. The election of Brazil and Venezuela by UN member states at the expense of Costa Rica’s membership severely undermines the commitments of the Human Rights Council.
Namibia (narrowed), Libya (closed), Mauritania (repressed) and Sudan (closed) won the four seats available to the Africa group. Benin also stood for election. We urge the transitional government of Sudan to take steps towards ensuring full accountability for past human rights violations, and to use this opportunity to play a more constructive role in the international community as an advocate for human rights given its strategic position in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing serious human rights violations in Libya makes it unfit for membership and we urge the Human Rights Council to make clear that membership does not preclude it from continued international scrutiny.

Armenia (obstructed) and Poland (narrowed) took the two open Eastern European Group seats, elected over the Republic of Moldova (obstructed). In the Asia-Pacific Group, Indonesia (obstructed), Japan (narrowed), Marshall Islands (open) and Republic of Korea (narrowed) won the four available seats over Iraq, which had also stood for election. We urge these new members states to use their election to the Human Rights Council as an opportunity to strengthen their commitments to human rights and civic space.

Germany (open) and the Netherlands (open) take the remaining Western European and Others Group seats, having stood unopposed. 

The election of so many states with poor civic freedoms records means that civil society engagement at the Council itself is even more vital in order for people to be given a voice at the international level that is denied to them at the national level, and we urge the Human Rights Council to protect and enhance space for civil society within all multilateral institutions.
CIVICUS looks forward to working with the delegations in Geneva which share our vision, and that of our members, for universal human rights. We will continue to work with civil society in every member state to strengthen civic space on the ground, and to hold to account states which seek to repress the voices of civil society.


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!


Delivering emergency help for targeted activists is easier said than done


By Lesego Moshikaro and Yessenia Soto

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.

Imagine you lead a non-profit feminist organisation in Egypt.

IMG 4328Your work involves empowering women and lobbying the government to respect and protect their rights. In repressive Egypt, the authorities don’t like what you’re doing, and they want it to stop. So, they attack you – hitting you with a travel ban, freezing all your assets and charging you with receiving illegal foreign funding for your civil society organisation (CSO), which could lead to life in prison if you’re found guilty by Egypt’s notoriously biased courts. In aggressive and threatening interrogations, officials pressure you to shut down your CSO ‘voluntarily’, or things could get worse for you. 

Photo: Activists, civil society organisations and emergency fund managers during the “Resource the resistance” convening at ICSW 2019.


Hacia la construcción de nuestra Política Institucional de Rendición de Cuentas

Por Gloria Gonzalez Navarro y Enrique Blanco Lozada (Asociación Kusi Warma)

Los cambios o impactos sociales suelen estar acompañados de adversidades de nuestro ambiente, las cuales evidentemente deben ser enfrentadas con esfuerzo. Esfuerzo que caracteriza a las grandes y pequeñas organizaciones que tienen como objetivo común: el generar cambios positivos.

Kusi Warma, ONG de Perú que tiene como misión principal dar voz a los niños y niñas en situaciones poco ventajosas, no es la excepción a lo anteriormente mencionado. Es por ello que ha emprendido el emocionante camino hacia la construcción de su PIRC (Política Institucional de Rendición de Cuentas) como parte de la iniciativa Resilient Roots. Para ello el equipo del proyecto tuvo que seguir una serie de pasos iniciales que incluyó talleres de diagnóstico y devolución con la población con la que trabajaría los siguientes meses. Dicha población estuvo conformada por niños y niñas; sin embargo, debido a la relevancia y el papel que representan, también se trabajó con profesores y padres de familia.

Producto de los talleres se pudo recoger propuestas, tanto de profesores y padres como de los niños y niñas. La mayoría consideró oportuno que se brindara más información sobre el propósito de Kusi Warma en su comunidad, a pesar que muchos ya tenían conocimiento de nuestra misión y objetivos, se sentían interesados en recibir más información e involucrarse más en sus actividades institucionales.

Con la sugerencia y posterior aceptación por parte de la población involucrada, en febrero 2019 se inició el proceso de construcción de la PIRC utilizando el teatro como herramienta pedagógica. Los talleres se llevarán adelante durante 7 meses, incluyendo 4 sesiones y una puesta en escena cada mes. Para esto, cada sesión se dividió en dos, un primer grupo compuesto por niños y niñas entre 10 y 16 años; y otro compuesto por madres de la comunidad..

El inicio del taller en la Comunidad 12 de Diciembre, realizado el 12 de febrero de 2019, fue bien recibido por los niños y niñas por lo novedoso que era participar de un taller de teatro, experiencia que hasta el momento era totalmente lejana para ellos. Con el pasar de las sesiones el grupo de niños aumentó y lo que inició con 20 participantes terminó superando por poco la expectativa inicial de 30.

En el caso de las madres, se observó cierta reserva y vergüenza a participar en lo que entendían como “teatro”. Se logró mantener un grupo de 10 participantes activas que abrazaron el espacio íntimo y de libertad que el taller significaba para ellas. Pudimos ver cómo, según ellas, tenían un espacio en el cual escapaban de la cotidianidad de su vida y podían desenvolverse cada vez de forma más natural.

Llegó el fin de mes y, con ello, la puesta en escena de ambos talleres. Los niños prepararon de forma colectiva un guion que explicaba “Qué es Kusi Warma” y las madres, también de forma colectiva, crearon un guion referente al Día Internacional de la Mujer.

Aunque la previa se llenó de nerviosismo y un poco de temor a presentarse frente a toda la comunidad, ello pudo ser superado por la emoción que sintieron de poder expresar y transmitir lo que habían creado. Luego de esta primera presentación nos quedamos con la satisfacción de percibir que los niños y niñas de la comunidad tienen una imagen positiva del trabajo de Kusi Warma, dejando claro que para ellos representa diversión, salud, educación y una familia feliz. Del mismo modo, las madres dejaron claro que el impacto de una organización como Kusi Warma en la comunidad es algo que brinda más que ayuda, brinda una voz.

