Responses to Populism in a Digitally-Enabled Era: A New Sector Innovation Report

24th April 2019 by Vicky Tongue

This piece was originally published on InterAction’s blog on 18/04/19

Are you working to push back against populist narratives and tendencies? Have you got a new way of doing things that you would like to share with a wide civil society audience?We are looking for case studies for our new innovation report for the civil society sector.

The rise of populist governments and movements has become a key influencer of public opinion, including towards international and national civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights actors. This discourse is often binary and leads the public to ‘choose’ one side or the other. Social media further fuels such divisions by enabling ‘echo chambers’ of inaccurate stories which, in turn, are covered by mainstream media.

In this context, civil society actors and organisations remain vulnerable to deliberate misinformation and disinformation campaigns and other forms of politically-motivated targeting in different countries. This includes international CSOs, including the Muslim-based foundations in the United States supported so effectively by InterAction’s Together Project, or humanitarian ICSOs assisting refugees in Europe.

International CSOs are also increasingly confronted with accusations of elitism or lacking legitimacy in representing grassroots interests, and some recent ethical and reputational challenges have also provided individuals and groups opposed to progressive and liberal ideas a further opportunity to challenge the missions and values of organised civil society.

The need for continued learning on alternative narratives and solidarity

At our Innovator’s Forum in February, two outcomes identified by our diverse group of civil society representatives, were the need to both build new narrative and solidarity and collective risk management capacities for our sector. There is a growing body of invaluable resources, such as Dejusticia’s playbook for human rights actors, and the Guide to Hope-based Communications, and InterAction’s Disinformation Toolkit, which are inspiring and empowering CSOs to act and innovate in response to the complex challenges arising from political populism and polarisation.

The International Civil Society Centre and our innovation partner JustLabs want to add a further contribution to this knowledge base for our sector this year, with our new report on ‘Responses to Populism in a Digitally-Enabled Era’. We want to highlight the most promising innovations to tackle populist tendencies, build shared solidarity and promote new emerging narratives and public engagement around civic priorities, space and action. In particular, we want to find the most exciting and effective initiatives in the following three areas:

  1. Reflecting the ‘license to operate’: Innovative and adaptive steps to reshape ICSO’s operational legitimacy, advance accountability towards communities, and strengthen resilience towards challenges of perceived elitism, privilege, or disconnection from grassroots interests.
  2. Re-framing the narrative: examples of powerful narratives and positive visions aiming to reopen spaces for constructive dialogue on social change and democratic actions. This includes compelling new communication, outreach and engagement approaches/campaigns which connect with new public audiences.
  3. Countering attacks on civil society: examples of robust mechanisms, mobilisation and collaboration tactics and strategies which have been developed to counter attacks on humanistic values, civic rights and civil actors and to hold repressive actors to account.

Crowdsourcing case studies

The Report will analyse the emerging effectiveness of these different approaches, and identify key enabling factors which have supported the design and implementation of innovation. It will also highlight innovation case studies from a range of international and national CSOs and countries/contexts, including examples identified through a crowdsourcing approach. This is where you come in.  

We want to hear from ICSOs who have been innovating in this area before 31 May 2019. We will confirm and co-develop ten case studies from international and national CSOs for in-depth profiling. Providing information on your innovation work will provide access to valuable opportunities to the increase visibility and recognition of what you have been doing across a wide and diverse sector audience.

The final report will launched at the Centre’s annual sector flagship conference Global Perspectives, in Addis Ababa from 30 October, which will brings together leaders from civil society, politics and business, with a focus on the legitimacy of civil society. The final case study submitters will be invited to showcase their innovative work as part of the report launch.

To let us know about your innovation, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.de/r/PGDF6MN or contact Vicky Tongue for more information. We hope to hear from you soon!

Vicky Tongue

Programme Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Programme Manager, co-ordinating core initiatives on horizon scanning, innovation and peer convening for CEOs and Global Heads of Division. Vicky has 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

Our strategy 2019 – 2021

18th April 2019 by Thomas Howie

Welcome to our 2019 -2021 strategy. You can download the strategy by clicking  on the button below to find out about what we have planned over the coming years. 

 

Download Strategy (PDF)

 

Thomas Howie

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.

Developing a Blockchain Collaboration Model for Social Good

18th April 2019 by Andrea Christie

On 19–20th March, I was honoured to represent Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation (BPF) as the Chief Education Manager at the Blockchain For Social Impact Summit in New York, held by the Rockefeller Foundation. As a 2-Day conference co-hosted by the International Civil Society Centre and MercyCorps, its key purpose was to facilitate early thought-leadership discussion amongst blockchain entrepreneurs and leaders who are currently using this technology to create social impact. This meant establishing our interest in creating a global network where we could safely share our key industry learnings, ideas and resources, as well as create a set of universal standards that will help guide sustainable and ethical blockchain developments well into the future.

