The Together Project: Lessons for collective action in the face of chilling effects on civil society

26th October 2018 by Vicky Tongue

The sector Scanning the Horizon futures community this week heard from InterAction‘s Together Project, an inspiring example of collaboration by US-based civil society organisations (CSOs) to counter the ‘chilling’ effects of restrictive government regulations limiting their ability to operate. They achieved this through a combination of solidarity on principle with other NGOs, diverse but targeted and resilient advocacy in different policy and legislative spaces, engaging with ‘champions who can’, and not using simplistic messaging. Five key lessons emerged for our work in 2019 to further explore how CSOs can best work together to respond to current social divides and political agendas linked to nationalist self-interest.


The Together Project started in 2017 out of the need to address issues of discrimination from the financial sector, such as frozen bank accounts and transfers to local partners, and support members vulnerable to direct attacks in the media or public sphere, or indirect impacts of US anti-terrorism/money laundering laws, regulations, or policies restricting their ability to function. This was largely due to their religious faith and/or countries in which they support partners or programmes.

Princess Bazley-Bethea, the project manager, took us through some key activities and advocacy carried out to date. The key emerging lessons are:

  1. ‘Find friends who can speak on your behalf, vocalise your good work and elevate your story’

A large and diverse coalition of support has mobilised through solidarity with the potential exponential effect and implications of/for tomorrow, beyond the specific organisations affected. Behind the formal coalition of five organisations directly experiencing banking access challenges, there is a large informal support network of more than75 organisations, of other faiths and none, and with leverage and ‘voice’ with different audiences. Many flooded congressional offices with messages in support of one charity against which a disapproving think tank was trying to ‘evidence’ links to supposed terrorist activity.

  1. ‘Say who you are, don’t spend time and waste energy saying who you’re not’

There is still a role for strong empirical data even in these ‘post-truth’ times of poor evidential standards. If you focus too much on challenging allegations, you are just elevating the arguments of those who are trying to discredit you. Line up your audits and your allies! Use mechanisms and associations to show you are transparent and holding yourself to account, through public records and associations with a recognised CSO platform like InterAction. Be stoic in the face of information requests, even when ridiculous – due diligence requests for the shoe sizes of your Board members, we kid you not!

  1. Convince others to recognise their roles and responsibilities and share risk

Take advantage of relationships with unlikely allies and unfamiliar champions. Despite the risks and small NGO clientele, the banks were compelled by the reputational benefits (‘the bank saving lives’ in emergencies), and with the many Americans who donate to philanthropy. Standard Chartered Bank even attended en masse a day-long Academy to be educated on the issues. Pro bono legal sector collaboration also helped with education, connections, research and briefings.

  1. Counter disinformation with strong human stories

Prepare to defend yourself against spurious evidence and ‘experts’ mobilised against you. One mainstream media publication alleged links between a U.S. NGO operating in Palestine and terrorism – based on common names and information from social media profiles – to argue for tighter government control of their funding. Debunk such inaccuracies – InterAction’s disinformation toolkit is a great resource– and go directly to the source and insist on both removal and retraction. Counteract on social media and connect it to the bigger picture. Tell powerful stories about the negative impacts of the restrictions, such as the lives lost over the winter in Afghanistan because of delays in the transfer of funds for fuel and other vital supplies. Ensure all staff reinforce aligned, affirming, and objective messaging in all their communications, including personal tweets.

  1. Stress interconnectedness

Encourage your allies to promote your true story, use smart collaboration with media outlets who can communicate the issues to the public in a balanced and accessible way, especially if you don’t have the capacity for mass public engagement yourself. Invest significant time on outreach and education with political representatives, and elevate the conversation internationally, highlighting the interconnectedness of the issues and the broader ramifications of how they play out in different parts of the world. InterAction made the wider links to constraints on civic space at multi-stakeholder dialogues within the UN and World Bank.

In summary, it’s clear that working Together today is more necessary than ever in the current political climate, because we never know how things will develop tomorrow.


