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

Barbara Unmuessig

11 July, 2017

When the 19 member countries and the EU gathered in Hamburg for the G20 Summit one important topic was not on the agenda: from China to Mexico, Turkey to Russia, Saudi Arabia to India – the respect for fundamental human rights can no longer be taken for granted.

This also holds true for some EU member states such as Hungary or Poland. Freedom of expression, assembly and association are universal human rights enshrined in international law. They are the backbone of any democracy worth its name.

These rights are the precondition for a life in dignity. They are essential for shaping a sustainable future on this planet.

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Disrupt and Innovate

27 June, 2017

In the civil society sector, it can sometimes feel like we are running just to stand still. Changes are going on around us all the time, and faster than ever before. That’s why having the people and ideas to harness those changes is crucial. Those people are called innovators. They work tirelessly to employ changes for the benefit of others, strive to break the mold and create what has never existed before. It’s as challenging as it sounds.

At the International Civil Society Centre we are lucky enough to have gathered the thoughts and experiences of several innovators at the top of their game and the forefront of their sectors. Here we present blogs from those innovators from; CIVICUS, Keystone Accountability, Save the Children, Feedback Labs, Good4Trust, Disberse, The International Civil Society Centre and UNICEF.

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Katell Le Goulven and Eva Kaplan

11 April, 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.


In early 2015, as Ebola was still ravaging West Africa, and markets experienced high volatility, our unit at UNICEF began our annual predications blog by announcing an end to predictability.  At least in this we were correct: volatility has only amplified since and, in retrospect, 2015 seems like a more stable time.

In reaction to this context of rapid change, UNICEF’s Policy Planning Unit sought to systematise our use of methodologies to anticipate emerging trends—both those with negative and positive potential. One such methodology is Horizon Scanning, which involves scanning a wide variety of information sources for trends and clustering them according to predefined categories.  At UNICEF, we use STEEP + H categories (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political + Humanitarian). Horizon Scanning allows us to pick up on so-called weak signals that might be pointing to the next mega-trend. However, identification of emerging trends is not the same as taking action.  Indeed, a classic bottleneck of Horizon Scanning work in large organisations is the “and-then-what?” phase. Using concrete illustrations where our scanning exercises had impact and helped spur innovation, here are a few lessons that we hope can initiate a discussion with other organisations developing similar functions: MORE

Jessie Brunner

14 March, 2017

This blog first appeared on the IntLawGrrls blog.

Around the world on 8 March, thousands took action in various forms to highlight the ongoing struggle for gender equality while marking the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. These demonstrations in recognition of International Women’s Day served as one positive indication of the sustained collective action that will be necessary to define, build, and carry on the legacy of January’s Women’s March on Washington. Let us not forget that just two months ago three to four million people, about one percent of the U.S. population, participated in the largest demonstration in American history. We are a new and growing one percent, defined not by the power we derive from material wealth, but from the power of the people, of democracy in action.

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As evidenced during the International Women’s Day marches, many have continued to use protests and demonstrations as a core method for promoting a progressive agenda that upholds core American tenets of equality, freedom, and human dignity, views we see in direct contrast to the priorities of our 45th President. Despite this very active form of engagement, a growing disaffection is palpable among a subset of this population, which struggles to articulate a platform beyond mere “resistance.” After all, we have seen other young movements languish when they were unable to articulate an action-oriented platform motivated by specific policy goals. MORE

Melissa Sonnino

31 January, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe.

What is hate crime and why should we all be concerned about it? Defining the problem is a first step towards understanding a phenomenon which affects our society as a whole. Hate crime is commonly defined as a criminal act with a bias motivation, where bias is a type of prejudice against a person, or a group, because of their real or presumed identity.

Although probably not morally correct, the “could be you” argument is usually a winning argument when it comes to explaining to people why hate crime is not only for civil society organisations (CSOs), targeted groups and police. In fact, to not belong to any of the groups at risk in society doesn’t mean you cannot be a victim of hate crime. The perpetrators’ assumption about someone’s identity is the only decisive factor. Passing by a gay bar with a friend or reading a copy of the Quran at the bus stop could lead a perpetrator to the assumption you are gay or Muslim, even if you are not, and to commit a hate crime motivated by homophobic or anti-Muslim sentiments. 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

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Moses Isooba

22 November, 2016

© Africans Rising: 2016 Participants at the Africans Rising conference, Arusha, Tanzania, August 2016The liberation era struggles of the 1950s on the African continent has seen the move from colonial era and one-party dictatorships to a semblance of multiparty democracy and regular free and fair elections in many countries. Accompanying this has been the emergence of relatively vibrant and organised civil society formations, acting as the vanguard for accountability and activism, trying to hold governments accountable for their actions or the lack of them.

The growth of vibrant civil society has been against the backdrop of failed neoliberal economic policies and, an increase in foreign funded transnational criminal activity such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Al Shabab in the Horn of Africa. These conditions together with the uprisings and insurrections in the Maghreb that dislodged long time dictators, have sent shock waves and fear into many African Big Men whose regimes are bent on, and preoccupied with, survival and regime consolidation. MORE

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

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Eric Gordon

12 July, 2016

The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.

INGO_CroppedHere they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Today’s blog is the final in a series of five.


Individuals, especially young people, tend to interact with other people, mediated by systems or platforms, while being less conscious of the organisation or institution they represent. Likewise, people, again, especially young people, are more commonly motivated to act in the world by personal sharing, rather than collective action taking. I explore these ideas in my recent edited volume, with Paul Mihailidis, called Civic Media, which we define as “the technologies, designs, and practices that produce and reproduce the sense of being in the world with others toward common good.” Civic media comprise all the ways in which people make meaning and take action together, while mostly transcending individual outlets and organisations. Today, the individual actor is likely to see the organisation as facilitator rather than creator of meaning.

P1000125The medium, not the organisational onus, is the message. People care about getting things done and getting feedback about progress. The individual organisation and its reputation matters a great deal until it gets in the way. Then it doesn’t matter at all. The range of activities that comprise civil society, when labeled as media rather than a sector, can and should be imminently flexible. Digital social networks have blurred the lines between business operations and social assembly, customer and citizen, as billions use online social networks to advocate and connect across borders and technologies. At the same time, governments around the world monitor online activity both to enhance services and to suppress speech and facilitate violence, obviating the need for mediating practices. The actions of an ICSO, an activist group with a Twitter account, or a conscientious government minister, seeking to end poverty in India, are more similar than not. MORE