Es justamente la voz de todas las personas a las que Kusi Warma se dirige, la que queremos escuchar, recoger y transformar en acción a través de nuestra PIRC. Es por ello que en las próximas presentaciones, luego de la puesta en escena, vamos a facilitar un espacio de reflexión y participación a fin de recoger las opiniones del público sobre cómo desean participar en la gestión de Kusi Warma, tanto en sus proyectos como en su organización, y cómo desean que les rindamos cuentas. Este desafío fortalecerá los lazos de confianza y respeto mutuo, lo cual nos hará una organización más resiliente, porque nuestra fuerza y legitimidad estará en la población a la que dirigimos nuestra acción, más empoderada y comprometida, para juntos afrontar las adversidades que se presenten.


The power of togetherness: standing against the shrinking space for action

By Laura Brown, Movement and Network Capacity Manager at Womankind Worldwide

Last week I attended the International Civil Society Week (ICSW) conference in Belgrade hosted by CIVICUS. The conference was an opportunity for civil society organisations to discuss and generate solutions to the most pressing challenges affecting their ability to realise their human rights, sustain democratic values and achieve lasting impact.


Collaboration as currency, key to stop FGM in 5 communities in Nigeria


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.


Today, Dolapo Olaniyan, Director of The UnCUT Initiative, shares why collaboration could be the new currency for civil society organisations that are facing funding constraints.

Last February, five communities in Asa village, located in the Osun state, South West Nigeria, unanimously and publicly agreed to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a harmful, cruel and extremely discriminatory practice recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, but that is still common in some countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This is a big victory in a country where FGM affects 25% women (aged 15-49). It was also a victory for us at The UnCUT Initiative, an organisation focused on ending female genital mutilation across high risk communities in Nigeria by 2030, as the public “abandonment ceremony” was the culmination of work started in October 2018.


As India goes to to the polls, will the people vote against the ‘politics of hate’


By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

Womens March3 4 April 2019In just under a week, the world’s largest democracy, India, will vote to elect and constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. According to the Election Commission (EC) of India, nearly 900 million voters will be eligible to vote for representatives to the lower house or the Lok Sabha of the bicameral Indian Parliament. Voting will begin on 11th April and be held in seven phases till 19th May, 2019 across 543 constituencies. The EC has also declared 23rd May, 2019 the day of counting and results.


How resilient are our pilot partners to civic space threats?


By Soulayma Mardam Bey and Jack Cornforth, CIVICUS

In recent years, “Resilience” has made its way into international development’s buzzword bingo board. Yet despite its increasing popularity, the concept often remains poorly understood. In this article, and during our upcoming Resilient Roots event at ICSW 2019 (Wednesday afternoon ), we will take a closer look at what this concept means for civil society organisations in the context of closing civic space.


The quest for resilience

By  Patricia Deniz, Senior Research and Development Officer CIVICUS 

Civil society, more than ever, is in dire need to reinvent itself, at least figure out how to be flexible, adaptable and resurgent in an ever-changing, uncertain and increasingly restrictive environment. Sustaining the status quo or surviving a crisis are no longer sufficient in contexts in which change happens unpredictably and drastically, requiring innovative responses to old problematics and new complex challenges. Instead, civil society aspires to becoming resilient, a term well known in the environmental and humanitarian spheres that is yet to be further analysed and explored in the CSO world.   


"Stubbornly optimistic": Reflections from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG


It has been a little over 60 days since I took on my new role with CIVICUS and the question I get asked most frequently is: How does it feel to be SG? Fortunately, this query has an easy answer! It involves being reminded on a daily basis of the need to celebrate and reinforce efforts taken to defend and strengthen rights-based values and freedoms by individuals and organisations worldwide. It also involves being stubbornly optimistic about our ability as civil society to demonstrate greater accountability and impact, while continuing to learn from each other and from unconventional champions of the causes we believe in!


“La inclusión es una ilusión”

English | French 

Ochoa Ayala, Fundación 11:11, México

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¿A quién no le gusta sentir que pertenece a un lugar, comunidad, espacio, algo? El sentido de pertenencia tiene que ver con la identidad que cada individuo va desarrollando a lo largo de su vida, da una muestra de quienes somos; por ejemplo yo, soy una mujer, joven, mexicana, activista, soñadora etc., es como me identifico y las palabras que elegí para describirme hacen que me conecte con personas afines.

Al ser una mujer joven mexicana activista soñadora encontré a CIVUCUS

“Una comunidad mundial de ciudadanas y ciudadanos informados, inspirados y comprometidos en el abordaje de los desafíos que enfrenta la humanidad.”[1]

Al leer su visón de inmediato supe que quería ser parte de esa comunidad y es que me sentí identificada, supe que al otro lado del planeta, en el hemisferio de a lado, existían personas con una visión muy similar a la mía, con la intención de cooperar y crear alianzas para que los problemas de la humanidad se combatieran de manera conjunta e unificando esfuerzos aislados.

Ingrese mis datos y cada semana me llegaba información sobre sus boletines, actividades y demás, hasta que un día llego un correo invitándome a la convocatoria “the Global Learning Exchange and AGM” en donde se hablarían temas de inclusión y diversidad en Montevideo, Urugay; Sin pensarlo mucho tome una decisión y apliqué, sin imaginar que acababa de abrir la puerta a una de las mejores experiencias de mi vida. Meses después me confirmaron que fui seleccionada y el 13 de diciembre me encontraba en un avión rumbo al intercambio de aprendizaje.

Fueron tres días donde hablamos sobre el significado de diversidad e inclusión, de entrada tanto las personas seleccionadas como los encargados de dirigir el intercambio teníamos diferentes nacionalidades, idiomas, aspecto, creencias e ideas pero eso no importo para intercambiar experiencias y crear conceptos nuevos, al interactuar entre nosotros le dimos vida y realidad a los conceptos de diversidad e inclusión, puesto que estás dos palabras no significan nada sino las llevas a la acción. Comprobamos de primera mano que las diferencias enriquecen las ideas y la disposición a escuchar da pie a la inclusión.

Juntos concluimos que la diversidad es la riqueza de lo diferente y la inclusión es la bienvenida de eso, dos conceptos que coexisten puesto que uno necesita de otro para fortalecer cada acción que realicemos en pro de la humanidad.