To find out more about InterAction’s Together project, join the Working Group, Advocacy Team, attend expert briefings and events, or work on common priorities such as the Charity & Security Network and the World Bank/ACAMS workstreams, please email Princess.

To find out more about the International Civil Society Centre’s Scanning the Horizon community of sector futurists and strategists, please visit email Vicky Tongue.

Vicky Tongue

Vicky Tongue was the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation/Scanning the Horizon project manager from 2018-2022, leading the Centre’s futures strategy and collaborative trends scanning community. In this role, Vicky wrote and edited many of the Centre’s Scanning Sector Guides and Civil Society Innovation reports.

Reclaiming our Voices

23rd October 2018 by Maha Babeker

Every year, millions of women and girls worldwide suffer from violence; whether it is domestic violence, rape, dowry-related killing, trafficking, sexual violence, or other forms of abuse. Violence against women is a gross violation of human rights, and a threat to global peace, security, and development. In Sudan, high levels of poverty and rampant gender-based discrimination have resulted in the systematic violation of women’s rights.

The most vulnerable people in our society are we—the women. We are repeatedly oppressed by a State that refuses to advance legislation that protects our rights, and criminalizes acts done against us, such as FGM. The laws of Sudan are designed to oppress women, deprive us of our own free will, and punish us. For example, the Criminal Law of 1991 makes legal the punishment of women for adultery, improper dress code, abortion, changing religion, and gathering with an unrelated male companion. These are only examples of written laws—there are many more unwritten practices that strongly violate and abuse women’s rights. Having said that, Young women in Sudan are continuously threatened for choosing to speak out in favour of their most basic human rights, and for acting in support of the elimination of sexual violence.

One thing I have learnt from being a ‘Women Human Rights Defender’ is that the entire world, all countries, are connected as a Global Village. All of the challenges we face are shared, and this offers us a very unique opportunity for advocacy. And for that, young women and men need to understand the importance of working in international advocacy to realize that the world is a small place, and human rights are important no matter how big or small. The violations against human rights and women’s rights that we are combatting in Sudan is not only a Sudanese issue, but an international concern. We are not alone in our campaign to combat these violations—we are supported internationally in our struggle for justice and equality.  We are standing shoulder to shoulder with supporters from around the world.

Moreover, Youth groups need to put pressure on Sudan to respect women and girls rights. Pressure can be in the form of campaigns, or it can come from governments, or the international community. People from all over the world need to come together to push for change and reformation of all laws in Sudan that violate human rights, and women’s rights. I also believe that, CSOs need to mainly focus on mobilizing and empowering women and young women’s groups in particular in order to influence policy and overcome structural, political and legal obstacles to the advancement of their rights.

I urge Young Sudanese women and men to continue to advocate for reform to rape laws, and to Sudan’s Revised Penal Code, which is being used as the basis to justify the sentencing of women to cruel forms of punishments such as stoning. They also need to continue to advocate for campaigns to stop the practice of child marriage, and the reform of Sudan’s restrictive dress code laws, which force women and girls to live in fear of being arrested for what they wear. However, progress to the advancement of women’s rights continues to be challenged.

Young women and men have to stand for themselves, and all youth of Sudan, to end injustice and inequality. We must urge for all members of civil society to be able to practice their activism without hindrance or harassment by our government. We must make sure all donors and non-governmental organizations do not fund any government run programs in Sudan without first seeing an improvement in policies related to human rights, women’s rights, and gender equality. With pressure, the government regime will back down from its continuing abuse of citizens, especially women and young girls.

The common narrative of violence and intimidation against Sudanese women and girls must end. Now more than ever, Sudan needs youth leadership and participation to end Gender Based Violence. As Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I will continue to advocate for women’s rights, and engage young men and women in the battle to end sexual violence, giving youth the tools necessary to speak up and speak out against this scourge. Through non-violent activism, young people in Sudan can challenge the perpetration of human rights abuses, and sow the seeds for sustainable peace. My hope is not only for CSOs that has been shut down by the government like Salmmah Women’s Resource Center to re-open, but for a radical change and transformation of laws in Sudan to advance women’s rights, and an abuse-free society.

