Intimidation, censorship and defamation in the virtual sphere

In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. This region has the worst record for human rights globally; crackdowns on civic and democratic rights are frequent and widespread, and journalists and human rights defenders continue to bear the brunt of authoritarian regimes. Life is particularly hard for women; across the region, the repression of women and those advocating for women’s rights continues.  

Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is her story:

Report, block, speak up, reflect, seek help digitally, and practice self-care

As an exiled human rights advocate and a feminist coming from a volatile country, I find the online space is sometimes the only cosmos where I can interact with fellow activists and feminists from the same region and beyond. Yet the virtual world is packed with complex challenges and uncertainties. Its backdoors and obscure pathways can lead to jeopardies, persecution, and unanticipated impairments.

As someone who works on women’s rights by profession and embraces feminism by passion, I tend to use my words as my advocacy tools - written, spoken or conveyed in any way through solidarity and compassion. It is imperative to be assertive in a changeable world, but most importantly, to be ready to be proactive in an interactive space.

Before the COVID-19 crisis and the world awakening to the misinformation and information associated with it, and even before we were all forced to work online as part of the imposed lockdowns, activists from all around the world had already resolved to use online spaces as alternatives to the vicious physical ones. But even in the online sphere, we have been faced with constant intimidation, censorship, prosecution, defamation and electronic armies that strived to confiscate freedoms and attempted to steal our voices, our words. 

There have even been unarticulated threats, such as the development of Cyberlaws and anti-cybercrime laws, that are mainly designed to silence rights activists and defenders’ free speech and control any anti-government tweets and posts.

After the Syrian revolution started in 2011, and by taking inspiration from other revolutions in the region, social media contributed to breaking the fear imposed on us for decades and helped to mobilise efforts, convey solidarity and share learnt lessons. However, this has put many at risk of detention and resulted in a severe backlash from the government’s forces. The violence perpetrated by the Syrian government has put hundreds of thousands in prisons; many have been detained, tortured or have forcibly disappeared

Sometimes, if we survived, we found ourselves in the limbo of exile, participating in online demonstrations and campaigns. Safety remains relatively challenged. If we are unharmed physically, we may lose ourselves in the oblivion of self-flagellation for our insufficient activism, helplessness and inability to be physically present to be part of these unprecedented demands for freedom and dismantling authoritarianism. Yet, despite the internal struggle, we are often called traitors, home country destructors, agents for foreign agendas and more.

These challenges have never stopped for once, as online harassment mainly affects us as women and, even more, if we are activists. However, this form of gender-based violence continues to vary in its techniques yet is uniform in its cruelty.

As someone who is - most of the time - wearing so many hats, my work in human rights makes it extremely difficult for me to alienate myself from the other women activists and feminists, especially when speaking up about harassment in all forms and shapes.  Every single story I heard, every online incident I witnessed, every case I documented or supported has not only touched me, but it scared me forever! And pushed me to do what I do every day. Despite the burnout, the blemishes and the vulnerability that might put me off for days, these stories push me to work determinedly for years.

A week ago, I found myself navigating the newest social media platform, Clubhouse, speaking about the status of women in Arab countries, their challenges and risks; they are called extremist, hysterical, social disruptor, a traitor to religions, traditions and Arab society morals, only for advocating for women’s rights and speaking up about equality, abolishing patriarchy and demolishing authoritarianism. 

The struggle is real and continues to correlate with the COVID related challenges, as harassers are now spending the majority of their time online to enjoy their favourite hobbies of fabrications, gender-specific verbal abuses, virtual sexual harassments and cyberbullying. 

It is unfortunate that harassment reporting mechanisms remain chaotic and arbitrary in many cases, as abusers tend to create multiple accounts with fake names and identities to expand their abuse scale and make it difficult to track them and end their online violence. At the same time, online protection remains unfitting when women are twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment online and less likely to take action and ask for help. For now, my advice to myself and all women: report, block, speak up, reflect, seek help digitally and practice self-care! 

 

Building a diverse global team of activist for social transformation: Welcoming the CIVICUS Youth Action Team 2021-22

We at CIVICUS Youth are very thankful to the Youth Action Team (YAT) 2019-2020, a group of accomplished and inspiring young leaders from all over the world who work together for a year and a half to instill a more youth-friendly vision within CIVICUS and act as an inspiration for other organisations across the world to have youth at the center and make decisions that do not leave behind the power of 1.8 billion, the largest youth generation that the world has ever seen.

CIVICUS YAT 2021 22 4The YAT was actively engaged in the process of design, selection and identification of the next generation of this team. Each one became an ambassador in their own region to disseminate the call for applications with local activists, thus helping us to have a presence in communities that otherwise we would have missed. Then, they provided useful ideas to better assess  applications, like having less but more provocative questions that got to the core of the activism of the applicants. Finally, they help to assess the profiles of the incoming YAT and choose the most promising profiles to create a team that is complementary and can harness diversity as a key asset to foster innovation and a global community ready to tackle local challenges.

The key criteria used included: their experience as an activist and part of a larger youth-led organisation, their passion, commitment and resourcefulness; having a good understanding of CIVICUS Youth; skills and resources that can nurture and be nurtured by a global community of activists and; have an endorsement of an organisation/movement/collective that can confidently assess their leadership skills, proactiveness and capacity for mobilisation for social causes. Through these elements, it was easier to identify holistic profiles that would highly benefit from being part of a larger network with global reach and influence.

After this careful selection process, the new YAT comprises a gender-balanced group with 7 females and 6 males, representing the Americas and the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and Middle East and North Africa. It has activists as young as 18 years old and up to 30 years old, with experience ranging from global organisations like UNICEF, One Young World, and Amnesty International, to regional networks like the Afrika Youth Movement and local groups such as Ayudando a Honduras or One Future Collective. A mix of storytellers, grassroots activists, international advocates, social entrepreneurs, organisers, mobilisers and researchers, the team has an ample skill set to approach local challenges with a global perspective. The YAT 2021-22 includes an LGBTI rights activist and a champion for the inclusion of young people living with disabilities. While individually, each one has their own niche area of focus, collectively they can instill social change. However, it is not only about young people. Kejal Slava from India, the convener of the Blue Ribbon Movement – a group aiming to redefine leadership structure and use nonviolent practices – says that a world with meaningful youth engagement would be painted with colours of inter-generational wisdom, that creates space for everyone to learn and creatively act together. Yi Kang Choo, a law student of human rights from Malaysia adds that it is a world where national leaders and young people lead together, working as partners with equal relevance and value.

