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

Arthur Larok

24 October, 2017

On Wednesday the 20th and Thursday the 21st September 2017, the offices of ActionAid Uganda and the Great Lakes Institute, both in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in Lira, were raided by the police.

Investigations by the police on the three organisations are ongoing and the accusations labelled against them are:

  1. that they were involved in illicit financial transactions;
  2. they are involved in subversive activities to destabilise Uganda.

Unfortunately, we are preparing for a long-drawn out attack on civil society generally and so it helps to reflect on possible motives of the attack and what is likely to happen in the near future. Most importantly, we must focus on lessons for civil society as we collectively prepare for more such threats.


Alex Roberts

28 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.

We live in a world of continuing and accelerating change. Our expectations about the future are likely to be challenged more and more by rapidly emerging realities which are significantly different from the status quo. How can organisations effectively operate when their environment keeps changing and the future is uncertain?

From the experience of the public sector, there are two processes that can help – Horizon Scanning and innovation.

  • Horizon Scanning (and strategic foresight more generally) can help us understand and consider different possible futures and reflect on how we engage with, and shape, emerging issues or trends.
  • The innovation process can help provide novel responses to problems that require new solutions.Innovate


Burkhard Gnärig

21 February, 2017

This blog first appeared on OpenDemocracy.

More than 20 years ago I had a lively discussion with a leading German politician who complained that Terre Des Hommes, the child rights organisation I was leading at the time, interfered with national politics. He abhorred our advocacy and campaigns and demanded that we “leave politics to the politicians”. This politician’s perspective was firmly rooted in a traditional understanding of democracy shaped in the 19th and early 20th centuries: once every four or five years people would undertake the often arduous journey to a polling station, cast their votes and return home, most of them leaving politics to the politicians until the next election.

Since that conversation, the growth of digital communications means that politicians have lost their monopoly on politics. Representative democracy as we know it is under enormous pressure everywhere. Globally, a power struggle between governments and “their” citizens or, from my perspective, between citizens and their governments, is underway. The Internet has provided each individual with more and better means to inform themselves, to control politicians, to voice their opinion, to seek the support of others and to form powerful political alliances. The space for civic participation has grown enormously and power has shifted away from traditional political structures and actors. MORE

Chase Strangio

14 February, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe. This article first appeared on ACLU’s Speak Freely blog.

Across the country [USA], before state legislative sessions have even convened, lawmakers are making clear that transgender people will again be the relentless targets of discriminatory legislation.

Last year, lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. At least 50 of those bills targeted transgender people specifically. We were able to defeat the overwhelming majority of these proposed laws.

The two most sweeping anti-LGBT bills to torbakhopper via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0become law, HB 1523 in Mississippi and HB 2 in North Carolina, we promptly challenged in court. In North Carolina, the passage of HB 2 has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, costly litigation, and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat at the ballot in November.

But it seems lawmakers are not heeding the lessons of North Carolina. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

10 January, 2017

“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.” This appeal at the end of my most recent post demands action – and it demands a plan: What do we have to do?

  1. We need to take the rise of xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and authoritarian government seriously

For years, a small number of individuals and organisations have warned of rising intolerance and shrinking civic space, but still too many of us think that this worrying trend will not affect us directly, eventually passing by. I recently discussed this phenomenon with a friend who is part of the German political establishment. His comments: “This is democracy. There is not much we can do. It will turn worse before it gets better”. I don’t think we can afford such fatalism. We have seen democracies turning into nasty dictatorships before, Germany being a case in point. We have left the stable political environment where two or three moderate parties replaced each other in government from time to time and arrived at a point where intolerance, racism, chauvinism, and authoritarian leadership are entering the mainstream. Democracy allows us to elect representatives of these nasty ideologies – but will we have enough democracy left to kick them out once we recognise that they are doing a terrible job? If we truly value democracy, pluralism, and the rule of law, we must act now, and with determination.