I pray that young men and women, in Sudan and around the world, will stand in solidarity with one another as we demand justice and fight for the equality of all citizens.

Maha Babeker

UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Office

Youth to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Maha is an activist working to promote women’s rights in Sudan. Her skills vary from creating artwork to support campaigns for women's rights in Sudan to more recently participating in critically acclaimed plays ‘Seven’ in Ottawa to inspire and empower women. Currently, Maha coordinates the Youth Program at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Maha began her career in 2010 at the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre, which is one of the oldest women’s rights organizations in Sudan. In December 2014 Maha was appointed the Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In 2015 She co-hosted a weekly talk show that focused on women’s voices, opinions and experiences. In March 2016, she was one of the speakers at the World Muse Conference in the US to inspire women to create positive social change.

Recruiting the CSO Employees of the Future

16th October 2018 by Annika Behrendt and Liora Jaffe

The work world is changing, younger workers are switching jobs more frequently and looking for more than just a pay check. Not only millennials are interested in holding meaningful, ethical and sustainable jobs rather than working in traditional positions (think: banking, finance and consulting).

For the third sector this is a huge opportunity for acquiring new, passionate talent, who are invested in social causes. Making sure the best and the brightest choose to work in the third sector is a key way of impacting the most pressing issues of society today. The challenge then is, how to recruit the right people.

For organizations in the third sector it is important to ask oneself, what kind of employees are we looking for? Yes, in some situations the long-term activist who is very familiar with your work, might be the best fit for the organization, but it is also worthwhile to consider non-traditional career paths. What added benefit might someone from the business sector bring to my organisation? Are there volunteers who are already involved with our organization who would be a great fit? In what positions would a for-profit defector bring new skills and ideas to our organization? Having a focused profile of the type of skills that fit to the organization can help open the door for out-of-the-box employees who bring huge added value, motivation and talent.

The next question once you have an ideal applicant in mind, is how to go about recruiting and attracting that kind of talent. Some positions may be easier to fill than others, as there is currently a large interest in the sector and lots of people applying to any given position. On the other hand, not all positions attract as many applicants. Job opening in fundraising or IT can be tricky to fill. In Germany, due to the lack of trained fundraisers, finding the right person for the job requires a particularly attractive job offer, and impact alone may not be enough. Meanwhile IT salaries in the for-profit sector are far higher than most non-profits can afford and attracting appropriate candidates can be a challenging process for organizations.

In cases like this, it is important to highlight the non-salary benefits the position offers, be it flexibility, the ability to work from home, a friendly office work culture, or team lunches. There may also be other more institutionalized benefits such as health insurance, maternity leave or extra vacation time that is worth mentioning as well. Most importantly make sure to include the societal benefits of the position, this may be your organizations biggest advantage over businesses with more resources but who may lack impact.

Engaging a new generation of bright, passionate employees is just the catalyst the third sector needs to create the systemic, sustainable impact for the future, it is worth finding the right employee to fit your cause.

Annika Behrendt

Senior Project Manager


Senior project manager at Talents4Good, first German recruitment agency specialized in jobs in the non-profit sector. With her background in social sciences and her interest in female career topics Annika recruits mostly for NGOs with a focus on positions in fundraising and campaigning.

Liora Jaffe

Jr. Project Manager


Liora Jaffe is a native Californian who moved to Berlin in 2013 after finishing her B.A. in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. After working for two years at the humanitarian aid organization, JDC (The Joint Distribution Committee), she began her masters at the University of Hamburg in Public and Nonprofit Studies. Liora currently works as a Jr. Project Manager for the HR and recruiting firm Talents4Good in Berlin.