Antes de este encuentro veía a la diversidad e inclusión como una ilusión, tenía el anhelo de que en mi país existieran personas que fomentaran acciones de bienvenida a lo diferente, y es que ya llevaba un tiempo trabajando por ello pero no se materializaba.

Lamentablemente vivimos en una Era de discurso y poco accionar, las personas hablan de aceptación, las leyes de inclusión, pero en la realidad parece más una exclusividad de lo diferente, es decir, “si eres diferente júntate con los que son diferentes como tú” pero entonces ¿dónde está la inclusión? ¿Es una ilusión inalcanzable? CIVICUS respondió mi duda al integrarme a un equipo donde lo que imperaba eran las diferencias, pero aprendí que la disposición, el respeto, la humildad, el reconocimiento, son actitudes que cualquier ser humano puede tener con otro y al hacerlo se da la oportunidad de conocerlo e incluirlo a su mundo.

Recordemos que desde nuestra existencia pertenecemos a un mundo en el que todos coexistimos y al que todos tenemos la oportunidad aportar algo valioso.

Gracias CIVICUS por hacer mi ilusión realidad.

[1] https://www.civicus.org/index.php/es/quienes-somos/acerca-de-civicus


Decluttering Diversity and Inclusion

French | Spanish

By Jose Maria “Lloyd” Nunag, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and CIVICUS member from the Philippines

‘What does Diversity and Inclusion means to you?’

046bc8d0 d141 45db 9af2 8f41668951b1This is a question I have been pondering (and decluttering) in the last few years and even until now. Growing up as a young, queer person from a poor, rural family in the Philippines, and now as a migrant worker in the United Kingdom, my vision of diversity and inclusion has been emerging. Today, I define it as a world where everyone knows and claim their rights in which human rights and justice are enjoyed without discrimination.

Global Learning Exchange

In December 2018, I was able to take part in an ambitious CIVICUS programme of work on diversity and inclusion mainstreaming and integration across the civic movement called Global Learning Exchange (GLE) held in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The program made me build on and re-energised my commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and to transform our ways of working to better meet our strategic aims.

It aimed to capitalise on the potential of diversity and inclusion across the CIVICUS movement and beyond: to create space for dialogue and peer-to-peer sharing among the participants; to identify effective approaches that can contribute to social justice; AND to strengthen ways of working, including sharing good practices as well as joint strategising, within the global CIVICUS CSO (Civil Society Organisations) network.

What have I learned?

In this learning journey towards a more accountable civil society sector, I have realised that we need to successfully challenge the inequality, structural oppression and intersectional discrimination which shapes our societies and is the primary cause of human rights violations. How effective we are in meeting these challenges will depend heavily on our own ability to understand these forces; to confront them and find ways to counteract their impact within the civil society movement and our ways of working; as well as meaningfully raising the voices of people who are marginalised around the world. Continually striving for excellence on how we mainstream and integrate diversity and inclusion in our work is therefore of fundamental importance to our aim of building a truly global movement for justice and human rights.

Highlights and Recommendations

In order to help implement this work that CIVICUS is doing, they gathered more than 15 informed and dynamic individuals who, through their experience and expertise, can help improve CIVICUS and partner CSOs’ culture, ways of working and impact so that we can better challenge structural inequalities and oppression, intersectional discrimination and demonising narratives. Hence the Global Learning Exchange (GLE) happened.

As one of the participants in the GLE, I hope the steps that would be undertaken as a result of this program will be guided by the overarching goals and principles of:

-promoting social justice and human rights

-recognising and making visible that different aspects of people’s identities and lives interact to structurally affect their experiences of discrimination, marginalisation, privilege, and power.

-making CIVICUS and other CSOs a better organisation to work with for staff, volunteers, and partners who experience systemic discrimination

-transformation, not tokenism

Overall, I would like to affirm the importance of CIVICUS’ efforts to improve its practices, culture, and outcomes with respect to diversity and inclusion, prioritising improvements related to their ways of working, governance, and areas of acute and chronic issues.

I didn’t expect the event to have this kind of positive effect on my personal life; it’s pretty cool to derive personal benefits from an advocacy project.

What’s next? Be involved?

Over the next few months, CIVICUS is piloting a network alliance on diversity and inclusion. This would entail regular calls or communication, providing some time and expertise on Diversity & Inclusion for civil society and working towards a common commitment of dynamic accountability and support. If you would like to discuss this program in more detail please contact: Suhani Bhushan on . We are hoping this will be a participative process from inception.



CIVICUS GLE Testimonial: Building communities for inclusive action

French | Spanish

by Vandita Morarka, One Future Collective, India

VanditaI was a participant at the Global Learning Exchange and the ensuing AGM held by CIVICUS in Montevideo, Uruguay, 16th December, 2018, onwards, representing One Future Collective.

As a participant I engaged in various discussions and actionable agenda items towards building the first step towards frameworks for inclusion and diversity. The representatives at the GLE in themselves were a stellar example of the beauty and massive knowledge exchange and learning that actual practise of diversity and inclusion can bring in.


Remise en question des structures verticales de prise de décisions dans le secteur des Organisations de la Société Civile (OSCs) à travers l'amélioration des pratiques de redevabilité

Par Gaetan Mertens (Accountability Lab) et Resilient Roots (CIVICUS)

Resilient Roots est une initiative de CIVICUS, menée en partenariat avec Keystone Accountability et Accountable Now. Il s’agit d’un projet ambitieux qui implique 15 organisations de la société civile basées dans des pays différents, comprenant deux organisations en Afrique francophone, et plus particulièrement en Mauritanie et au Bénin.


Sketching Dreams Together

Reflections From CIVICUS’ Youth Co-Design Workshop In Montevideo

By Gioel Gioacchino

GioelIn December, as part of my work researching the resourcing landscape for youth-led civil society, I had the chance to witness and participate in a youth co-design workshop in Montevideo. For CIVICUS, organising this workshop meant bringing together wisdom and lessons learned about working meaningfully with young people.