It has been a short while of getting to know each other so far and they have set the courageous vision of creating a powerful ecosystem of transformation, where the youth is at the center and challenges the status quo through togetherness and diversity. This might be the start of a shift that expands throughout the CIVICUS alliance and beyond.

 

Strengthening young activists by tagging-in local mentors and standing back

By CIVICUS youth

youth action lab logo finalOn the celebration of the International Youth month in August 2020, CIVICUS Youth launched a new mentorship format for the ten participants of the Youth Action Lab. The Youth Action Lab is a pilot project that seeks to test ways to strengthen youth activism in the global south. In the first year we learned how to better resource the next generation of changemakers in civil society through different approaches and the most valuable one was the mentorship component of the Lab.

Why mentorship was part of the Youth Action Lab

During the design phase of the Lab in 2019, the co-design team, composed of nine young grassroots activists itself, said that a mentorship or bespoke support component was necessary to support young activists to strengthen their activism strategies. Furthermore, other research from CIVICUS previous pilot projects with young activists, such as the Goalkeepers and interviews with other organisations working with youth, also highlighted the importance of mentorship and how valued it is by young people. Therefore, we knew that mentorship had to be a key part of the Lab to strengthen the efficiency, resilience and sustainability of youth movements advancing social justice agendas at the local level. With the support of an Advisory Group, we framed the mentorship as a horizontal learning exchange between the Lab participants and experienced civil society partners - not a traditional hierarchical mentorship. We wanted both parties to learn and grow from the experience in a safe and respectful space.

How did the Lab learning partnership start?

By the end of August 2020, each of the ten Lab participants identified a thematic and a technical learning partner to engage with over the course of 6 months. The Lab participants chose the themes and technical areas based on their area of work, geographic location, and previous skills needs assessment. Reflecting the diversity of the Lab participants themselves, there was a range of themes such as feminist leadership in the Pacific, Indigenous Rights Advocacy in the Philippines and rights of rural trans sex workers, women and youth in Uganda. Laber’s skills need assessment also showed diverse needs, so there were technical partners covering project management, budget management, and volunteer coordination to mention a few. In two cases, the thematic and technical partners were the same person, but in most cases, these were two separate experienced civil society partners. A really innovative arrangement came from the Lab participant Seif from Tunisia. He was interested in completing a film project during his lab year, so he decided to use his video service provider as his learning partner. This allowed him to learn directly with his partner by completing a project together. It was an arrangement outside of how we had conceived the partnership but led to an impressive body of work and skills transfer.

Seven of the ten Lab participants identified people they already knew and three were introduced to each other by CIVICUS. We tried to have the learning partner in the same country as the Lab participant and this worked for those that identified their own, but the CIVICUS matches were in different countries than the Lab participant. The CIVICUS matches also took longer to find which meant they did not get the full six months. Having the partner in-country was a high predictor and factor for success.

Once the learning partner confirmed interest in participating, CIVICUS sent a formal invitation, including the expectations: time commitment of six months, two sessions a month, one hour a session, USD900 stipend for the full commitment. If the learning partner accepted, they sent back their CV and three references. CIVICUS sent them a contract, workplan template and care pack which included information about CIVICUS, the Lab, CIVICUS Diversity & Inclusion Statement, accountability mechanisms, and how to create teams and psychological safety. They had one month to complete the workplan and submit it to the CIVICUS Youth coordination team along with the signed contract. The workplan was a one-pager that asked: what is the knowledge or skill you want to build, the projected outcome, the skills needed and the target completion date that the Lab participant and the learning partner agreed on.

The workplan was the only formal deliverable in the program. It was up to each of the partnerships to determine the times, ways and methods to best accomplish the desired objectives. Therefore, they had the flexibility to proceed with the meetings in the ways and times that worked best for them. They decided how to best use their time. For many, they had conversations on networking and advocacy plans. The learning partners filled many different roles over the six months – sometimes as advisors, sometimes cheerleaders, and sometimes actively making connections. For example, one learning partner helped connect the Lab participant to someone in government for an interview that furthered their activist objectives.

What were the key ingredients of the Learning Partnership?

Offering a stipend to a civil society leader or specialist in the area of interest of the Lab participant for their time mentoring them allowed both the Lab participant and learning partner to engage in a committed relationship structured by a contract moderated by a third party and in a space where the time of both partners was respected and valued. It was an investment in local network strengthening and provided flexibility within clear objectives and structure. Both aspects have been shown to be ways CIVICUS can add value and provide a high-quality experience for participants.

Relationships are key to building leadership and that takes time. Therefore, a space within a program to really invest in challenges and working
with young leaders expands our understanding of the reality they live in while also working together to grow through it. The Program is quite
open and flexible without a lot of complicated systems or interference from the CIVICUS team, thus giving ownership to the participant to work
the way that is best for them
.’ - Youth Action Lab Learning Partner

We evaluated the programme with the most recognised standard, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and it scored 92, which falls into the highest range: World-class. The learning partners all showed up for a final reflection session to share what worked and what to improve for the next round. The learning partners said it was a good experience because they learned about how to be mentors and about the struggle of the work of young activists in their countries. Because the learning partners were in the same country as the Lab participant in most cases, they could really provide specific and personalised advice better than what CIVICUS could provide. The Lab participants noted how important this was and it highlighted that for a global organisation like CIVICUS, it could not provide such bespoke support that a local experienced civil society leader could for these youth activists. They specifically mentioned that they really appreciated the workplan template, the autonomy, and the flexibility.

‘The learning partners helped expand on practical and contextualized knowledge I needed in my work, especially because they were also focused
on the same area, which for me is Indigenous knowledge in the Philippines. The programme also allowed me to gain more relevant skills such
as comms.’ - Kinja Tauli, Youth Action Lab participant

Despite the high score, the learning partners and lab participants still had ways we could improve. They highlighted that six months was too short, therefore, the 2021 cohort of the Youth Action Lab will have a ten month instead of six-month learning partner engagement. From the feedback session, we learned that some additional support on tracking the journey and sharing what is learned would be welcomed. As such, the new resources will include tools to track the progress of their learning journey through outcomes and story harvesting. And if interested, they will also have the possibility to write a blog post capturing the highlights of their work as learning partners.

To keep following the progress and learnings of the Youth Action Lab, subscribe to e-CIVICUS and join the Facebook group: CIVICUS youth united!

