Thomas Gass

3 May, 2016

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its set of interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets resulted from the most inclusive policy dialogue the United Nations has ever organised, one in which civil society organisations (CSOs) fully participated.  This established a new benchmark for dialogue and inclusiveness at the UN. As the Secretary-General noted recently, there can be no going back.

The 17 SDGs address – in an integrated way – the most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. They are a universal and shared vision of humanity for transforming our society and projecting our planet. They form a social contract between the world’s leaders and ‘We the peoples’.

15-00128_UNSDG_Logo_2015_EN (1)

Implementing this comprehensive and far-reaching Agenda will require all governments and decision-makers to commit to leave no one behind. It calls for adopting new approaches and breaking down silos. To begin such a transformation and place humanity on a more sustainable course, we need all hands on deck to work across borders and sectors, and move from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.


Diane Kingston

26 April, 2016

There has been much cause to celebrate the new 2030 Agenda; the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a huge step forward when compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many ways. We at CBM are delighted that disability is explicitly named within the 2030 Agenda, as persons with disabilities were excluded and invisible in the MDGs. However, there is always room for improvement – persons with disabilities continue to be referred to as one of the ‘marginalised’ or ‘vulnerable’ groups. Decision-makers must continuously name us explicitly; if you do not name persons with disabilities, then our specific human rights will not be addressed.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rightly points out, ‘the true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation’. The implementation of the new development agenda must be firmly anchored in human rights if we are to achieve its goals. Why? Because the SDGs are political goals and represent a strong political commitment, but they are voluntary, not legally binding. Human rights treaties can be used as key instruments in advancing human rights and when combined with the SDGs they provide tools to hold government accountable for both poverty elimination and upholding rights.


Burkhard Gnärig

19 April, 2016

Co-author Peter Koblowsky, Project Officer – Convening, International Civil Society Centre

A powerful challenge, Leave no one behind, makes the difference between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the MDGs could be fulfilled by raising the average wellbeing – which was easiest achieved by ignoring the poorest and most marginalised – the SDGs demand that everybody is included in the effort. And that means, in order to achieve the SDGs we have to place a special focus on those who are most in need, who are most severely excluded. The fact that the new goals are explicitly based on the demand to Leave no one behind is a badge of honour to millions of civil society activists, and thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs), working tirelessly over many years to secure that the SDGs would be fair and inclusive. Implementing this inspiring objective is the impressive global challenge we have to address today.
SDGs_Logo_cropAgainst this background, the International Civil Society Centre has conducted a survey among International civil society organisations (ICSOs), mapping their planned strategies and activities with regards to the implementation of the SDGs. The survey should help to identify gaps and overlaps between their approaches as a basis for a better alignment of their efforts. The Centre reached out to 30 leading ICSOs and received replies from 20 of them[i]. MORE

Alexia Skok

12 April, 2016

16 04 08 Civic_Charter_Flyer_Feedback_Border

Civic Charter survey open!

Civic space is vital to our society because it is common ground; it belongs to citizens and activists, community groups, faith-based organisations, trade unions, and civil society organisations (CSOs). This collective space, in turn, stands as a platform for collaboration, and provides us all with the opportunity and momentum to coordinate efforts, and work together to achieve common goals.

The power of joint action amongst civil society actors can change the world; we have seen time and time again the life-altering outcomes of inclusive campaigning. We have banded together successfully to campaign for issues within civic space, and now it’s time to campaign for civic space. If it is not secured, our rights to act together are diminished, and we lose power that we may never be able to regain.

With this notion of collective power at its core, the International Civil Society Centre is facilitating the drafting of the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation. This document will serve as an international reference point for civil society to allocate our rights within the complexity of international law. MORE

Nilda Bullain

6 April, 2016

The vicious spirit is out of the box.  By now we – those of us who read this blog – all recognise that countries will not stop imposing restrictions on civil society in the foreseeable future; to the contrary, those restrictions are growing by the year.  Just in 2015, over 30 countries proposed or passed 45 laws to constrain civil society organisations (CSOs) and rights of CSOs and activists have been violated in over 100 countries.

But what is this ‘vicious spirit’ and who let it out? 18_WhatCanWeDo_resize Who’s to blame?  Is it the newly budding populist and authoritarian leaders of this century?  Or the masses of voters who elect such leaders and agree with their worldviews, including those on civil society?  Democracies that weaken under the threats of terrorism, war and humanitarian crisis?

It is all of those and more; the phenomenon of shrinking civic space is complex and its root causes are difficult to tackle. As the problem has grown, more and more players became aware and got on board to address it: over the past couple of years, several dozen CSOs, donors, networks and international organisations launched ‘civic space’ projects, strategies and initiatives at the country, regional and global levels.  Yet the negative trend remains.  What are we doing wrong? MORE

Mandeep Tiwana

29 March, 2016

A vibrant and empowered civil society is an essential component of a functioning and accountable state. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called civil society, the “oxygen of democracy” and applauded the sector’s role as a “catalyst for social progress and economic growth.” Yet, there is ample evidence to show that civil society space is rapidly shrinking.