For a start, the group was small: it felt intimate. We were not coming together to listen to people speak about ‘participation’ and civil society – we were invited to call upon our experience and knowledge. The guidelines of our work were simple: We have a budget for a youth program, let’s design it together. It felt like a rare luxury, a treat, to be able to get together with young activists all over the world and create. With my researcher cap on, it was refreshing to see how collective creation emerged as a product of reflection, of bringing together our emotions, stories, and insights.

Originally appeared on Gioelgio.com


Inspired and Challenged: Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG


As I write this, I am heading into my second week as Secretary-General of CIVICUS – and each day has been an opportunity to understand a new dimension of this global alliance. Day one, for instance, was marked by a strong sense of celebration! Many of you – members, partners and allies of the CIVICUS Alliance – have shared messages of support and encouragement to do more to secure and strengthen the work of civil society worldwide. I very much look forward to collaborating with all of you in the coming year!


CIVICUS’ AGM comes to a close with an approved Annual Report and Solidarity Fund!

Spanish | French 

In December 2018, CIVICUS members from all over the world gather in Montevideo, Uruguay, to attend a multiplicity of convenings. This includes a board meeting, a youth co-design workshop and a global exchange on diversity and inclusion. Participants share cake and celebrations to mark CIVICUS’ 25 year anniversary.

CIVICUS Alliance also bid farewell to outgoing Secretary General, Danny Sriskandarajah, who reflects on his 6- year tenure as “a wonderful mix of change and constancy, of frustration and fulfillment, of pride and humility” in this blog post, and welcomes incoming SG Lysa John. 

All of this end of year activity culminates in the CIVICUS members AGM (annual general meeting), held at the Spanish International Cooperation Agency for Development. Members approve the  CIVICUS Annual Report, as well as the framework for a ground-breaking CIVICUS Solidarity Fund. Stay in touch early 2019 for more information!

Voting members unable to join physically participate online through the Virtual AGM, where they actively contribute to the discussions around  key agenda items and cast their votes. Many express their contentment to be able to take part remotely. “We are happy and are with you who are on site in Uruguay; CIVICUS governance is more democratic and the needs of members are taken into account; we receive all information related to the management of the Alliance and agree to vote for the Report submitted to the members.”

One of  the AGM highlights, is when each continent comes together to create  a slogan representing their solidarity. Asia envelops everyone in a giant hug saying that ‘no one is an outsider’, North America links hands around the room as a physical manifestation of solidarity, Europe tells us that ‘your journey is our journey’, South America protests across the room to the slogan ‘the people united shall never be defeated’ and the Africans join everyone in a giant train across the world with a protest song.

As everyone leaves to go back home, crossing the globe to get back to our countries, we carry with us the spirit of togetherness, and the power of what we can achieve together.


Going forward hopeful: Reflections and farewell from outgoing SG of CIVICUS

Spanish | French 

As my time at CIVICUS draws to a close, I wanted to say a proper farewell to those who matter most at CIVICUS – the alliance of members and partners - who make this organisation unique and so special. The last six years have been a wonderful mix of change and constancy, of frustration and fulfillment, of pride and humility.

The markers of dramatic change are many. Our annual income has risen from around $3m to over $13m. This year, we will issue $2.5m of subgrants, to smaller, Southern organisations. Our staff team is more diverse than ever before and our technological capabilities far beyond those that I encountered upon my arrival.

Other things, I am pleased to say, have remained reassuringly constant, not least the fact that we remain proudly headquartered in Johannesburg. And, perhaps most importantly, that we have retained, I hope, the same professional, yet humble, approach to serving civil society that has been a feature of CIVICUS since its beginnings. I tried to label it being ‘profumble’ but it didn’t seem to stick with colleagues 😉

Of course, the last six years have also held their fair share of frustrations and setbacks. We could have been more strategic and intentional in the way we’ve grown, particularly in terms of our geographical footprint. We’ve talked a great deal about democratising the international system, as well as about the SDGs, yet our programmatic work does too little to reflect or support these goals.

My tenure at CIVICUS has also coincided with a period in which the crackdown on civic space has solidified into a persistent, pernicious, truly universal phenomenon. The space for civil society is shrinking, not by accident or in accordance with the natural ebb and flow of social change, but by design. Our democracies – we, the people – are under siege.

But I do not move on from CIVICUS convinced that we are living in dark and dangerous times. Quite the opposite: I go forward hopeful.

For, wherever I have been, I have encountered not just frustration with broken politics, but a desire to shape better democracies; to satisfy an unquenched thirst for participation; to re-imagine democracy for a new age. It is this hunger – a hunger for the power to better our own lives, to better our communities and countries – that civil society must look to satisfy.

But, if we are to have any hope of succeeding, we will need to embrace radical change. Neither the market, nor state alone can mend our social fabric, or rebuild our ailing democracies, but nor can we assume that civil society organisations, in their current form, will be at the vanguard of driving social change in the 21st century. Those that are – and will become – our most influential civic formations are those that are already reshaping, reinventing and renewing themselves.

If civil society can find new dynamism in its shifting shapes and come together to stand united in the push back against shrinking space, then we will be ready to take on what I have come to see as our three major challenges.

Our common, digital future

The first will be to reimagine our rights for a digital world. Nowhere are our freedoms being more fiercely contested than they are online. The handful of corporates that dominate cyber space, convinced as they are of their pioneering role as digital saviours of our ailing world, are fiercely anti-regulation. But we need to find ways of promoting better behaviours online and supporting a fairer, more transparent structure. We need to work out how our legal and social norms apply in digital spaces. We need to get the rules and the governance right.

Any new rules cannot be solely state-led, nor can they be led by the private sector alone. Governance of the digital space will need to be a truly multi-stakeholder initiative. Without conscious, purposeful struggle, the digital era won’t only fail on its promise to emancipate citizens; it will achieve the very opposite. [By the way, please do let me know in this area – the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation I sit on will report in April 2019]

Reimagining democracy

Our second major challenge is to reimagine our democracy, as we outlined in our latest report Democracy for All: Beyond a Crisis of Imagination. We – as civil society – need to be rethinking our ideology of power, rethinking our democracies, in such a way as to enable people to reclaim their voice and sense of agency. We need to be experimenting, engaging those who are most under-represented in our existing system in designing new prototypes.

