A strategy that sets out to mend broken systems

Secretary-General Update: March 2022

We are pleased to report on the adoption of a revised strategic plan for the period 2022 to 2027. The plan was developed through an extensive process to review and refresh CIVICUS’ strategic priorities. The CIVICUS Board unanimously confirmed the adoption of the revised strategy in March 2022. Reader-friendly and multi-lingual versions of the strategy will accordingly be developed and published on our website by the end of April. Our current strategic plan has been effective from July 2017 to June 2022 and will be replaced with a refreshed strategy in July 2022. 

Addressing new realities 

The revised strategy is the outcome of deliberations held across stakeholders of the CIVICUS alliance. We began this journey with several trends and foresight analyses exercises undertaken with members, partners and staff across October 2020 to March 2021. These assessments contributed to the development of future scenarios and strategic steers, which were reviewed by the CIVICUS Board and led to a decision on updating our existing strategy. The Board outcome indicated an opportunity to restate our ambitions with greater clarity and determine how best to address new realities and challenges for civic space and civil society. In describing the strategy that we have now developed, I want to quote our youngest Board member Vandita Morarka who said, “What I am most proud about is that this is not a polite strategy... it does not shy away from mending broken systems.” 

Interrogating our Theory of Change 

Between July and November 2021, drafting teams comprised of Board and staff members collaborated to review and restate key assumptions related to CIVICUS’ Theory of Change. We interrogated the successes and hurdles we have faced in the delivery of our current strategy and contrasted these with an analysis of developments in civic space across the last ten years (2011-21). In doing so, we were able to identify tensions and opportunities in relation to how we define the change we seek and actively contribute to it. This assessment informed the development of a draft strategy, which underwent two levels of review by the Board and staff between November 2021 to January 2022. 

In February, the draft strategy was shared with key stakeholders of the CIVICUS alliance through a range of interactions, which included two sessions of Board & member engagement on our proposed priorities and a joint meeting with key donors. The interactions generated a large amount of feedback and queries on various aspects of the strategy. I am happy to share that teams involved with drafting the strategy were able to close the feedback loop by dedicating time to respond to queries raised by various groups. Key themes that emerged in our exchanges with CIVICUS members are captured in this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, which is available in three languages.  

Refining our strategic objectives 

Key shifts outlined as part of this revised plan which will guide CIVICUS’ strategic course for the period from July 2022 to June 2027 include: 

  • The framing of one overarching goal, i.e., To strengthen civil society and civic action for expanded civic and democratic space. The goal reflects our emphasis on actions that are not just defending but also improving civic and democratic freedoms - through a combination of influencing, organising and solidarity interventions. The strategy outlines five core objectives that support the achievement of our overarching goal, which are: (i) generating timely knowledge (ii) coordinating targeted advocacy (iii) contributing to stronger emergency & sustained support eco-systems (iv) strengthening public discourse and civil society narratives (v) building counter-power with most affected groups. 

  • An explicit focus on working with and for groups affected by the combined impact of civic space restrictions and structural forms of discrimination is also integrated across the revised strategy.  The revised strategy includes a deliberate focus on collaborating with movements led by communities facing structural discrimination. This implies a greater emphasis on solidarity and alliance building across levels of our work, and the stronger representation of issues of civic and democratic freedoms from a social justice lens.  

  • A clearer articulation of our contribution to long-term, systemic change is captured in four outcome statements that connect and consolidate the impact of our work across all levels. Our core objectives will be the basis for a comprehensive framework to measure results and communicate lessons from our progress more effectively.   

A roadmap for implementation 

The next step in this process is the coordination of a phased plan for the implementation of the strategy. This includes the design and activation of a Results framework and the coordination of programmatic and operational alignments required to deliver our refreshed strategy.  A robust process for continued stakeholder engagement with our strategic progress is also envisaged as part of this plan and includes the coordination of Membership Month, a new initiative that will take place annually to enable exchanges on civil society strategy and impact across the alliance.  

We look forward to your continued engagement and support in this important period! The election of a new CIVICUS Board this year will be an important opportunity to play a direct role in overseeing the transition our refreshed strategy and activating a year-long campaign to mark the completion of 30 Years of CIVICUS’ existence in 2023. If you have not done so already, do look at our Board election timeline and contribute to its outcome. 

In solidarity, 

Lysa John 

Lysa John is Secretary General of CIVICUS. She is based in South Africa and can be reached via her twitter handle: @lysajohn