Burkhard Gnärig

26 September, 2017

Building effective multi-sector alliances to defend civic space

International Civic Forum

Two weeks ago we organised our second International Civic Forum, bringing together 68 representatives from civil society, foundations, the media, governments and business. The one-and-a-half-day meeting reviewed the situation of shrinking space for civic participation globally, focusing on strategies for addressing increasing restrictions to civic freedoms. Discussions in plenaries and workshops focused on:

  • forging cross-sector alliances to secure civic space;
  • using SDG 16 (Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies) to promote civic freedoms,
  • strengthening accountability and transparency in the face of oppression; and
  • countering restrictions in the digital space.

Among the most alarming reports from activists were the ones that pointed out that many governments, especially the ones in the most authoritarian countries, feel encouraged by the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the silence of countries who traditionally demanded compliance with human rights. Equally worrying are examples of the growing effectiveness of cooperation among authoritarian governments, who quickly learn from each other how to best spy on, silence and oppress critical voices.


A world dominated by populist movements and authoritarian governments would be a tragedy for us all. It would oppress the freedoms of all citizens who disagree with the dominant world view; it would silence independent media who try to paint a differentiated picture of reality; it would terminate the rule of law, dramatically increasing the risks of doing business; and it would stifle the political opposition.

Given the growing threats to civic freedoms in the vast majority of countries, such a world looks entirely possible. Therefore, actors from all sectors who believe that diverse, open and just societies are worth fighting for urgently need to come together:

  • to jointly promote their vision of a world that thrives on diversity and pluralism, that is based on tolerance for diverging views and that resolves conflicts of interest peacefully and with respect for minorities; and
  • to secure a much more effective and better aligned response to infringements on citizens’ rights to participate in shaping their societies.

Here are some of the most important steps we have to undertake:

Strengthening the cross-sector coordination initiated by the International Civic Forum

With the second convening of the International Civic Forum, we have undertaken important first steps towards forming multi-sector alliances promoting civic participation. Now we need to accelerate and intensify our efforts to build a powerful global network of defenders of civic space. Besides further developing global multi-sector alliances, we need to encourage, promote and support national alliances, addressing the specific challenges and opportunities in their home countries. We need to build systematic and stable communication and collaboration between the different sectors both within countries and between countries.

Promoting the Civic Charter as the global basis for common action

The Civic Charter establishes a common global definition of citizens’ rights to participate in shaping their societies. We need to use the Charter as the global basis for our actions to defend and promote civic space. We need to intensify our efforts to make the Charter known beyond our core communities. We need to promote the Charter among business, media and governments and gather commitments across all sectors to comply with the Charter’s demands and to encourage others to comply.

International Civic Forum

Establishing a small leaders group that can undertake high-level political interventions

In addition to the widest and deepest possible alliances, we need to build a small core group of leaders and eminent persons that can intervene at the political – and where appropriate, corporate – level, which try to prevent or at least reduce the infringements when new threats to civic rights emerge. This group should be made up of prominent political, business and civil society leaders and try to engage at the highest level with those who intend to reduce the space for civic participation.

Participants in the International Civic Forum rated the event as very good and encouraged us to further develop this platform for multi-sector collaboration. It is perfectly clear what needs to happen next and we are ready to intensify and scale up our endeavours. At present, we are looking for partners across all sectors who are willing to join us in standing up for civic rights and can help us with financing our ambitious agenda.

Over the next weeks, participants from the Civic Forum will share their insights and expertise here on Disrupt&Innovate. If you are interested to find out more about the Civic Forum, please contact mniehaus@icscentre.org

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