Sopheap Chak

25 October, 2016

It is within the context of a global shrinking of civil society space that Cambodia has seen its own space for civic participation quickly diminishing. This shrinking of space presents Cambodian civil society organisations (CSOs) with a very real need to adapt in order to face the challenges ahead.

In recent months, CSOs in Cambodia have felt an increased tightening of their fundamental freedoms by the government, particularly following the arbitrary arrest and detention of five human rights defenders – four senior staff members from local CSO the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), and the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee. All five have been detained in pre-trial detention since 28 April on trumped-up charges in relation to their provision of legitimate human rights assistance to a former beneficiary.

 CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 Walther Tjon Pian Gi via Flickr


Moataz El Fegiery

18 October, 2016

Omar Kamel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via FlickrOn 17 September 2016, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three leading civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of larger legal procedures taken against 37 CSOs charged with illegal foreign funding and operating without licences.  In Syria, Bassel Khartabil – a peaceful online freedom of expression activist – has been held in incommunicado detention since March 2012, and has reportedly been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. On 27 December 2015, Naji al-Jourf – a Syrian film maker and journalist who exposed ISIS atrocities in Aleppo in a documentary produced by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) – was shot dead by an unknown person in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep. In Bahrain, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja – a leading human rights figure and the founder of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – remains in jail since his incarceration in June 2011, serving a life sentence following an unfair trial and politically motivated charges. These are just a sample of dozens of distressing stories about the high price paid by human rights defenders in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who are caught between authoritarian regimes and the proliferation of intractable domestic and international conflicts. MORE

Maria Jose Veramendi Villa

11 October, 2016

“Wake up humanity, there is no time left!”
–   Berta Cáceres, Goldman Prize acceptance speech, 2015

Being an environmental human rights defender in Latin America is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have. Whether you belong to an indigenous, afro-descendant, peasant community, whether you are an independent activist or you are affiliated with a civil society organisation (CSO), you are at risk. In its most recent report, On Dangerous Ground, Global Witness documented 2015 as being the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental activists[1]. The same report documented 185 killings in 16 countries, making Brazil (50 killings), Colombia (26 killings), Peru (12 killings), and Nicaragua (12 killings) the most dangerous ones in Latin America[2].

Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos via Flickr CC BY 2.0 2Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, the murder of environmental defenders represent a tragic end of the road of a larger problem. We, as a society, all want economic and social progress and Governments are mostly elected on this promise. However, increasingly States and various private actors are routinely complicit in actions that aim to silence the legitimate voices of people and the work of environmental defenders. Threats, harassment, campaigns to discredit or criminalise take a toll on the work of environmental defenders, who then end up spending significant amount of time defending themselves before – also often complicit –  criminal justice systems, or even physically protecting themselves from any attempts on their lives. MORE

Veronika Mora

2 October, 2016

In April 2014, just two days after the general election which brought the repeated victory of the right-conservative government of Fidesz, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office announced that he would initiate the re-negotiation of how funding is provided by EEA countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to Hungarian civil society organisations (CSOs). This signaled the start of a series of unprecedented governmental attacks and harassment of independent civic groups, especially those engaged in human rights, anti-corruption, women’s and LBGT rights.

Hungary My foundation, Ökotars Alapitvany, as the head of the grantmaking consortium which managed the EEA/Norwegian NGO Programme in Hungary found itself in the centre of the conflict, which started at first as a media smear campaign orchestrated by the government. High ranking officials, e.g. deputy state secretaries, accused us as being politically biased, oppositional “cheating nobodies”. However, this was soon followed by official inspections: in late May, the Prime Minister’s Office had announced publicly that the so-called Governmental Control Office (GCO) were to audit the use of the EEA/Norwegian funding – over which, according to lawyers, they clearly had no jurisdiction. It was also quite characteristic of the whole process that we learnt everything from government-friendly media first – official notifications came only after information had been broadcast widely. Although they never answered our repeated requests to clarify the legal basis of the audit, we were forced to cooperate due to the GCO’s wide ranging sanctioning powers. We also found that documents not previously in the public domain, but handed over to GCO by us during the course of the audit, somehow quickly found their way into government-friendly media – always in a damning context. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

27 September, 2016

Global Perspectives conference 2016The last time we discussed the issue of shrinking civic space was in March – April when we described the increasing challenges civil society activists around the world are facing when making their voices heard. We ended our series of blogs with a report about the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation which will “serve as an international reference point for civil society to allocate our rights within the complexity of international law.” We asked readers to contribute to shaping the Civic Charter by raising the issues they felt were most relevant in the fight for civic rights. Meanwhile, several extensive global consultations have been concluded and the final text has been approved. The Civic Charter will be launched nationally in the week of 17 October and globally one week later on 26 October at our Global Perspectives conference in Berlin. MORE

Marianne Henkel

20 September, 2016
“The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view”
– Albert Einstein

Participants of the Scanning the Horizon workshop in Bellagio (Italy) in May 2016.This past month’s gripping and insightful blog contributions have yielded very different experiences with, and views on, horizon scanning. The common denominator between all, perhaps, is an understanding that we are at a point where the international civil society sector is undergoing rapid change, and that horizon scanning is a tool to prepare for shifts in the external environment, to speed up transformation, and catalyse best practice.