This exclusive invite-only event brought together 40 delegates from the civil society, financial, academic, government, technological and consulting industries. Organisations presented included Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF, the United Nations, IBM, Microsoft, University of Edinburgh, Accenture, ConsenSys and, of course, BPF. It was an incredible feeling to be sitting in the same room as so many leaders who wanted to plan for the future of blockchain technology.


Here are some of my key learnings and reflections from this conference:

There is a Need for a Blockchain Paradigm Shift

The first conference topic introduced the concept of the “blockchain paradigm shift”. Whereas organisations have generally adopted a tactical approach to focus on improving the technical efficiency of systems through blockchain technology, this conference signals the start of a new movement where diverse, socially-minded leaders are banding together to form future strategies on a more holistic and constitutional level.

And yet, how can we best collaborate in practice? And how can we ensure that these conversations will produce valuable and sustainable frameworks for future collaboration?

With a mission to develop a collaboration model that would help members of the blockchain community maximise their social impact, this summit sought to discuss these ideas and create cross-sectorial feedback loops. These activities stressed the importance of working together within the blockchain community to not only learn from each other, but also support each other in educating external parties and pushing legislation that will allow healthy experimentation within the blockchain for social impact economy.

Current Barriers to Blockchain Adoption

A main theme that continued to appear over the 2 days was the problems that we commonly faced as blockchain innovators and leaders. Firstly, we agreed that education awareness was a primary issue that threatened to prohibit our entrepreneurial progress. More specifically, it made it difficult for us, as organisation leaders, to get the necessary approval and funding to roll out our projects.

This directly ties in with another huge challenge — collaborating with policy-makers and regulators in developing clear guidelines on blockchain use. From my personal experience, our state government here in Melbourne is extremely supportive towards social entrepreneurship in the blockchain space. In addition, our regulatory offices such as the ATO are very helpful in answering organisational questions and in clearing up any cryptocurrency tax-related issues. However, upon discussing the various problems that other organisations faced, it soon became evident that many other governments around the world don’t share this same crypto-friendly approach. Consequently, many of the delegates mentioned that they would ideally like more assistance from regulators in clarifying legal compliance policies. It is important that we find ways to collaborate with policy-makers in creating economic safe zones (i.e. “sand boxes”) where we could safely experiment with social impact projects without penalty, before rolling these out into broader society.

On reflection, this has made me appreciate Melbourne’s crypto-friendly policy approach so much more. In fact, this might explain why Melbourne currently has such a strong fintech and blockchain social entrepreneurial community, with many successful pilots being based in Melbourne.

Blockchain Misconceptions Still Fuel Distrust in Blockchain Solutions

There were also a number of misconceptions that we, as organisational managers, faced as a collective. Particularly, there seemed to be a huge unease amongst charities in adopting blockchain regarding disintermediation. In other words, many feared that there would be a huge downsizing phenomenon, whereby many of their employees and volunteers would lose their jobs, or their entire operations would be made redundant due to technology. In some ways, this is not necessarily untrue, but this problem may need to be reframed. For example, when Oxfam International recently deployed a cryptocurrency donation solution in the Pacific region, they reported a huge reduction in intermediary steps that they would normally have to undertake to collect, distribute and send donations to the beneficiary. By increasing organisational leanness, this structural change ultimately led to greater social impact being delivered to victims.Additionally, this created new and exciting jobs for people in the education, consulting, research and technological spaces. As such, the main lesson to take away from this experience is to embrace this technology as a tool for developing new jobs and social impact outcomes for the future.


I was highly surprised (or extremely pleased, I should say!) by the high calibre of presentations. Coming from an academic research background, it was truly inspiring to recognise so many pioneers in the field — authors whom I had read extensively while researching material for my own PhD thesis back in Melbourne on “crypto governance solutions for charities”. One of these authors was Rhodri Davies from the Charities Aid Foundation, who had written some well-known articles on the history of charitable gift-giving and how blockchain is a relevant piece of the missing puzzle.