 

Deepening Roots: How our partners are doing nine months on

PJL9 Symposium

Photo: Projet Jeune Leader

By Jack Cornforth, Resilient Roots Coordinator, CIVICUS

Towards the end of 2020, we spoke to many of our national partners from the initial phase of the Resilient Roots initiative to find out how they are doing nine months after our financial and technical support for their pilot accountability projects ended (see them on our interactive map). Overall, the news was very encouraging, with the vast majority reporting sustained positive outcomes from this work, including ways it has enhanced their ability to cope with challenges related to Covid-19. Several key themes came through strongly:

Deepening and expanding accountability policies and practices

All partners have continued their accountability practices in one form or another, with most actually going a step further to deepen or expand their efforts. They told us this was because of multiple positive outcomes from the pilot phase, ranging from more engaged and active constituents, to a more collaborative and transparent internal working culture. 

This ongoing work has included training more staff and partners on the topic, new rounds of surveying constituents to assess organisational accountability, the maturing of new constituent-driven organisational bodies like Video Volunteers Council (India),  or even electing constituent representatives to the board of directors (PCCDS, Palestine). For many partners, this has enabled them to go beyond simply asking for feedback about their performance, to adopting an inclusive planning approach that directly involves constituents and wider stakeholders. Projet Jeune Leader (PJL) in Madagascar, for instance, have expanded their now annual partner school learning and planning symposium to involve a wider group of constituents. This includes school directors, whose involvement has been vital for embedding their programmes within the curriculum, aligning goals and how to measure them, and reducing pushback from skeptical parents.

In Peru, Kusi Warma has found that being more consultative when deciding what they do and how they do it - as well as transparent about how tight their budgets are - has helped the community to step up and take charge. For their new community kitchen project, for instance, the organisation provides support and advice but decisions are made by local people. Similarly, PJL is now attempting to run its programmes in twice as many locations by putting its trust in local delivery partners to roll out its activities more independently, whereas Poverty Reduction Forum Trust (PRFT, Zimbabwe) has enabled its constituents to play a more direct role in their advocacy work.

Accountability to staff

It was also wonderful to hear many organisations reinforce that being more transparent with their own staff, and taking a more inclusive approach to organisational planning and decision making is absolutely critical for both a healthy internal working culture and external accountability efforts. In Russia, OVD-Info has now created a specific action plan for increasing accountability to their staff, which includes clarifying their structure, values, and how decisions are made, while in Greece, Solidarity Now attributed its ability to more quickly close the feedback loop with its constituents to improved communication channels between different delivery partners. Others have started internal newsletters, and even developed a new scorecard system where educators can assess their supervisors and feel more energised as a result of having a greater voice. 

Engaging in the context of COVID-19

All partners reported a range of new challenges associated with the pandemic, including their ability to maintain a two-way flow of information with their constituents as virtually all engagement has moved online. Some have been able to help bridge the gap, such as PCCDS’ provision of microgrants to constituents for the purchase of mobile data. However, despite these efforts, many people have remained almost impossible to reach or include in activities. As a result, PRFT said that both the quantity and quality of feedback they’ve received has dropped. 

PCCDS 2

Photo: Palestinian Centre for Communication and Development

Nevertheless, several partners said that they were better prepared for the shift to virtual-only engagement because of their improved understanding of who their constituents are and how they prefer to communicate, and having multiple online channels already up and running. Kusi Warma, for instance, switched to primarily engaging their communities through telephone conversations. But they have also regularly sent simple staff-shot mobile phone videos with information and advice, so people can see who they have been talking to.

Adapting to new constituent needs

Many partners told us that the upheaval from Covid-19 has required them to pause, ask what their constituents need during this time, and adapt their activities accordingly. This has ranged from providing badly needed new services, such as psychological support for families hit hard by the pandemic, or even helping ensure access to clean water - something totally new for child rights and education organisation Educo (Nicaragua). Other shifts have been more subtle, with human rights watchdog OVD-Info eventually meeting increasing demands from their constituents to provide guidance on quarantine-related restrictions, despite them initially seeing this as out of scope for them. Whereas FemPlatz in Serbia helped to address changing constituent needs more indirectly by connecting them with other organisations who could provide the services they needed.   

Accountability for resilience 

Several organisations explained that the ability to pivot and meet the changing needs of their constituents is itself crucial for organisational resilience. Even if their accountability practice isn’t directly helping to counter closing civic space, which has made the work of several partners during the pandemic not just harder but in some cases more dangerous, there was a clear feeling that maintaining community trust and support is key to organisational survival. Furthermore, several organisations have been able to successfully integrate their accountability work into subsequent grants - including from a new domestic donor for PCCDS - and use the positive outcomes from these efforts so far to sell themselves to donors in what has become an increasingly tough fundraising environment.  

Supporting Others

Many partners have also been able to share their new-found accountability expertise with wider audiences. By regularly telling the story of their successes and lessons learned, PJL has been building a new evidence base on how to effectively build community support for sex education programmes in socially consertaive contexts. In this regard, their regular magazine isn’t just important for closing the feedback loop with the communities they work with, it’s also a key advocacy tool. Similarly, PCCDS has produced what it believes to be the first guide to good accountability practice for organisations in the Palestinian context. And in Serbia, FemPlatz used their growing network and enhanced consultation skills to bring many of their partners together to discuss how the pandemic has affected their constituents, and how their organisations can adapt to help meet these changing needs. What’s more, they have also provided recommendations to both partners and donors about how to support women with disabilities, as a group hit particularly hard by the impacts of Covid-19. Overall, there was also much interest from the partners in engaging more with CIVICUS and its wider members on accountability work. 

Beyond the progress made by each partner, reconnecting with these colleagues has been an important way for CIVICUS to sense-check our approach and validate our ongoing organisational commitment to taking this work to wider audiences. But it has also provided us with further lessons and good practices that others can learn from and adapt to their own contexts. In this regard, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with these important accountability ambassadors, including via the Dynamic Accountability Community of Practice (please do join up!). You can also read this summary of the Resilient Roots phase two, which we have been implementing since July 2020, and join our mailing list to receive updates and opportunities related to the initiative. 


For more info, contact  

A massive thank you to Hannah Wheatley and Oriana Castillo for helping to craft our approach and conducting the interviews, as well as to our amazing partners for doing such an incredible job at taking their constituent accountability practice to new heights!

 

2020 to reshape the future of humanity

By Hafiz Jawad Sohail, Climate Reality Leader and SDGs Advocate from Pakistan

2020 was a year of real superheroes. Never before has there been a borderless event of this magnitude that has influenced our thinking, lifestyle, decision making, and inter-dependence. Local and global dynamics have totally changed and 2020 has not been a normal year in any way. 

We cannot deny the fact that this year was dramatic and horrific for many of us. On top of nearly two million deaths from the virus there has also been a rise in domestic violence, unemployment and economic instability. Disinformation was also widespread and the role of social media was criticised for not fulfilling its due responsibilities. COVID- 19 disrupted the operational capabilities of businesses across the globe and put in danger many small and medium enterprises. In short, this year has changed the economic, political, social and environmental dynamics forever. 