It’s a process that urgently needs to happen at the global level as well. Many of the decisions that affect our lives are taken in the headquarters of remote, opaque, inaccessible institutions, cogs in a system that privileges a few, powerful states—and often corporations—over the interests of people.

We need institutions of global governance that offer recourse to protection and support when authorities at the national level abuse their power. We need them now more than ever.

And so, we must develop new forms of global consultation, we must insist upon more direct citizen participation in key decision-making, we must demand more transparency, so that trusted – and therefore, more effective – global institutions can form part of a reimagined democratic system.

Redrawing sectoral boundaries

Finally, we cannot reimagine our democracy until we reimagine our economy. Modern capitalism has concentrated power and wealth to an absurd, immoral degree.

We need to find ways of enabling people to reclaim their sense of economic agency. We need to repurpose technology to create services equivalent to those offered by today’s corporate monoliths, without the extreme levels of exploitation, extraction and inequality.

Civil society enjoys a freedom that neither the state nor market can lay claim to. Sitting beyond those sectors, we are free to reimagine the rules and dynamics that govern their systems. This constitutes perhaps the most fundamental challenge for CIVICUS. We cannot afford to simply defend ‘our sector’, nor can we fall prey to the fallacy that these sectors – state, market and civil society – are as neat or eternal as many make out. The future is going to be blurry and hybrid, and I hope CIVICUS can be ahead of the curve, helping others to navigate these changes.

Finally, let me finish where I started by saying that it has been a hugely fulfilling privilege to be part of the CIVICUS journey. I feel proud to have been part of a dynamic and diverse community of people. I leave with a conviction that there is something beautiful, precious and powerful about CIVICUS. I also leave knowing that there are some brilliant colleagues at CIVICUS continuing and evolving our work, led by the wonderful Lysa John, and overseen by the best Board in the civil society world.

I will be watching with great interest to see what comes next for CIVICUS. And I hope that I can work with my new colleagues at Oxfam Great Britain to play our part in strengthening people’s power.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah


Climate change as a matter of peace

By Flávia Bellaguarda, Co-Founder and COO, Youth Climate Leaders

FlaviaThe Youth Climate Leaders (YCL) was honored to be selected to attend the first edition of the Paris Peace Forum, from 11th to 13th November, and to showcase our startup in the environmental village among other 119 projects from all over the world. Youth Climate Leaders would like to give a special "thank you" to CIVICUS for supporting us to attend the Paris Peace Forum. It was a well-organized and bustling event.

The opening ceremony was full of Heads of State, Heads of Government, and leaders of international organizations. It was a life-time experience to share the same room with President Trudeau, President Macron, President Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Nobel Peace Nadia Murad, just to name a few. A crucial part of YCL mission is to enable young people worldwide to increasingly occupy those spaces.

President Macron opened the ceremony stating that the world is in a different path because in the centenary of the 1918 Armistice we had in the same room 84 heads of states peacefully reunited in Paris under the Arc de Triomphe. The Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that peace must be pursed, and the first step is to recognize that the world is facing severe crises. She emphasized the refugee crisis we are facing saying that countries must be united in order to solve the situation providing real support for those in need.

Additionally, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted that climate change is the biggest challenge of 21st century and that multilateral efforts are crucial for us to take actions as we are gearing up for COP24. He complemented Merkel saying that in the context of climate change, demography and migration issues are the second most important challenge of our century. It reminded me of the amazing lecture that Dr. Caroline Zickgraf gave to us in Paris about the intersection of climate change and the refugee crisis during the #YCL2018Immersion.

The main purpose of the Paris Peace Forum was thus to produce two primary outputs: testifying and mobilizing in favor of collective action and multilateralism, and advancing concrete projects of global governance. Altogether, the Forum featured three spaces: (1) a Space for Solutions showcasing governance projects in five “Villages” (peace and security, environment, development, new technologies and inclusive economy); (2) a Space for debates where initiatives from the Villages as well as cross-cutting themes were discussed; and (3) a Space for Innovation which invited developers and programmers to devise digital solutions for the identified challenges.

It was a difficult task to decide which discussion I should participate in, as there were so many interesting topics! Fortunately, the YCL stand was always full of people keen to learn more about our startup and we had the chance to network with amazing people from all over the world. For that reason, I did not have time to participate in a lot of panels, so I chose the panels “Finance for Climate: a Way to go Forward, a Way to go Faster” and “Fleshing out 2250: A Role for Youth in Global Stability”.

We had three intense days at the Paris Peace Forum, where we could foster important connections to strengthen our ability to solve the challenges mentioned by President Macron. I was happy to hear in the closing ceremony that the next edition of the Paris Peace Forum they will have more open spaces for youth. We were not well represented in many panels, both as speakers and participants, nor as project leaders showcasing projects in the Villages. On the other hand, I was proud to see organizers recognizing this issue and that in order to pursue peace and have a multilateral effort to solve the world problems the youth must be included.

So, I hope to see many of you on the next edition of the Forum!


Civil society is blurring? Let’s remember our whys and get creative!

Reflection from “Money, Culture and Change” - a participatory action research process on the sustainability of youth-led civil society organisations (CSOs) in Medellin, Colombia.

By Gioel Gioacchino

In the middle of a research workshop, Stiven got up and drew the picture below on the board.  Stiven is a civil society leader active in Castilla, a neighbourhood on the slopes of Medellin, Colombia. He has not studied any theories of civil society, but, with his drawing, he put his finger on a big wound within the sector. He used the picture to explain that funding, and CSOs themselves, should be seen as tools, trampolines to promote a gearing of economic development and social economies based on solidarity.Gioel Giaoacchino

Stiven believes that social projects need to have economic models. “We need to move to an economy of solidarity,” he reflected, reminding us that there cannot be a community that lives in solidarity and justice without an economy of solidarity and justice.

As part of a PhD program at the Institute of Development Studies (University of Sussex), for the last four years I have been researching how youth-led CSOs seek financial sustainability, and with what implications for their organisational culture and understanding of social change.