Every Voice Counts UN Puts Spotlight on Children as Human Rights Defenders

9th October 2018 by Beatrice Schulter, Lena Ingelstam, Tom Hodenfield, Ulrika Cilliers

Many children want to defend their rights and the rights of others and when children speak out things change.

Every day, millions of children take action and influence laws, budgets, service delivery and the realization of their rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They speak out on poverty, education, health, violence, the environment, discrimination, and many other things. Children are human rights defenders when they take action and promote, monitor and defend children’s rights and the rights of others.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides all children with the right to act as human rights defenders, rights which are reinforced in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

“I believe we are all human rights defenders in our own way. Some of us in small and quiet ways because that’s how we feel and all we can give to the world and some in large ways. The impact may be big or small but we all fight for what we believe in.”
Child participating in Child Rights Connect & Centre for Children’s Rights Survey

92 per cent of children who participated in a new survey by Child Rights Connect and the Centre for Children’s Rights at Queen’s University, Belfast, see themselves as human rights defenders. But children face serious challenges when promoting and defending their rights and the rights of others. In the survey, children identify four main barriers:

  • Adults do not take children seriously. They do not see children as competent and children’s views are not respected.
  • Children do not feel safe; 70 per cent of children are concerned about violence when they act as human rights defenders.
  • Children lack information; 40 per cent of children agree that one of the main challenges they face as human rights defenders is the lack of information about rights.
  • Children sometimes struggle to act due to lack of time, money and ability to travel to meetings.

Children from the most marginalized and deprived groups often face additional challenges when they want to take action and promote and defend rights.

Adults decide for us and think our opinions are less worthy than theirs just because we are younger. Adults play a negative role when they want to have the ‘last say’ without thinking they might be wrong.”

They told me’ feminazi’ and that they would sexually assault me.”
Children participating in Child Rights Connect & Centre for Children’s Rights Survey

On 28 September, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will host the first international meeting on how to empower and protect children as human rights defenders (Day of General Discussion). The UN Day of General Discussion will be a unique opportunity for the international community to hear from children on their experiences as human rights defenders, discuss challenges and opportunities and formulate clear recommendations to states and other actors.

To address the obstacles children face when promoting and defending human rights, the UN Day of General Discussion must generate clear recommendations to States to:

  • Put in place and implement laws that guarantee children’s rights to take civic action online and offline, including their rights to the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and to access information.
  • Provide age-appropriate public information in languages and formats that children understand.
  • Establish and resource child-friendly, inclusive and safe mechanisms and platforms, such as children’s parliaments, where children from all walks of life can engage with local and national decision-makers.
  • Ensure that the education system provides opportunities for children to learn about their rights and strengthen their confidence to speak out.
  • Systematically promote the rights of children to be human rights defenders, address negative attitudes and build the capacity of adults to engage meaningfully with children.

“Children need to be given spaces to work together because there is power in having
many more children defending human rights”
Child participating in Child Rights Connect & Centre for Children’s Rights Survey

States are instrumental in addressing the barriers children face. But other actors also need to step up and intensify their actions.

The UN and other international inter-governmental bodies need to ensure there are child-friendly platforms, information and accreditation for children to influence their work.

Create a virtual participation tool for children and adolescents to consider the mechanisms of the UN, amplifying their voices together in order to be heard by decision-makers at the highest levels”
Child participating in Child Rights Connect & Centre for Children’s Rights Survey

The private sector should promote and respect all children’s rights, including their rights to act as human rights defenders applying the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

Civil society organizations must recognize children as peers and partners, stand in solidarity with children, acknowledge that children can face multiple restrictions when taking civic action and defending human rights, and support them to speak out and be safe whilst doing so.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Day of General Discussion must put a spotlight on what needs to change for children to be recognized, protected and empowered as human rights defenders, as a basis for more human rights focused societies.