Now we realise the devastation caused by the pandemic but COVID-19 has also acted as a wake-up call for all of us to adapt to the changing environment and to reimagine the roles of industry, government, and civil society. We saw many positive things this year and believe me, the events of 2020 are going to reshape the future of humanity. For instance, this was the year of creativity, digital connectivity, virtual events, remote working, innovation, and dare I say evidence-based decision-making. We saw many inventions in the field of healthcare, fintech, and online education. We also witnessed many acts of kindness & charity, sacrifice, and gained a new appreciation for those that work on the frontlines. This was also the year of social activism, women leadership, and Black Lives Matter. 

There has also been a greater demand for accountability and transparency in decision making, inclusive of all sectors. We also looked back at our food production strategies and the risks facing our global supply chains. During this year we also talked about the prospects of digitalization, the digital economy, green finance, data protection, and the importance of cybersecurity. Most importantly, our planet got a breather after many centuries of resource-intensive industrialization. In a year that science could not be denied, many of the skeptics finally woke up to both the crisis and the opportunity of climate change.

As we welcome another new year, we also have many challenges ahead of us in 2021. Successful recovery requires redesigning our economies so that we prioritise sustainability over short term profits. Building back better will also require us addressing rising inequality. The distribution of the coronavirus vaccine will be a critical test to see if we are serious about equitable access to public goods.

 

Persevering through the pandemic

Message from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

What a year it has been! 2020 came with so many new challenges - both personally and professionally.  Many in the alliance reported new and worrying civic space restrictions taking root, shrinking funding, and vital activities forced to a standstill under lockdowns and health concerns. 

Yet, we have persevered as an Alliance. Both at the Secretariat and across the world, activism shifted online, we found new ways to convene and conduct research, and adjusted programming to address new realities shaped by the pandemic. Listening to the Alliance, work at the secretariat largely focused on resourcing, rights, and resilience. Recent months have been just as busy: 

  • We published 2 thought-provoking research reports  - you can learn more about People Power Under Attack or read inspiring stories of Solidarity in the Time of Covid-19 
  • The first series of ICSW virtual events has been completed - 7 unique conversations,  11 hours of streaming,  41 speakers from 25 countries, with over 650 attendees! 
  • Linked to Human Rights Day and 16 Days of Activism, we continued to encourage people to #StandAsMyWitness and celebrated the release of 2 featured HRDS since the start of the campaign in July. 
  • We’re expanding our network of member spokespeople across the globe, with a pilot group already taking part in media training. 

We’ve just wrapped up the virtual CIVICUS Annual General Meeting held 7-11 December 2020, an opportunity to reflect on our collective strength and discuss priorities going forward. Members reviewed the annual report, connected with each other, and participated in events about resourcing, how language shapes narratives, the #StandAsMyWitness campaign, and diversity & inclusion.

Recently, CIVICUS undertook a scoping exercise with staff, board, and selected members thinking about challenges facing our sector and how we could innovatively respond to these. We used a design thinking approach and held online engagements with 80+ individuals and came out with 10 ideas that we are integrating into our planning and programming in the coming year.

This coming year we'll be reaching out to the alliance to explore post-pandemic re-building for good and piloting a new member to member communications platform.  We’ll also be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the publishing of the State of Civil Society Report! Building on virtual events this year, the revisioned 2021 ICSW journey will continue to be a space for civil society to connect; watch for the open call for innovation awards nominations in early 2021 to celebrate the best civil society has to offer. Innovation Awards. 

In January, CIVICUS is pleased to welcome newly elected board members. I’d like to thank all of the outgoing board members for their work with and commitment to CIVICUS, and look forward to working with the incoming members. 

CIVICUS offices will be closed from 24 December to 4 January. I look forward to connecting with all of you again next year. It is my great honour to work with such inspiring activists and organisations that make up the CIVICUS Alliance, who are daring to organise and mobilise in new and creative ways, pushing back against threats to democracy, and raising their voices for change. 

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS

STANDASMYWITNESS COVER   PPUA cover
      
Twitter PPUA 2020 top violations regions 12   ICSW2020 Cover

 

 

#SiConLasOSC - Yes with CSOs!

By Oriana Castillo, CIVICUS

In July 2019, the VUKA! Coalition, a group working to coordinate civil society actors to reclaim civic space across the globe, supported VUKA! ally Alternativas y Capacidades to bring together 25 CSOs from across Mexico for a pilot workshop on strategies to counteract the stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society in the country.

Ori blog

There is a growing perception of insecurity and corruption in the country, which has affected everything, including public perceptions of CSOs.[1] Mexico’s corruption index, as announced by Transparency International, is one of the worst in the region.[2] Furthermore, the CIVICUS Monitor lists Mexico’s civic space as “Restricted”, with many CSOs facing surveillance, harassment and intimidation from the government or other non-state actors like organised crime groups like the drug cartels.[3] One tactic used by actors who are trying to avoid scrutiny from CSOs is to undermine their legitimacy via campaigns to discredit their work and leaders, which has contributed to a narrative that CSOs are also part of the country’s corruption problem.

Therefore despite a fairly strong institutional framework on paper, much of the country continues to lack a political and legal culture in which CSOs are able to operate freely and hold decision makers to account.[4] In order to maintain their independence from those in power, there is therefore much onus on CSOs to be transparent and rigorous in their approaches, as well as vigorously defend their space and access to resources.

Against this backdrop, the workshop brought participants together to explore ways to directly confront the discrediting messages they face. This included via campaigns to share impact stories through videos and other accessible formats, to change the narrative about the role and work of Mexican civil society. As a next step, allies in Mexico created a civil society campaign called #SiConLasOSC (Yes with CSOs), which currently involves more than 200 groups. In particular, #SiConLasOSC aims to rebuild trust and awareness of the role CSOs play in the community and the positive effects their work has in the country.

For example, CSOs are currently generating the equivalent of 3% of Mexico’s GDP and reinvesting that money in promoting social welfare, providing public services such as education and health to vulnerable population groups, renewing and safeguarding the environment, and preventing domestic violence directed towards women and children.[5]

One of the coalition’s strengths is the diversity and plurality it represents, with a presence throughout the country, and most importantly, a clear understanding of the needs of the population. Now more than 1.5 million people work for organisations involved in the campaign, who have a further 2 million volunteers all around the country.