Just in the month of March 2016: environmental and land rights activists have been assassinated in Honduras and South Africa; a prominent woman human rights defender has been arbitrarily detained along-with her 15 month old son for demanding democratic rights in Bahrain; an activist opposing the proposed construction of a hydropower dam in Cambodia has received a suspended sentence; staff of several CSOs have been judicially harassed in Egypt to prevent them from receiving vital funding from international sources; and a draft law placing arbitrary conditions on the formation of CSOs in Jordan has come to light.

Students'_mass_protest_in_Taiwan_to_end_occupation_of_legislatureLast year, CIVICUS reported substantial threats to core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in 96 countries. Our preliminary findings for this year put the number at over hundred countries.  These trends spanning both democratic and authoritarian states heighten the urgency to inform public opinion about how attacks on civil society activists and organisations are chipping away at citizen rights and undermining participatory democracy. Effective mobilisations to influence hearts and minds of the global public will be key to reversing negative trends. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

22 March, 2016

A few months ago I wrote the blog We Need to Defend Citizens’ Space for Participation in which I looked at India and other countries where civil society was under threat. Since then, no day has gone by without news about government actions restricting citizens’ space to participate in shaping and developing their own societies. Meanwhile, a number of deeply worrying developments have become blatantly obvious:

  • Shrinking civic space is a global 25phenomenon. Citizens on all continents, in developing and developed societies, are suffering from the curtailing of their rights. Recent political initiatives in countries such as Hungary, Poland and the UK show that no society can be certain to escape this trend.
  • Governments are learning from each other how best to keep “their” citizens under control – rather than being controlled by citizens as should be the case. For instance, the Russian strategy to oppress any civic dissent to the government’s policies has been, and is being, copied in many countries globally.
  • In a world of mounting competition for dwindling natural resources, persisting terrorism, and a rising number of refugees crossing national borders, more and more citizens are willing to accept restrictions to their rights as a price for securing their own safety and wellbeing. They follow their governments’ arguments that limitations to citizens’ rights – e.g. to free speech, peaceful assembly, political participation – are necessary to preserve political stability, maintain economic growth, control terrorism, secure national sovereignty, and keep foreigners out.
  • Centuries of experience with authoritarian regimes have shown that once citizens have lost any rights over their governments, it will take a long time of painful struggle to claim them back. Therefore, the large scale disempowerment of citizens world-wide is a scary development, which requires a concerted approach of all who are willing to defend civic rights.


Alexia Skok

15 March, 2016

06_ChangeChangedWhat do the civil society sector’s leading changemakers have to share about their experiences of leading change in their organisations?

Over the past seven weeks, we invited a number of guest bloggers to tackle this question, reflecting from within her or his own organisation. Although the challenges, threats, observations, and methods around driving change came from different standpoints with distinct histories, one thread that connected each voice is that transformation in the sector is needed and there is a responsibility for each civil society organisation (CSO) to push for it.

We have shared some of the key insights from each blog below, and encourage you to comment and share your own thoughts on managing change within CSOs! MORE

Joanna Maycock

8 March, 2016

At the European Women’s Lobby, we unite women’s organisations from across Europe fighting for a Feminist Europe in which gender equality is a prerequisite to achieving the well-being of all people and the planet. As part of our campaigning platform, we call for women to be at the heart of decision-making in politics, government, business, institutions, and in civil society.

EWL Young Feminist Summer School 2015 © Isabella Borelli

There has been increasing public attention to the lack of women in political and economic decision making overall: more than 75% of national parliamentarians and more than 80% of members of corporate boards are men. However, very little attention has been paid to the failure of our own sector to address gender inequality in leadership. Most of the evidence I have seen suggests that around 75% of all the staff employed in civil society organisations (CSOs) are women, but less than 30% of the leaders of the largest CSOs are women. But this is not only about having more women operating within a system, it is also about transforming the nature of the systems of decision-making to ensure they are more inclusive, diverse and effective. At its core it is about reconsidering what leadership skills and attributes, and what institutions and structures, are needed for transformative leadership in the 21st century. MORE

Adriano Campolina

1 March, 2016

ActionAid International went through a tremendous transformation through what was called its internationalisation. It moved from being a British charity with branches in several countries, to a an alliance of few European members and now to a federation of 27 national members across all regions encompassing countries as diverse as Vietnam, Denmark, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Guatemala.

This new federation would be serviced by an Visioninternational secretariat, with the roles of coordinating international work, ensuring compliance with federation wide policies and supporting countries directly or by enabling peer support as well as managing the programmes in those countries that had not yet gone through a local governance development process. MORE