A Jones CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr


Burkhard Gnärig

20 December, 2016

The biggest, most unexpected and most shocking events of the past year for me and for many people in our sector were Brexit and Trump. Already in my review of the year 2015 I wrote: “As authoritarian government is on the rise globally, the space for civic participation is shrinking”. However, it was far beyond my imagination that, in 2016, developments would speed up so dramatically.

With Brexit, the courageous and farsighted European project of post-war reconciliation is being seriously endangered. As aggressive nationalism is spreading its wings across Europe, we need to once again start worrying about war in Central Europe, a concern we thought we had overcome for good.

For me personally, 2016 was the year in which I used my privilege of being a European citizen and moved to Portugal where I feel welcome and very much enjoy living in a different culture and speaking a different language. Will future generations no longer be able to enjoy such privileges? Will they be tied back into old, primitive, and dangerous concepts of national superiority? The fact that a majority of young Brits voted against Brexit provides some hope. Building a united Europe never looked like an easy task. We will have to allocate more time and effort to this task and brace ourselves for further setbacks – setbacks which don’t mean that the idea is wrong, but that we just need more time to learn and overcome old prejudices.

Ed Everett CC BY 2.0 via Flickr MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

13 December, 2016

A brief review of Paul Raskin’s essay Journey to Earthland

JTE-Cover-SampleIn Journey to Earthland, Paul Raskin, the founding President of the Tellus Institute and founding Director of the Great Transition Initiative, charts the way to a peaceful, just and sustainable world, which he hopes we will have achieved by 2084.

As we start our journey we find ourselves as passengers on a plane that has lost its direction and cannot determine its location: “Zombie ideologies—territorial chauvinism, unbridled consumerism, and the illusion of endless growth—inhabit the brains of the living. Coherent responses to systemic risks of climate change, economic instability, population displacement, and global terrorism […] lie beyond the grasp of a myopic and disputatious political order.” MORE

Alexia Skok

6 December, 2016


Are your rights secure? Will they be gone tomorrow?

From Hungary to Cambodia – and everywhere in between – we are witnessing an onslaught of aggression against civil society organisations (CSOs), activists, and everyday citizens. At every turn, governments, politicians, and powerholders are attempting to block civic participation. We see the ‘Trumps of Europe’ scaremongering citizens to give up their rights in the name of national security. Police and military are arresting and detaining protestors, denying them their rights to freedom of association and expression. In other corners of the globe, governments are laying down arbitrary laws and increasing bureaucracy in an attempt to slow down the effectiveness of organisations which are trying to improve the lives of their citizens.Photo by Debra Sweet via CC BY 2.0

Yet, in the face of this constant suppression, people and organisations are standing up to defend themselves and their communities. They are uniting, they are fighting, and they are claiming their space! From this growing solidarity the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation was born.

Over the past two months, Disrupt&Innovate has shared stories on the state of civic space across the globe. See highlights here, and share your experiences in the battle for civic rights in the comments section below. MORE

Prakash Bhattarai

29 November, 2016
An Overview of CSOs in Nepal

Civil society organisations (CSOs) began to flourish in Nepal immediately after the establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990. Although some were active earlier, they were very few in numbers due to the lack of congruent space to operate independently. However, the democratic setup formed after the success of the People’s Movement of 1990 not only provided an independent space for civil society to operate across the country, but also recognised CSOs’ roles in the socio-economic and political development processes. According to the Social Welfare Council, in 2015 there were nearly 40,000 registered CSOs in Nepal, a mighty jump from the 193 in 1990.

Photo by Punya via CC BY-SA 4.0CSOs have played a crucial role in establishing a human rights and democratic constituency in Nepal, and in areas such as: community empowerment; political mainstreaming of subjugated social issues; promotion of collective bargaining; organisation of marginalised groups; and promotion of democracy and individual rights.

Large CSOs’ relentless lobbying and advocacy also contributed to the establishment of various constitutional commissions, fought against the king’s takeover of people’s power in 2002, and played a leading role in sparking the nonviolent movement of April 2006. Likewise, the rural, grass-roots women’s groups, mothers’ groups, consumers’ groups, and users’ groups have been successful in managing community forests, irrigation facilities, health services, primary schools, and drinking water projects. MORE