They have gained legitimacy by listening to those communities they seek to represent, but also by working together they have generated fresh momentum for their respective causes. The organisation Fondo Guadalupe Musalem, for instance, which advocates for women’s rights, is helping members of indigenous groups to access formal education. Whereas another organisation, ASHOKA, created an alliance with American Express to host a workshop on Social Entrepreneurship for Development, in order to address needs related to income generation identified by the communities they work with.

The support these organisations give to the excluded communities has proven to be effective in reclaiming spaces and overcoming previously hostile attitudes and perceived connections to the corruption and waste that continues to contribute to poverty, violence and lack of access to health and educational services.

By bridging divisions, offering support, and fighting government laws that promote the use of “legitimate” force against protests, for example, the organisations involved in the campaign are attempting to strengthen a culture of citizen participation, accountability, and create a sense of community. Furthermore, the coalition has accrued legitimacy by constantly demonstrating how they are spending and investing their money, and explicitly communicating how their activities are helping community-embedded CSOs in Mexico to flourish. And, in doing so, they continue to say “yes with CSOs” and the fight for further public support. #SiConLasOSC!

 

[1] Una fotografía de la Sociedad Civil en México

[2] México detiene caída en el Índice de Percepción de la Corrupción: Transparencia Mexicana

[3] CIVICUS Monitor: Mexico

[4] Una fotografía de la Sociedad Civil en México

[5] Picture translated by the authors. For the original version please visit Alternativas y Capacidades

 

Low engagement in virtual events: are we lacking digital confidence?

As virtual events become more relevant in our lives, we need to analyse what elements are limiting people’s willingness or capacity to engage with others in the virtual space

By Richa Puri

This year is like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has left most of us trapped in the world of video-calling interfaces and virtual interactions. But are we all comfortable enough interacting and expressing ourselves in this new space? After being part of the ICSW team organising seven virtual events this year, I have the feeling that the answer is no.

We had webinars where participants were very engaged. They commented in the chatbox, posted questions in the Q&A box, and even raised their hands to give an opinion in front of the camera during breakout room sessions. But in some events, engagement was low. And I saw this happening more and more in other online events outside ICSW as well.

With my anthropological lens, I tried to analyse the hidden reasons leading to this dwindling engagement in webinars and online meetings. Are we experiencing virtual hesitation, shyness, anxiety, social phobia, fatigue or fear? Do we need to build or boost our digital confidence?

I believe that a mix of those factors can undermine the digital confidence of people attending virtual events and limit their willingness or capacity to engage with others. Maybe some are too shy to speak in front of a camera or to take the microphone. Others could be intimidated by “high profile” speakers, experts or peers in the audience, and that could stop them from sharing their views, opinions or asking questions even in a written way. Nowadays, many events offer simultaneous interpretation (we did in every ICSW/virtual event), but if it is not provided, attendees who do not feel confident communicating in the main language of the event may choose not to engage, not even writing comments or questions.

To some extent, people may experience social anxiety induced by the idea of being negatively judged by other attendees and organisers during online events.

Of course, low levels of engagement could be influenced by other elements not linked to digital confidence. Maybe the event is just not engaging. Attendees may be multitasking or have a poor internet connection that limits their interaction. The kind of device used to join an online event also plays a critical role in increasing the attention span and lowering participation.

For example, while using Zoom on mobile phones, attendees cannot see the live stream and access the chatbox at the same time because screens are too small. In this case, it is understandable that some people prefer to focus on watching the presentation, the speaker or the performance rather than exchanging comments.

Online communication is here to stay. That means that we need to pay more attention to digital confidence and to any other digital challenges and gaps that reduce the meaningful engagement of participants in online meetings and events.

The ICSW 2020-21 journey will continue next year and while we may focus more on local, in-person events (if the sanitary situation allows it), virtual events will continue to be a part of our global conversation about people power. We will increase our efforts to make this conversation more interactive, including finding ways to strengthen the digital confidence of those who join this journey.

 

The humanising power of art in virtual events

By Bistra Kumbaroska

“...Do whatever it takes to fuel the fire, fuel the fight
Take a knee, march for your lives…
They will give us hashtags and petitions
We will rewrite the narrative, we will be the revolutionaries...”

-Tarryn Booysen, South Africa

 

In May, we hosted a webinar that opened up our eyes about how powerful art could be to deepen connection in online events. During the event, “Why Positive Narratives are Critical to People Power” organised with Innovation for Change, participants joined different breakout rooms and one was hosted by ArtLords, an Afghanistan-based grassroots movement that shared how they promote social transformation through wall murals and art. The interest and engagement in that breakout room were outstanding! Participants could not get enough of the murals and community building activities presented by ArtLords. They also shared their own passion and similar projects using art for change in their countries.

At that moment, we were a couple of months into the pandemic and most online event organisers had noticed that people were experiencing online fatigue and low energy, were bored of stiff webinar formats and uninspiring content and needed more human connection. Planning for our next event, we knew that we needed to go beyond the panel format. Inspired by the wonderful experience with ArtLords, we decided to dedicate our next webinar completely to art.

Our colleagues at DIGNA, the Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action, co-organised and co-hosted that webinar with us. They came up with a brilliant concept that resulted in the most unusual, vibrant and human event of our ICSW/virtual series: a live art showcase under the title Artivism for Inclusion (artivism is the intersection between art and activism).

The DIGNA team opened a call for art submissions and received a vast number of submissions from artivists all around the world. Ten artivists were chosen to present their work or perform during the live show. The group was a mix of talented poets, writers, musicians, muralists and collage artists who are activists in areas like feminism, land rights, human rights, youth activism, anti-racism and LGBTI rights, among others.

The Artivism for Inclusion showcase went live on July 1st, 2020. The artivists delivered the most powerful, vulnerable, honest and courageous performances and interventions to present their work and share the stories behind it. From the first presentation and until the last one, attendees flooded the chatbox with admiration and thank you messages.

On top of the performances, DIGNA members hosted follow-up breakout rooms where the artists and the show attendees, also from diverse backgrounds and locations, engaged in inspiring conversations about art, activism, change and life in general. It was great to see attendees open up to share and express themselves. It felt like everyone had something to say and this was the exact place where they wanted to say it.

“Art connects straight to the heart and makes everyone feel like home. Everyone who performed was pure joy and love. I saw so much strength in each one of them. I was so happy to be part of it!,” wrote one participant. Another person said that the session felt like “nurturing radical kindness.”

Thanks to the power of art, this event allowed us to experience kindness, unity, togetherness, self-exploration and creativity, things that are especially cherished in these difficult times. It allowed us to simply be human together.