Each author has other remarkable insights to share on what horizon scanning is, or can be:

Liberating our minds: Lars Gustavsson (Futurist, author and speaker) specifically makes the case for collaboration on horizon scanning across the civil society, public, and private sectors as a way to foster learning and the emergence of new approaches to development. He points out that bringing about radical change in established organisations is hard, and that foresight is a tool to break up existing patterns of thinking, to think innovatively of the present, and of day-to-day business. Indeed, the questions foresight asks and the tools it offers are made to free our thinking. MORE

Sarah Ralston

13 September, 2016

Futurism is all the rage these days, and it seems to be spreading to the development sector.  I was initially fairly skeptical, and in a recent discussion on this topic with change leaders from a range of different international civil society organisations (ICSOs), it turns out I wasn’t alone. Some were cynical about the latest fad and buzz word, seeing it as a re-brand of something we have always done in how we design programs and develop strategies. Others saw it as an unnecessary theoretical exercise that, no matter how stimulating or robust, will not bring concrete changes or improvements to our work and the impact we are able to have on poverty and injustice.rachelvoorhees via flickr CC

To an extent both are true. No amount of analysis or scenario planning in Egypt, for example, could have prepared civil society for the various political shifts over the past several years and the resulting implications on development. But while I still have my doubts about futurism as a discipline, I have become an advocate for instituting a regular, intentional process of what is increasing being referred to as horizon scanning. For one, I do think it can inform what we do and how we do it in a way that may not be radically different from the past, but does have some important new dimensions.  Mostly, however, I have become a believer in using it as an important lever for organisational culture change. MORE

Robin Bourgeois

6 September, 2016

09_ResponsiveThere is a wide recognition today that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are currently facing challenges that might as well mean their disappearance[1]. This would not be necessarily bad news if that disappearance meant that ICSOs had been successful in “working their way out of business”, having solved the issues which justified their creation. But this would be bad news if it resulted from a lack of anticipation about the constantly evolving environment under which they operate, and the constantly evolving nature of the issues they deal with. It would be bad if ICSOs have to walk out of business because they fail to understand how their business evolves.

This constant evolution of environment and issues can be characterised by a combination of trends and disruptions leading to increasingly uncertain futures. ICSOs are aware of this and have started to act. Indeed, the relationships ICSOs need to establish with the future are specific to their essence. Firstly because freedom, power and will, all characterise some of the core values of ICSOs. This is exactly what the future is about, as French futurist Hughues de Jouvenel once wrote: The future is a domain of freedom, a domain of power, a domain of will (FR). There is thus a natural bound between ICSOs and foresight. MORE

Lars Gustavsson

30 August, 2016

We need a new type of civil society organisation (CSO), one that is free of the constraints, mindsets, limitations and compromise of today’s norm. The prevalent ‘charity/aid’ model is clearly creaking; it’s failing both to capture the imagination of the emerging generations, and to enable sustainable transformation for people in poverty. The co-dependency between donor and aid organisation stifles innovation and creativity. Yet, we’ll never ignite the new from within the old; we need to start over with a clean slate.

Architects and entrepreneurs must convene to frame the new: naming, connecting, nourishing, and illuminating the required elements of the ‘beyond aid’ CSO. We’re fairly sure we know what some of the ingredients are: market-based mechanisms; long term capital; donors becoming investors; voices of the poor in the driving seat; disciplined and transparent intermediation spending; and real impact measurement that has meaning to front-line communities and investors alike. Other ingredients are still to be uncovered.[1] MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

23 August, 2016

Over the past few months a number of unexpected events such as the refugee crisis, Brexit, and the failed coup in Turkey – followed by increasing repression – have been telling examples of the challenges of disruption. To be better prepared for unexpected and often abrupt changes, civil society organisations (CSOs) must strengthen their efforts to detect disruption early. Working together across the sector and cooperating with other sectors can save costs and, at the same time, improve the quality of findings. Based on this understanding, we initiated the Scanning the Horizon project twelve months ago. In a blog post on 18 August 2015 I wrote:

“The International Civil Society Centre aims to bring together the specialists in strategic foresight from the different CSOs in order to update each other on their activities and to discuss how they can improve the quality of their work by cooperating across sector boundaries. The Scanning the Horizon project’s vision is to build a sustainable structure which continuously scans the horizon for potential disruption.”

Where are we twelve months later and what’s next on our to-do-list? MORE