Carrying out participatory action research with a group of ten youth-led CSOs in Medellin, Colombia we found a sort of double paradox in resourcing youth-led civil society organisations.

A double paradox

First, we noticed that youth-led organisations are more likely to want to do work that fits outside the buzzwords of the moment (read: they do not think of following the money). Yet, to do the type of work they value they do need resources.

If they manage to obtain some of the scarce funding available, they are asked to fit within the cha-cha-cha of funding parameters which often limit their independence - they need to adopt practices that might feel incoherent or set priorities that might not be their own.

Funding available to youth-led groups is scarce and often comes along with worldviews that disregard the contribution these organisations are making while emphasizing the more ‘technical aspects' of development. The risk is that CSOs will become more homogenous, less able to be in touch and respond to the needs they perceive in their communities.

They work with the crumbs of funding available, while having to digest the practices and values of a system they would not want to support.

Many youth-led organisations tend to be critical of our economic system and they would like to be truly independent, while they continue resourcing themselves from within a system that they struggle to fundamentally question - because it feeds them.

The other option is to generate funding by engaging with the market (e.g. Social entrepreneurship) - but many youth-organizations ask: how can we solve the challenges of a society, that we think are deeply tied to the injustice of the neoliberal economic system, by working with the same logic?

To make it all more complicated they often associate funding with negative emotions - they might think: ‘we do need funding, but money sucks’. It’s hard to attract funding when you think it sucks.

In short, the idea of an independent civil society seems redundant.

Looking at the future of civil society

A turning point in our research was a two-day participatory foresight workshop. Young civil society leaders and representative from donors’ institutions in Medellin came together to construct a range of eight scenarios for the future of civil society in 2035.

One of the most striking observations during the workshop was that, across all eight scenarios, participants expected differences between the public, private, and civil society sectors would blur even further.

Today, CIVICUS defines civil society as: “the arena - outside of the family, the state, and the market - which is created by individual and collective actions, organisations and institutions to advance shared interests”. In short, the current definition of civil society is tied to the idea that there are three sectors.

As they expected these boundaries between sectors to become thinner, participants were challenged to distil the meaning of civil society. If the structure and resourcing modalities of civil society were to change radically; if CSOs, as we know them today, were to disappear – what would be left of the concept of civil society?

To explore these scenarios, we had to go back to the essence. Why does civil society matter?

Across all eight scenarios, civil society was understood by participants as providing opportunities for questioning, reflecting, re-imagining and renewing social values and norms. A discussion on the question “What is the role of Civil Society?” suggested that civil society is a space where alternative values can be articulated, nourished, and explored. Someone argued that civil society seeks to “resist all the pressure to suppress citizens’ ability to express themselves”. Civil society generates well-being: it seeks to work in collaboration with others, it builds strong social ties, it crafts communities. Someone summarised the discussion by stating that civil society “promotes coexistence as intrinsically important”.

This research pointed out that many young people in Medellin are thirsty for different ways of being together and experiencing alternative community constructions: they are craving meaning. Consciousness, spirituality, and connection with nature were at the core of their work.

The youth-led CSOs in this study realised that resources matters beyond being instrumental to their work. Through funding, they create ties and conversations with other sectors. As we admitted civil society is not so independent, we realised that CSOs can only sustain themselves when they can co-construct realities with others, so as to pull together resources and energy.

For this type of work to happen, the current funding logics need to be transcended. Now, this won’t happen overnight - there is a lot to learn.


So the youth-led CSOs that took part in this study are engaging in constant experimenting.

They seek financial sustainability by trying different strategies that can uphold their views, while learning to engage with market-forces selectively. In other words, they are responding to market forces as a necessity, while trying to uphold their worldview as a way to work toward their visions. We found that the CSOs in this study were developing their ability to also speak the language of the market as a way to expand their opportunities, comprehend their ecosystems, and contribute to shaping it. Meanwhile, they organize rituals, exchange their products and services, build meaningful relationships with people from different institutions, support local artists and artisans, grow their own food, and resist getting in competition with one another. They choose solidarity and collaboration at every corner.

Civil society cannot afford to sit around and question an economic system without looking to find new ways to sustain itself. We all need to play, experiment and get creative.

CIVICUS is currently analysing trends and practices of resourcing youth-led groups and movements in Africa and Latin America. We hope to gain more insights on trends and challenges that could provide useful recommendations for both funders and youth-led groups. The analysis will be led by the author of this blog who has been researching extensively on the sustainability of youth-led groups.

If you’d like to input/engage in this analysis, reach out to



Disability inclusion benefits us all

by Lieke Scheewe, policy advisor & coordinator at DCDD

Today is World Disability Day – a great day to celebrate the value of human diversity! That’s why the Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development (DCDD) is making a case today for the value of a disability inclusive society, by launching a ‘social business case’.

Over 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability according to WHO, that I s 1 in 7. At least 80% of this billion are estimated by the UN to live in low- and middle-income countries. Due to the barriers they face in accessing services and jobs, persons with disabilities make up a disproportionate percentage of the poorest sections of the community. Not only people themselves – but societies at large – are paying a high price for exclusion. What can investments in a more inclusive society bring us?

More resilient people and householdsBridgete

Catherine from Kenya is partially deaf-blind. She received support from an NGO to learn how to use the screen reader programme JAWS, to know her rights and to feel confident about her abilities. Her vocational training institute received support on how to make their building and their teaching methods more inclusive. Thanks to the removal of these barriers, Catherine completed her certificate and is now able to invest in the future of her son: “I love my new job in customer care; talking is one of my hobbies! I am doing something I am trained in, and I am earning a good salary to support my family. My son is going to start kindergarten next year, and I will be able to pay his school fees with no struggle.”