For more information, please contact the authors:

Lena Ingelstam, Global Programme Director, Save the Children Sweden (, and Ulrika Cilliers, Head of Advocacy, Child Rights Governance Global Theme, Save the Children (,

Tor Hodenfield, UN Adviser and Vuka! Secretariat Coalition Coordinator, CIVICUS,,

Beatrice Schulter, Director, Child Rights Connect,,

You can find more information about the UNCRC Day of General Discussion on the OHCHR and Child Rights Connect webpages and follow the live webcast here.

Beatrice Schulter


Child Rights Connect

Lena Ingelstam

Global Programme Director

Save The Children Sweden

Tom Hodenfield

UN Adviser and Vuka! Secretariat Coalition Coordinator


Ulrika Cilliers

Head of Advocacy, Child Rights Governance Global Theme

Save the Children

Civil Resistance One on One

2nd October 2018 by Jasmina Golubovska

At the end of June, people from different continents gathered in Arusha, Tanzania to discuss civil and political rights in the countries they currently reside. The meeting was organized by International Civil Society Centre, and I was lucky enough to be invited as person who was involved in civic activities which contributed to this political change in a hybrid system.

Civil Resistance participants arrange post-its on a wallSitting for 7 hours at the Istanbul airport en route to the meeting got me thinking about nation-state concepts and people living under different political and legal environments. Some are more intrusive to civilian spaces than others, yet nearly all try to limit open public spaces for free communication, interaction and information to people coming from such diverse communities in this world and Universe we all share. Some governments are reluctant to open the world to its citizens while others actively spew hatred towards the “otherness”.

However, looking at the millions of different individuals interacting daily only in this airport, I realized that there is no repressive model invented able to stand the need of people to move, explore, exchange, socialize. Even repressive regimes need to maintain their economic and military strength if they plan to maintain power, and thus they have to participate in the exchange of labor, products, and services on global level. So, closed borders, militarization, wars, heavily urbanized killers (of health and nature) cities… are these constructed spaces just a product of our imagination as humans? And if so, can we imagine something better in future? Can we take a leap on the evolutionary scale by recognizing such constructs and think of all natural space as an empty canvas on which we can draw a better picture? Is that just a prelude to the next step: aware humanity?
Civil Resistance speaker
Is the social interaction and exchange the key to opening the door to awareness of the co-dependence of all beings with nature? Can mistakes and destruction lead to comprehension that natural resources and our habitat as we know it is expendable, while humanity being dependable may parish?

This thought stayed with me on the 10 h. flight to Arusha, and throughout the 4 days which passed faster than those 17 hours of travel! I met people, heard stories, and developed deep friendships with activists from:Hong Kong, Singapore, Argentina, Uganda, Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cameron, Tanzania, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Germany, United States of America…

We share the same vision on what our civic space should look like as spaces extending to communities where social interaction take places, where people see each other even without communication, where friends meet, or celebrate and cultures mix. Something like the scenery I’ve tried to capture while pondering the airport in Istanbul.

One may ask, did we succeed to finding a way to protect our spaces for communication and democracy? Did we detect and overcome the obstacles to future participatory democracies with citizens well-being put on the top of the political agenda? Have we thought of ways to remove the different restraints on civil and political rights? How to protect your self and others from government oppression, military power, hunger and live in societies which allow people to organize, participate and communicate among each other without fear of prosecution, pollution, famine, overall natural and human deprivation?

Well, reaching the end of the text the obvious answer is no, we didn’t find the way. We didn’t solve the world hunger, wars, dictators or housing problems, but we have few ideas on how to get people together to socialize and communicate their hardship openly and freely. We thought of ways how people can help each other across borders, governments and continents and that is a force to be reckoned. Remember that one thing I’ve mentioned that governments and militaries can’t stop, at the beginning of this text?

Well, they can’t stop us from meeting, talking, thinking and acting in the public or virtual world. They may slow the process by different forms of oppression, but they can’t stop it.

Jasmina Golubovska

Macedonian artist, activist, and member of the Civic Charter community