Disrupt & Innovate

Solidarity in Times of Scrutiny: Key Learnings for International Civil Society Organisations

9th June 2020 by Eva Gondor

Presented below are key learnings for international civil society organisations (ICSOs) from our Solidarity Playbook pilot case studies, authored by Deborah Doane and Sarah Pugh. The case studies review best practices, challenges, and lessons learned from three ICSOs’ internal mechanisms and three coalition’s responses to scrutiny and attacks. The key learnings for ICSOs focus on three layers, The Individual, The Organisation and The System. You can also view the key learnings for civil society coalitions.

Drawing out the common themes from Solidarity Playbook pilot case studies, we see that ICSOs must consider strategies across three linked layers when building their resilience in the face of increasing scrutiny.

  • The Individual – individual staff members and activists need safeguarding and capacity building. This requires:
    • Training in order to better understand the civic space context that they are in;
    • Information about what risks they may face and what protocols have been developed to mitigate those risks;
    • Effective internal communication during times of crisis, to reassure staff and keep them safe;
    • Support and coordination from international offices to national or regional offices.
  • The Organisation – the organisation’s resilience must be strengthened. Strategies for this include:
    • Ensuring compliancy with all relevant legislation to avoid ‘back-door’ attacks to legitimacy and scrutiny over operations;
    • Scenario-planning in order to understand organisational risks, so that contingencies can be mapped out;
    • Ensuring that the infrastructure and resources required are available to enable any necessary contingencies, for example budgeting for rapid legal and lobbyist support;
    • Mapping key stakeholders and investing in engagement, so that the organisation has good relationships with those individuals and groups who can in turn strengthen their resilience and act in solidarity.
  • The System – the systemic resilience of broader civil society, whether that be local, national, regional or international, must be strengthened. Strategies for this could include:
    • Working collectively to create a unified sector voice, and to increase the reputational cost to those seeking to restrict CSOs;
    • Adding a civic space lens or focus to programmatic work, for example by earmarking resources for supporting partners, activists or constituents targeted by restrictions, and factoring in coordination to bring different actors together on this topic;
    • Ensuring that the organisation or sector’s mandate is relevant to society and to people’s needs, in order to build legitimacy and support;
    • Raising awareness of the importance of civil and political space, and of why it should be defended and expanded;
    • Mapping the risks that organisations cannot mitigate in isolation, and working in coalition with others to address those risks, e.g. bank de-risking and ALM measures.

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Eva leads on the Centre's civic space work - the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) aimed at strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors, and the International Civic Forum (ICF), our annual civic space platform to network and identify opportunities for collaboration. Prior to joining the Centre she worked at the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Foundation) in Stuttgart where she managed the foundation’s projects focusing on civil society and governance in Turkey, the Western Balkans, and North Africa.