Profitable private sectors and sustainable public sectors

Still most children with disabilities do not attend school. If education systems would become more accessible and inclusive, this would have a major impact on individual lives and communities. Research in the Philippines reveals that inclusive education raises future adult wages of a child, by more than 25%. Evidence from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal and the Philippines shows that the returns on investing in education for people with disabilities are two to three times higher than for persons without disabilities. ILO estimates that disability exclusion from the labour market comes at a national cost of 3 to 7 percent GDP. Fortunately, there is an increasing realisation among employers that promoting workplace diversity is good for business. Reasonable workplace adjustments and supportive policies are often less costly than initially thought and can also benefit workers without disabilities as they promote more inclusive work environments. “Differently-abled employees bring in a diversity of thought to the organisation, and hiring them is a business imperative for us, not a Corporate Social Responsibility activity,” said DP Singh, vice-president of Human Resources at IBM India/South Asia.

The Bangladesh garment industry opens its doors

Bangladesh Garment FactoryDisability exclusion from the labour market costs the Bangladesh government $891 million a year. Hopefully this is about to change, now that the garment industry has opened its doors to workers with a disability. As a growing industry, garment factories are in continuous demand for skilled workers. This already provided opportunity for many female domestic workers to enter the formal labour market, and it has now opened such opportunities to people with a disability as well. This change was triggered by the Rana Plaza disaster in 2014, which caused permanent injuries in the lives of many garment workers. The industry, together with local disability organisations and support from the Bangladesh and German governments, has established an Inclusive Job Centre and a Helpline in order to bridge the gap between employers and (potential) employees. So far, 250 factories have taken measures to make their workspaces accessible and inclusive, and 2500 people with disabilities have been supported in gaining skills and finding a job.

Ramp-up investment in disability inclusion!  

Good practices such as the one in Bangladesh are starting to pop up in many countries. Yet, we’re only at the beginning of seeing real change. If we aim to achieve the global goals by 2030, it’s high time that governments, businesses and development organisations really start to prioritize investments in accessibility, participation, support measures and disability data. As stated by the UN: Persons with disabilities, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote a resilient society for all”. We can no longer afford to miss out on the valuable contributions people with a disability make to society! The success of our fight against poverty and inequality depends on it.


All quotes and research references above can be found in the full article, ‘A Social Business Case on Disability Inclusion in Development’. To download this social business case and the accompanying infographic, please visit http://www.dcdd.nl/category/news/. Follow us on twitter @dcdd_nl.



What if ‘bottom-up’ wasn’t the answer?

By Marina Cherbonnier, CIVICUS membership engagement specialist

OECD at Paris Peace ForumAs I was walking around the stands, agoras and meet-ups of the very interactive and lively first edition of the Paris Peace Forum, I couldn’t help but keep stumbling across the by-now well-known expression ‘bottom-up approach’, used as a way to build a fair and better world.

The forum covered a range of extremely insightful topics such as digital peace and cyber security, global solidarity - on malnutrition for instance - and issues of the environment and governance – not only in the public sector but also in the business world. 

Discussions focused heavily on issues of global governance, and the phrase ‘bottom-up’ kept resonating like a fatalist acceptance of a system based on enduring inequality, where a tiny elite is and always will be at a higher level than others. As I listened, the question recurred: isn't that a fundamental issue if we are to build fair and equitable governance? How do we take on power when we genuinely believe that some people are above others?


Thinking about how to measure your organisation’s accountability?

...then read on, because this blog post is for you!

by Belén Giaquinta (CIVICUS)

FB Global EnThe Resilient Roots Accountability Initiative is working with 15 partners to help them design and rollout year-long accountability projects and document the factors which seem to help boost or hinder their accountability. We want to track changes in accountability over the course of the initiative, and to do so we need to measure our starting point!... But this proved to be much more complicated than we expected. Read on for some raw reflections about what we learned on the way!

How to do an accountability baseline in a comprehensive, yet efficient and comparable way, you ask? Well, you make a survey. Or to be exact, you make two similar surveys that cover various aspects of accountability (such as voice, responsiveness, trust, communication, etc.), addressed to the core of any organisation: their primary constituents and their staff.

For the majority of questions, the accountability baseline survey used the Net Performance Analysis (NPA) methodology, which involves respondents choosing a score on a scale from 0 to 10, from “totally disagree” to “completely agree”. The NPA then helped us generate a single number for each question which allows for easy comparison across constituent groups, between organisations, and over time. Comprehensive and comparable: check!

The exact method used to administer these surveys varied from one organisation to the next (based on the age of respondents, access to the internet, geographical location, etc), and included a mix of in-person/over the phone interviews and online surveys via the web and mobile phone applications. To do this, Resilient Roots hired independent consultants in almost all pilot project countries to undertake the surveys in the local language, and help reduce bias in responses (as opposed to organisations carrying out these baselines themselves).

Questions were standardised across all pilot project organisations, but the language in the surveys was adapted by each partner to fit the local context, make it less NGO-sounding and more accessible to its constituents. Then came the (11!) translations, one of the most time-consuming parts of the baseline measurement process. If you have ever tried to use “accountability” in another language, then you know the struggle of having to find translation for a term that simply does not exist outside of the English-speaking world. Now add words like “primary constituents” and “resilience” to the mix, and you have a buzzwords soup for a survey.

We approached these steps on a case-by-case basis, which made it a very laborious and slow process. But we wanted this baseline to be a real shared effort between our partners and the Resilient Roots team, and here taking our time proved to be more rewarding than efficiency.

So, we managed to create and implement a baseline survey that was indeed comprehensive, replicable, and comparable, and (to a lesser extent) efficient… That is until we got to the data analysis part, where we quickly realised how overwhelming this phase would be. The single, most important lesson learned from this is to “start at the end”. If we had started by spending more time thinking about the analysis, what we wanted to do with this information and what systems (read: complex equations on excel or powerful programming languages like “R”) we needed to set up to help us get there, this would have saved us lots of time and effort!

And it did not stop there! Once we had some preliminary results, we then had to figure out how to share these findings with the pilot project organisations, in a constructive and learning-oriented manner. After much debating, the best we came up with was an eight-page report (we tried!) with follow up calls. Of most importance for us was to visualise the data without generalising the findings or missing the nuance the NPA can give. So after we graphed, and pie-charted, and density-plotted, disaggregated and tabled, I think we got there!