The showcase recording is available on our Youtube channel. Additionally, DIGNA published a collection of the work presented that day, and curated a truly unique online gallery including submissions from other artivists who were not featured on the online event. The response from our community to this event and publications has been so positive that we plan to feature the art gallery in future local or regional ICSW events in 2021, and we definitely will continue to include art in our events, either virtual or face-to-face.

 

Beyond the checklist: what made ICSW/virtual events special?

By Bistra Kumbaroska

Let me start this blog post with a personal confession: I love organising events, any kind of events - workshops, conferences, hackathons, week-long summits, team building activities, celebrations and anniversaries. From experience, I can say that part of the success when organising in-person events is to pay as much attention to delivering great content as to curating the venue and ambiance: having a great welcome desk, a nice coffee corner, providing spaces for people to make connections, keeping the goodie bag exciting, the garbage bins regularly empty and making sure the “behind-the-scenes” team is visible and approachable at any time.

Reflecting on our experience organising the ICSW 2020 virtual series, I realised that in virtual events, the screen is the only thing we have to deliver a full event experience, to try and keep the audience's attention and to meet their scrutiny and expectations. And that screen is home to hundreds of other apps, messages, and inboxes that you cannot control. Plus, behind that screen the pets might be having loud fun, the kids might be dancing or the neighbours might be ringing the bell right at the time of the event. So, without coffee breaks, networking spaces and happy unexpected hugs from colleagues - what can one do to offer a good event experience through the screen? I want to share three things that I think made ICSW virtual events especially valuable for our participants, which go beyond all the customary preparations and steps on our checklists.

  1. We made sure our speakers felt as if they were stars (or at least, we tried)

We were very used to preparing speakers for previous ICSW physical events, but preparing speakers for online events is a very different task. Even the best and most experienced speakers can feel uncomfortable online. It takes more time and preparation to help speakers and hosts feel comfortable “on-air”. We found out that regular check-ins and preparations calls before, sometimes quite ahead of the event, help a lot. During these calls we figured out if the speakers needed another microphone, a room with better light, if they could share their screen and if their presentation would be engaging enough for an online audience. Bringing a wide diversity of voices, backgrounds and opinions into our conversations also required many context-based preparations and individual calls. This time dedicated to the speakers was key to helping them show the best version of themselves during the live event and to connect with the participants in authentic ways! From our first fishbowl discussion to our last engaging panel with 10 speakers - we tried to serve our speakers the best way I hope that they felt like stars, at least for a few minutes.

2. The backstage team was the heartbeat of every event

Always and forever: teams and people matter! But in online events, they matter a tiny little bit more. Each of our ICSW/virtual events was hosted with different CIVICUS clusters, teams, partners and members, and the happier and more organised our team was, the easier it was to have a positive energy shining through the screen. Virtual events take lots of online coordination, checklists, emails, documents, chats and meetings - it took us an average of 50 emails, 16 calls and 19 people to organise each event! During all those sometimes messy steps, our team came up with the most brilliant ideas and solutions. Why? Because we consciously created the conditions and designated the time needed to discuss every detail of every event and we made sure everyone’s voice was heard and followed through. Providing and protecting a space for honesty and creativity for the coordination team was a key element, the heartbeat of each event. Whenever a speaker, moderator, interpreter or any other person joined us, they felt that backstage heartbeat and energy and strengthened it.

ICSW Team 2020

                                                                                             The lead team behind ICSW 2020 virtual events

 3. We are building a community, not an audience

ICSW 2020-21 was designed as a one-year journey including virtual events, in-person local and regional events, and a global event. To us, all the people following this journey are more than an audience, they are our community, and we tried to engage with them in that way event after event. We tried checking what resonated with them and what didn’t to adjust our global conversation. We cherished all chat comments and received every individual email from our attendees with great pride and care, responding in the most honest and open way possible every time. We tried to allow spaces for people to connect with each other beyond the livestream and tracked five connections that led to meaningful partnerships thanks to ICSW virtual events! During our fourth ICSW event one participant wrote, “this event made me feel more connected to people than I have during the pandemic.” Knowing that we helped create that sense of connection and community is one of the most valuable results of our virtual journey together.

 

 

3 hard lessons learned during the ICSW/Virtual webinar series

Organising our webinar series was a joy met with a few challenges like dealing with Internet trolls. Check out what difficult lessons we learned in the last months.

  1. Webinar overload and video call fatigue are challenging online engagements

We conceived the ICSW/Virtual webinar series last year, in a pre-COVID-19 world. People seemed to have a little bit more time and excitement for joining online events, and we knew that there was a strong interest in the topics we planned to cover. Then the pandemic happened and all human interactions moved online. The number of Zoom’s daily meeting participants grew from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020. The web also became flooded with webinars - webinar platforms reported hosting from 330% to 500% more webinars compared to last year. In the meantime, people started experiencing online and ‘video call fatigue.’

In March, we realised that we would have to compete harder for space, resources and attention to organise, promote and deliver our webinars. We had to reconsider our planned content because people had new worries and priorities. The pandemic had serious implications for civil society and we wanted to provide relevant information. We tried to adapt quickly and to keep the events relevant and engaging, considering that people are increasingly overwhelmed by webinars and are tired of being on video calls all day. But in the end, we had to accept that things like attendance or the time people could stay in our events could drop, and sometimes did. We are still learning how to adjust to these circumstances to keep providing valuable online engagements for civil society.

  1. Prepare to avoid but also to face Internet trolls and Zoombombings

Our first ICSW/virtual webinar, ‘Supporting Youth-led Movements and Groups as Key Drivers of People Power,’ was very successful in attendance and engagement, but it was also the first time that we had to deal with an Internet troll. We were very aware of all the Zoombombings happening with the increased use of videoconferencing platforms due to the pandemic and we took precautions to avoid having our sessions hijacked. However, we kept the chat enabled to allow webinar participants to engage with comments during the conversation, and that is how the troll posted insulting comments directed to a speaker. We removed the troll immediately, but it was technically impossible to remove the comments.

Luckily, we did not have any security issues in our six remaining events. We became much more alert and are regularly improving our security practices to provide safe and inclusive spaces for conversation. But we know that there is always the risk of facing something similar and we must be prepared to deal with it. An interesting fact is that we considered disabling the chat during public webinars, but attendees request having this space to interact, share their name, post a comment (most of the time positive and enriching), and say thanks and goodbye. People crave some interaction; it gives online events a soul! We continue looking for ways to keep our online events safe without having to sacrifice human connection.

