Thomas Howie

30 January, 2018

The International Civil Society Centre is hosting its second Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018. The Forum will explore the benefits and possible uses of Blockchain and Big Data in the civil society sector. Before the Forum, guest authors will dive into specific examples or innovations around digitalisation and digital technology, in this week’s blog we want to give a brief overview of the main terms and some examples of their uses.

Many CSOs around the world have realised the potential linked to both Blockchain and Big Data and are currently experimenting with how these technologies can support their work.

Big Data – what is that?

The term Big Data refers to extremely large datasets that can be analysed for trends and correlations by connecting different data on a large scale. Due to the size and complexity of the data sets used, new links and patterns can be uncovered. This means that problems that were previously not possible – or simply too complex! – to explain can now be tackled. Most CSOs work with Big Data to improve knowledge about marginalised or ignored groups of people and to identify better ways to serve them. Here are three examples how: MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

2 January, 2018

One year ago I reviewed the political environment in which civil society had to act and drew some conclusions for the year 2017. I expressed my expectation that “we will not succumb to Brexit and Trump” and demanded: “We urgently need to come together in a powerful global movement to defend tolerance against the intolerant, pluralism and the rule of law against authoritarianism, and our future as a global community against chauvinism and xenophobia.” What has happened in this respect over the past twelve months?

Oppressing citizens’ freedoms has become mainstream

As I write these lines the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, announces that he will not seek a second term in office due to the “appalling” climate for human rights advocacy. From our own work on citizens’ rights, we know exactly what he means: during the past year several activists who worked with us and signed the Civic Charter were imprisoned, and many citizens and their organisations suffered from increased oppression and persecution. To name just one example: ActionAid Uganda, with a very impressive history of concrete achievements in the country, suffers from a range of oppressive measures by the government including their offices being raided by the police and their bank accounts frozen.

The ethic of solidarity is being replaced by the “survival of the fittest” MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

12 December, 2017

When civil society organisations (CSOs) speak about power they usually refer to the power of others, and they refer to power in negative terms: power is used to oppress and exploit, power corrupts. However, such a simplistic and prejudiced understanding of power is an obstacle to CSOs’ endeavours to achieve their missions. Our sector needs to change its understanding of power in order to increase its effectiveness.

Embracing POWER as a positive concept

When looking up the definition of power in a dictionary we find that power is simply “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way”[1]. Power as such is neither positive nor negative. It is necessary in order “to do something”, be it good or bad. This means CSOs need power to achieve the positive aims they are working for. They are part of the eternal power struggle between good and bad, egotism and altruism, short-term gains and long-term sustainability, etc. In this context it is not only necessary for CSOs to strive for maximum power, it is ethically desirable, as long as CSOs use their power consistently and effectively to attain their mission. MORE

Isabelle Buechner

5 December, 2017

Never-ending news alerts inform us almost daily that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are coming under intense scrutiny, or are even shut down, by governments around the world. Civic space is shrinking, and we as a sector, have to take measures not just as an immediate response, but also have to set up our organisations in a way so they can resist such scrutiny and action. To cope with this task CSOs need to be transparent and accountable, which enhances the trust they publicly gain. More so, CSOs need to go beyond simple housekeeping exercises and implement the voices of all their stakeholders in decision-making processes: This is what we call Dynamic Accountability.


Jan Oldfield

28 November, 2017

The ninth Global Perspectives conference took place on 1-3 November 2017 in Mexico City and brought together around 80 participants from all over the world, representing ICSOs as well as CSOs, government, and business.

In this video, you can watch a presentation from Global Perspectives, “From Supporters to Change Agents“, by Jan Oldfield, Global Engagement Director at Greenpeace International. She explores and explains how Greenpeace made changes in their organisation and, as a result, the wider civil society sector with its new approaches to resource mobilisation. She focusses on how Greenpeace looked to their supporters to play a bigger role in their organisation; shaping ideas, leading decision making and taking direct action, effectively becoming the agents by which change happens.

