In June, I was lucky enough to attend the Funder Workshop on the Disabling Environment for Civil Society in Berlin to discuss the phenomenon of how the environment is changing for civil society action around the world. This was the perfect opportunity to take a step back from my day-to-day work, reflect on current trends and understand how these affect us and our partners on the ground.
There has been a rapid increase in laws passed by governments around the world that have restricted the environment for civil society organisations, in terms of registration, operation and funding. These laws have limited freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Recently in India, where a number of Stars Impact Award recipients are based, foreign funding for organisations involved in 'political' activities has been prohibited. In a significant attack on democratic values and principles, approximately 9,000 organisations have also lost their registration status.
This affront on civil society activity is visible on a global scale but comprises a wide diversity of cases and contexts. In order to find effective and realistic strategies to address these challenges, it is crucial to keep the local context in mind. I found it particularly striking to hear at the workshop that only 1% and 0.2% of development and humanitarian funds respectively go directly to local organisations working on the front line.
'The right to freedom of association not only includes the ability of individuals or legal entities to form and join an association but also to seek, receive and use resources – human, material and financial – from domestic, foreign, and international sources',
- Mr Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
There are a number of factors that can explain these trends and the emergence of new restrictions, for example:
During the conference, we discussed a number of different approaches that could help respond to the issue of the changing environment for civil society, but I would like to focus on those that resonate with me most:
My final learning point from the conference is a call for action to funders – do not give up and keep trying! Even when circumstances are difficult and challenges come along the way, let's remember why we do what we do and get together to find the right solutions.