  1. We need to get better at hosting inclusive events

The CIVICUS alliance has 10,000 members from all around the world, who speak many languages and have different needs in terms of accessibility to content. During the ICSW/virtual series, we made sure to have speakers from several countries, contexts, ages, areas of work, etc. We promoted the events in English, French and Spanish (the three main languages spoken by our audiences), and provided simultaneous interpretation in these languages during the events – once we had eight interpreters! That took a great deal of coordination, effort and investment. But we acknowledge that we were not inclusive enough.

We know that a good number of people have limited access to the Internet and joining online events is not an option, or their attendee experience is not the best. We are aware that part of our target audience speaks other languages that we are not providing interpretation for or need captions or other supports that we were not able to provide. Sometimes our interpreters had technical issues and attendees could not hear them, or people joined from devices that did not allow them to access the interpretation feature. In a way, we learned that online events can’t be 100% inclusive, but we took notes and are committed to improving our strategies and practices to make sure that more people have quality access to online spaces and conversations.

 

3 positive lessons learned during the ICSW/Virtual webinar series

After celebrating seven online conversations about people power, we are inspired by the potential of virtual engagements and the resilience of civil society

  1. Virtual events can be fertile ground for people power

Through our seven ICSW/virtual webinars, over 400 people (between attendees, speakers, collaborators and video viewers) engaged in meaningful conversations and exchanges that enriched our knowledge, souls and amplified the voices of civil society. Diverse activists from several countries shared their work, perspectives, concerns, recommendations and real-life solutions to current civil society issues related to COVID-19, global governance, youth activism, funding, digital security, positive narratives, self-care and even artivism! Some participants built connections during our webinars that translated into greater visibility and new collaboration opportunities. And these virtual conversations will be the foundation for the next step of our journey: in 2021, activists around the world will organise local events (COVID-19 permitting) to expand on these topics at a community level.

We acknowledge that there are significant gaps that must be addressed to make virtual engagements more safe, inclusive and enabling for all civil society, but we must recognise the good and try to build on it. After ICSW/virtual we are inspired by the potential of virtual events as fertile ground for people power!

2. People power is tenacious and resilient

Hosting these conversations in the middle of a pandemic allowed us to see how the crisis exacerbated the threats and challenges faced by civil society around the world, but they also evidenced the tenacity and resilience of people power.

For example, young activists in our events showed how they are working under very adverse financial conditions, but they keep leading powerful social, political and environmental movements around the world. Other activists shared how lockdowns increased restrictions on key freedoms and stopped crucial mobilisations in their countries while funding for their work plummeted, but they were very solution-driven and focused on reinventing strategies to face this new reality. While issues and injustices were voiced, people focused on the way forward, on collaborations, sharing lessons and creating solutions in every conversation. And that attitude shows in the field. Movements like #blacklivesmatter got stronger during this crisis, and as we documented in this report, despite the limited resources and other restrictions, civil society everywhere has provided vital, bold, creative and innovative responses to the pandemic.

3. Turn your good and hard lessons into useful tools

Organising and delivering a series of webinars does not seem like a big deal. But it is. Coordinating with many teams of partner hosts and numerous speakers spread around the world is quite complex. Delivering all the engagements in three languages is hard. And technically, everything can go wrong before, during and after a webinar! From dealing with problematic software to manage participants or host the events; having a bad internet connection, microphones not working or Internet trolls threaten your webinar; to losing your webinar recording.

But we learned so much! We had a learning log to track all the things that went great, not so well and very bad, and those reflections were used to develop protocols and tools to improve our webinars. Thanks to the ICSW/virtual experience, we have new checklists, security protocols, consent forms, and knowledge that helped our small team and also other colleagues in our organisation. We also have a good list of things left to do, learn and fix. We are determined to translate this learning into better experiences and an improved global conversation about people power for everyone who is following the ICSW 2020-21 journey.

 

Myanmar elections show the regression of civic space over the last five years

By Lisa Majumdar, Advocacy Officer, CIVICUS

Amidst a flurry of high-profile elections this week, it will be Myanmar’s turn to go to the polls on 8 November. Nearly 100 political parties are contesting the country’s general election, with the upper and lower houses of the national, state and regional governments all to play for.

This will be the second election in Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2011. But the contrast between the two could hardly be starker. While the 2015 elections saw a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) amid a groundswell of hope for democratic progress and human rights change, the upcoming election will take place in an environment of ongoing serious human rights violations, escalating attacks on democratic freedoms and discriminatory policies.

Unfree and unfair

The conditions for free and fair elections depend on an open civic space, where voters have access to information, can enjoy freedom of expression and opinion, and are able to organize and gather. Countries that purport to be democracies have a responsibility to ensure that these conditions are met, so that people can truly have a say in their own governance.

But in Myanmar, these conditions are in short supply.

As the CIVICUS Monitor has documented, there has been a sustained attack on civic space in the country over the last few years. Human rights defenders, journalists and critics have been criminalized and attacked for speaking up about human rights violations. A raft of old draconian laws are deployed by the government and military to silence dissent. 

This already has created an unhealthy environment for elections. However, in the run-up to the election, authorities have compounded this by actively targeting electoral processes. 

For example, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), which has been accused by human rights groups of making critical decisions without transparency, has censored the speeches of political parties that want to broadcast campaign materials on state-run TV and radio networks. The election commission’s stringent guidelines on the content of speeches means that criticism of government policies by opposition parties has essentially been banned from state-run airwaves, denying voters crucial information. 

Government-imposed internet restrictions in Rakhine and Chin States – which have now lasted for more than a year – has had a serious impact on the ability of voters in the affected areas to access information about candidates, parties, and their positions. 

The government’s response to COVID-19 had a negative impact on media freedom, affecting the ability of the electorate to be informed. Journalists and media workers have been declared a nonessential business and face travel restrictions due to the government’s strict stay-at-home orders, hindering comprehensive coverage. Four national newspapers – the Standard Times, 7 Day Daily, the Myanmar Times, and the Voice Daily – announced their decision to suspend circulation of their newspapers from 23 September 2020. Notably, the publication of state-owned newspaper will not be affected. 

Discriminatory policies 

Most egregiously, though, the Myanmar government is preventing people from voting or from standing for election altogether. 

It has systematically and deliberately disenfranchised voters from ethnic minorities, using the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law and the Election Law to prevent Rohingya candidates from running for office, even though most Rohingya families have lived in Myanmar for generations. 

They include Abdul Rasheed, a Yangon resident whose father was a civil servant and who was born and has lived his whole life in Myanmar. Kyaw Min, the chairperson of the Democracy and Human Rights party, has also been barred despite having run in the 1990 election and spending years as a political prisoner alongside thousands of NLD activists and others.