At this conference, I was given the fantastic opportunity to hear some of these revolutionary ideas in person, like the contemporary debate on blockchain vs. “human-based institutions” (what Davies defined as governing mechanisms that oversee, manage and control our societal interactions, including the humanitarian sector’s various donation distribution activities). Normally, we rely on third-party authorities, such as banks and regulatory or government bodies to create a transparent and trusting environment in which donors, beneficiaries, charity managers, contractors and regulators can work together on our charitable projects. Yet with this new introduction of automated technology, would this create new and daring challenges for us all? And would this solve some of our heavily entrenched societal problems, such as no longer mistrusting one another when we attempt to create social impact together? All in all, these questions made me think about the incredible change that’s yet to come. And hearing this straight from the academic who developed the underlying theory was certainly a rewarding experience.

I also learnt that creating a universal set of guidelines on a global, cross-sectoral level can be really challenging. While everyone present at the conference voiced a huge appetite for continuing these important thought-leadership discussions well into the future, it took a majority of the two days simply to identify our main unified goals moving forwards as a collective network. It was inspiring to hear about so many social impact projects around the world that have used blockchain technology with success. We were all willing to share our pilot failures, learnings and challenges in a safe and supportive environment, which I believe is an essential ingredient moving forwards in this highly dynamic, evolving and uncertain technological space. I was immensely proud to represent BPF at this world exclusive conference and am looking forward to keeping you updated on our follow-up conferences in the very near future.

Andrea Christie

Chief Education Manager

Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation

Andrea Christie is currently the Chief Education Manager at the Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation, where she provides educational courses to NGOs, philanthropists and civil societal leaders on harnessing new technologial innovations for UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) delivery. In academia, she is pursuing a PhD in Nonprofit Economics, with a passion for investigating distributed ledger technologies (e.g blockchain) as economic infrastructures for promoting trust in charitable giving. Through her research, she hopes to provide governing bodies with more informed knowledge on how best to treat these architectures when developing new policy and compliance regulations.

Why NGOs need a reputation risk management strategy and how to develop one

9th April 2019 by Martin Cottingham

Reputation is a precious commodity for international NGOs, hard won and easily lost. A bad reputation can fundamentally undermine your support. A good reputation – with the public, with peer organisations and other key stakeholders – can boost your influence in the good times and protect your organisation when it comes under attack.

Islamic Relief knows this better than most. As a high-profile Muslim organisation in a polarised world, we sometimes come under attack from hate groups, from vested interests and from hostile media. Our reputation with donors, in the NGO community and among institutional funders has helped us not only to defend ourselves but also to continue to grow in income and impact.

Communications is a vital area for tackling reputational challenges. But good messaging needs to be accompanied by good practice: you have to ‘walk the talk’ if you are to maintain trust and integrity in the face of criticism.

It is no good having good policies on paper if they are not respected and implemented meaningfully throughout your organisation – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Every organisation is different but here are ten points of principle in reputation risk management, informed by Islamic Relief’s experience.

  1. Develop a reputation risk strategy and establish a reputation risk management team. Our team includes the CEO and representatives of legal, communications, finance and programmes.
  2. Identify the main risks you face and develop a plan of action to mitigate them.
  3. Map your key stakeholders – regulators, institutional funders, governments, financial institutions – and engage with them positively and openly. If you don’t make friends while the sun shines, it is much more difficult to do so in the eye of a storm.
  4. Plan for and practise different scenarios that might arise if your main identified risks materialise as major controversies.
  5. Manage the media and social media decisively and effectively. Prioritise correcting falsehoods and baseless allegations in credible mainstream outlets.
  6. Remain calm under pressure to ensure rational decision making.
  7. Reflect your values in how you communicate. Transparency and accountability are important. Say ‘sorry’ when there is something to apologise for but don’t accept the blame if you are not responsible. Communicate strongly who you really are and what you stand for in the case of misrepresentation.
  8. Identify and work with allies who have common cause. At Islamic Relief interfaith collaboration is in our DNA, and it has been a very positive experience for us to work with Christian and Jewish organisations who share common values but have similar negative prejudices to overcome.
  9. Strike an appropriate balance in internal communications, providing reassurance and clarity to staff without unnecessary detail.
  10. Last but not least, maintain a ‘business as usual’ mindset. Because nothing will reinforce a good reputation among those who matter quite like continuing to deliver on your core mission – in Islamic Relief’s case, the alleviation of poverty and suffering around the world.

Martin Cottingham

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Islamic Relief Worldwide

Martin Cottingham has worked for the Islamic Relief federation for eight years, first as Media and Advocacy Manager and Head of Communications for Islamic Relief UK and since late 2016 as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide. In a 22-year career working on international development and environmental issues, he has also held management positions in media, marketing and campaigns for Christian Aid, Oxfam and the Soil Association.