Yet, a big part about understanding the results of this baseline survey does not depend on how many pretty graphs you make, but how vulnerable and open you are to both good and bad feedback from the people you work with. More importantly, it is about making serious commitments to address and respond to the feedback you receive. Accountability is (to a large extent) about organisational culture and how we “practice” sustainable development. These changes take time, and as a sector we have lots of work to do on this front! For Resilient Roots and the pilot project organisations, this baseline was our point of departure for setting off on this journey.

In sum, this accountability baseline measurement has been truly illuminating – though quite challenging and a somewhat burdensome process. But we have learned a lot on the way and we will continue to improve and adapt our methodology based on these learnings. Now, we feel readier than ever to support these 15, very exciting accountability pilot projects organisations make the best out of their efforts to increase their primary constituent accountability!

If you think, “hmm this is interesting, I want to know more about this methodology” then you are in luck! During the Global Accountability Week taking place 12-16 November, we will publish a much more comprehensive guide about how your organisation can measure its own accountability baseline. Stay tuned!


Global Citizenship Education as a Sustainable Development course: My first class

By Claudia Cassoma, writer, student in special education and teaching and CIVICUS member

Claudia2Considering Sustainable Development as the program of study, the major, perhaps the end goal; let's look at Global Citizenship Education as the required course and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the elective ones.

On 3 October, I attended my first ‘class’ on Global Citizenship Education. It was held at the lavishly elegant Les Atéliers des Tanneurs, in Brussels, and wAas conducted by Bridge 47, a network of experts on the seventh target of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal, quality education. The classroom was filled with minds from different points of the world thirsty for knowledge. I did wish it was a little more culturally diverse; nonetheless, I loved that from the very beginning I felt inspired. From The Leap Manifesto, Maya Menezes opened the meeting with a simple sounding yet highly potent line that left me thinking ‘til the end. In her words, to change everything we need everyone. I held that in the muddle of my mind as I lived through that remarkable experience.

As we continued “unlocking the power of 4.7.” and deciphering the role of “Global Citizenship Education in achieving sustainable development” I was thinking about the most impactful way to deliver my own presentation. Yes! On the very first day of class I already had a presentation due. Being placed under the “changemakers” session was a responsibility I did not take lightly. I went in insisting on delivering nothing less than a true “story of impact”. I had an idea of what I wanted to say; however, as I got to observe the room and listen to all of those brilliant minds, that idea started conflicting with the question I had during my preparations: What exactly is ‘Global Citizenship Education’ and why does it matter to me as educator, humanitarian and as citizen of a country that barely knows the SDGs?


My Participation in the Bridge 47 Event and its Impact on our Education Program in Palestine

By Jamil Derbashi, from Palestinian Centre for Communication and Development Strategies (PCCDS), Palestine, and CIVICUS member

How the Bridge 47 project relates to our work in Palestine

Jamil DerbashiMy participation in the Bridge 47 Event in Brussels was one of my most important international meeting involvement in 2018. It focused mainly on the seventh objective of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal as defined by the United Nations for 2020-2030 (SDG4.7). The SDG 4.7 focuses on quality education towards a fair and resilient world (goal 4) and educating people as citizens of the world particularly (objective 7).

SDG4 is the framework of the Palestinian Centre for Communication and Development Strategies (PCCDS)’s work on education in Palestine. We will further be focusing on having a dialogue with the Palestinian Government and building coalitions to reach the objective of integrating “global citizenship” education within our strategic educational plan.

Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals were approved and signed by the Palestinian President who has the highest authority, and he has demanded the various ministries to apply them, with the Ministry of Education being one of these ministries. The Ministry of Education responded gradually to address some objectives of goal 4, but hasn't yet implemented SDG 4.7.

How my participation at the Bridge 47 will further nurture our work

My attendance to the Bridge 47 event was side by side with 100 of the largest institutions working on global and/or sustainable education from Europe mainly, and from around the world in general, as well as representatives of international alliances. I was one of the members of these alliances: CIVICUS – the World Alliance for Citizen Participation.


Pakistan: “Global Citizenship”, a western perspective?

By Khurram Riaz, CIVICUS member from Pakistan

KhurramWith 207.74 million people in the country, having more than 50% youth population and 22.8 million children out of school, Pakistan faces the grave challenges of human rights violation, gender based violence, insecurity and extremism. Heavy influx of refugees and temporary displaced persons, cross-border tension and the latest economic project, Global Citizenship Education is the most important agenda to be taken forward by the government but completely neglected.

In Pakistan, which termed as a postcolonial state where citizenship agency is low, national identity very strong, and foreign influence extremely high, what can the future be for a framework of global citizenship? Although taught in schools in many developed countries e.g. UK, global citizenship is a new terminology in Pakistan and having talked to some of the citizens, students, professionals and friends, the general mindset in Pakistan is more local than global, more politically affiliated and it does not extend beyond nation states. Yes the postcolonial state of mindset is still prevalent, where citizenship is tied to nation state only. Today we, in Pakistan, still consider that the ideology of global citizenship stems from a western perspective.

But, this is not the case. I attended the one daylong conference on Building Global Citizenship and how we can unlock the power of global citizenship education on October 3, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. This was hosted by Bridge 47 - a network of 16 European and International Organisations which CIVICUS is a steering group member. As many as 100 participants attended, representing an extremely diverse group, from a range of developed and developing countries and with unmatched enthusiasm and acknowledgement of the power of working together.

I was participating as a CIVICUS member, travelling all the way from Pakistan with a great FEAR in MIND: “I do not know anyone”. When I met the first Bridge 47 person: Tania, followed by Marina, Jamil, Claudia from CIVICUS, in a short time I felt myself part of the family. It felt so easy to talk to each one of them as if this was not the first time I was talking or even meeting them. When I started discussing about my country situation, I got the sense that they were bonding so much with me that they felt the issue and they provided expert advice. All of them are part of my family now and that's what Global Citizenship is: bringing the people together and seeing how the connections work.

I am grateful for this collective CIVICUS experience and meeting such fantastic people. I believe that the way we are bonded now, we can work for each other, support each other and even contribute to bringing peace and harmony in areas where we cannot even dream of going. This is Global Citizenship and together we can work for it.




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