The authorities have barred an estimated 600,000 Rohingya from registering to vote in the election. None of the million Rohingya who fled genocide in Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh will be allowed to vote. This adds yet another layer of repression and discrimination on a community that has experienced ethnic cleansing and a systematic denial of their rights in recent years. 

Voting has been suspended or cancelled in various constituencies in Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan States, and the Bago Region, with the election commission citing security concerns. As a result, over 1.5 million people will not be able to vote.

It is a common feature of would-be autocrats to attempt to suppress the votes of those who disagree with, or are negatively impacted by, their policies. Myanmar is not the only country to attempt to do so; it is not even the only country to have done so this week. But for a country where optimism for change and freedom shone so brightly five years ago, this represents a bleak failure of democratic progress. 

The two elections, five years apart, have bookended a downward spiral into gross human rights violations, attacks against dissenters, and a curtailment of democratic freedoms. While some countries have spoken up and stood by human rights defenders and victims of violations, other countries, particularly in the Southeast Asian region, have failed miserably to call out Myanmar on its actions.  Whatever the outcome of this elections – marred already by acts of censorship, racist voter suppression and other restrictions – we all must redouble our efforts to support civil society and activists to reverse the democratic regression we have witnessed since the 2015 elections.

 

Violence against transgender people in Pakistan

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Transforming information into impactful formats 

1. Who is Abigail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Celebrating our 10,000 strong alliance!

Secretary General’s Update: August 2020

lysajohn

 

India: Rich Land of Poor People

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

 Sudha Bharadwaj

                                                                                                              Sudha Bharadwaj

 

By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

India’s Adivasi community

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

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

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

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

Political Consciousness

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

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

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

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

Women & Workers’ Rights

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

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

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

Smear Campaign & Imprisonment

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

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

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

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

#StandAsMyWitness

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

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

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

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

 

3 funding concerns for civil society during this pandemic

3Funndingconcernsforcivilsociety

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts: 

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

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

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

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

Facts:

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

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

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

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

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

Facts

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

 

 

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

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

by CIVICUS Youth

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

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

The story of a youth resourcing pilot

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

Provide resources that support civil society in different ways

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

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

Give activists space in media

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

Be open and flexible throughout the process

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

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

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

Avoid hefty reporting requirements

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

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

 

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

Secretary General's Update

lysajohn

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

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

What are our COVID-19 efforts achieving?

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

Key developments in this regard include:

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

Acting on our Mid-term Strategy Review

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

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

CIVICUS Midterm Strategy Review

Improving our Accountability

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

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

In solidarity,

Lysa John

Secretary-General, CIVICUS

(Johannesburg, South Africa)

 

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

Secretary General’s Update 

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS
@lysajohn 

 

7 Q&As about participatory grantmaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about participatory grantmaking:

 

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

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

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

CIVIL SOCIETY RESPONSES

Civil society and human rights analyses:

Donor messages:

Civil Society statements and messages

Amnesty International

Asian Venture Philanthropy Network

CIVICUS

Council on Foundations

Fireflight Foundation Fireflight Foundation

Harvard Kennedy School

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

 

RESOURCES

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

working from home 

Working from home? Some resources to help you:

Civil society and online activism:

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

OPPORTUNITIES FOR CIVIL SOCIETY

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

 

5 amazing funds that are making a difference for women

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

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

Blog 5 funds women

 

           1. Tewa – Nepal’s women fund

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

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

           2. With and for Girls

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

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

           3. FCAM - Central American Women's Fund

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

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

           4. Red Umbrella Fund

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

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

           5. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

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

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

 

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

Secretary General’s Update

lysajohnDear CIVICUS members and allies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS
@lysajohn

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

accessible info 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion journey continued

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

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

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

December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read part one of the Diversity and Inclusion journey here

[Image Iain Merchant]

 

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

By: Youth Co-Design Team

YAL Logo

The challenges of grassroots activism

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

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

Why resourcing youth-led groups is so critical? 

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

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

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

Co-Designing Solutions Together 

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

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

Designing the Youth Action Lab

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

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

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

 

Handy tips and techniques to help you with your next proposal

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

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

 

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

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,


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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS
@lysajohn

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. More co-creation and collective work is needed

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

  1. Civil society-donor relationships must improve

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


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

 

CIVICUS Annual General Meeting

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

Board Meeting

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

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

Code of Conduct

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

Annual Constituency Survey

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

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

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

Mid-point strategic priority review

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIVICUS Solidarity Fund (CSF)

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

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

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

 

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

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

cop25 event lyndal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCAC Declaration

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

SCAC declaration PDF
https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/manifiesto-climatico-1.pdf

Launch of the SCAC Declaration:

Note on the launch event: https://www.porlaaccionclimatica.cl/las-voces-de-latinoamerica-se-unen-sociedad-civil-lanza-manifiesto-climatico-latinoamericano/

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


Further reading, media coverage of CIVICUS engagement:

Activists Demand Urgency At UN Climate Change Conference, NPR
https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/10/activists-un-climate-change-conference

Chile y la ‘COP ciudadana’, El Pais
https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/11/15/planeta_futuro/1573817941_636672.html

Are Global South experts sidelined in climate conversations?, Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/global-south-experts-sidelined-climate-conversations-191203132302298.html

Interview Radio Universidad de la República, Santiago: On social protest movement in Latin America, the restrictions facing activists and COP
video: https://www.facebook.com/radioulare/videos/490722408468751/

 

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

By Mohammad Hasan, Yes Theatre Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

blog Naman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thriving without money – how?

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

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

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

Blog Drum Circle

Divyang Dost Drum Circle 2019 

Adapting to change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Celebrating our right to protest!

Secretary General’s Update (Aug-Sep 2019)

Lysa John headshot

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

 

A tribute to the power of solidarity

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

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

Joining forces for global civic action

SPEAK 2019 banner

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

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

Making our civic space resourcing and research initiatives stronger

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

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

Act with CIVICUS!

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

In solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS
@lysajohn

 

Keep moving until the departure of the corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

 

What Constituents Say about CIVICUS in 2019!

By Marina Cherbonnier, CIVICUS member engagement specialist

Final ACS Infog English 2019 White

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

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

What we heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why do we need to #RewriteHerStory?

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

Rewriteherstory

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.


By

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

Secretary-General

 

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

 

CONNECT WITH US

DIGITAL CHANNELS

HEADQUARTERS
25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
Johannesburg,
South Africa,
2092
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

UN HUB: NEW YORK
205 East 42nd Street, 17th Floor
New York, New York
United States
10017

UN HUB: GENEVA
11 Avenue de la Paix
Geneva
Switzerland
CH-1202
Tel: +41 (0)22 733 3435