Patrick Watt

14 November, 2017

I recently returned from the Global Perspectives conference in Mexico City, an annual gathering of civil society leaders from around the world, for three days of discussion on the big global trends, and how they’re impacting on the work that we do. It was a diverse group, spanning the international development, governance and environment sectors from across the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. It included big, mid-size and small international CSOs, platforms, and national organisations, plus a smattering of participants from donors, foundations, think tanks and academia.

Despite our very different contexts, and the spread of issues on which we’re working, there were some clear themes that emerged from the meeting. I’ve picked 10 of them: MORE

Brandi Geurkink

31 October, 2017

Last week was (on some accounts) a good week: Joshua Wong of the Umbrella Movement was released on bail in Hong Kong and Özlem Dalkıran, part of the so-called #Istanbul10, was released from prison. These two of the most active Civic Charter supporters had been unjustly imprisoned for their respective work to defend civic freedoms, and we rallied the Civic Charter community to push for their release.

Their imprisonment, and now subsequent release, caused me to think a lot about what it means to be imprisoned. In my very privileged position as a CSO professional and activist living in Germany, where my safety is—for the time being—almost 100% guaranteed if I criticise the government or other powerful actors, I can think about prisons from a theoretical perspective. I don’t want to get too Foucauldian here, but while physical prisons are surely the ultimate and most brutal manifestation of a separation between ‘them’ and ‘us,’ we should also think about the metaphorical prisons we might be in without even realising it. MORE

Nathan White

17 October, 2017

Civil society organisations exists to make the world a better place. Some of us work on corporate transparency, others on voting rights, and still others on government accountability. While we each have different goals, increasingly the way we work is becoming reliant on digital technologies and spaces, such as the internet. We conduct research, we collaborate, we store and share information, and we build coalitions all on the internet. For most of the past two decades, that has helped us unite and become stronger together. Unfortunately, our increasing digital connectivity also creates a shared vulnerability that threatens to undermine our work.

Access Now is a human rights organisation that works to protect our digital spaces. We operate a 24/7 global helpline for users at risk. As such, we work with civil society groups around the planet and have witnessed the increasing attacks on our digital spaces and our ability to harness the power of the internet.

In particular, we’re watching an alarming increase in the number of “Internet Shutdowns” in which governments use their privileged position to shut down entire networks. Both blunt and broad, these attacks make our work more difficult. Fortunately, groups like the #KeepItOn coalition have formed to unite across sectors to push back on this trend. MORE

Deborah Doane

5 September, 2017

A well-known global human rights activist working on the enabling space for civil society recently said to me: “to do this work, you need to prepare to be arrested.” Though I’m fairly comfortable with activism, having been a long-time campaigner – this came as a bit of a shock, especially as I work in a comfortable western environment. As it happened, shortly after we spoke, he was threatened with arrest in his own country.

My colleague’s response to the threat wasn’t what most would do. Rather than going undercover, he went into a press conference and said: “I’m here. Arrest me.”  Fortunately, they have yet to do so. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

22 August, 2017

In so many posts this blog has documented how the civil society sector is increasingly affected by a whole range of disruptions, many of which have the potential to undermine if not destroy the work of local, national and international civil society organisations (CSOs). In order to survive and thrive in a disruptive environment CSOs will have to continuously transform themselves, adapting to fundamental changes, overcoming critical challenges and seizing new opportunities.

CSOs’ need for continuous transformation demands a very different leadership style. While traditional leaders had to stand for stability and consistency, transformational leadership has to stand for flexibility and adaptability. While traditional leaders embody continuity, transformational leaders embody change.

Over the past few years the Centre has supported many CSOs with coming to terms with disruption. In the course of our work we have identified seven key strategies used by transformational leaders. Last week we presented three of these strategies. Here you will find the remaining four: MORE