Your invitation to make a difference – Global Perspectives 2019

30th September 2019 by Wolfgang Jamann


Event Website

Millions of people have been on the streets in the past months, and civil society is showing its teeth towards climate crisis deniers and slow political actors.

Moreover, thousands were in the halls of the UN General assembly last week, pushing for climate and social justice and advocating for an acceleration of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the international community agreed upon four years ago.

Key aims – the 2-degree global warming cap, and the eradication of poverty, hunger and injustice, seem currently too far away from being realised. So there is an obvious and urgent need to increase collaboration, achieve (and to demonstrate) better impact and intensify social work.

At the same time, liberal ideas and actors experience grave pushbacks – both through authoritarian regimes and anti-liberal forces in many societies. The amount of hatred and opposition, which young civil society activists like Greta Thunberg receive these days, is unbearable and yet is just the tip of what seems to be happening around the world: an erosion of global values of solidarity and humanity, and growing confrontations between adverse worldviews.

Being part of a demonstration against inertia around the climate crisis, or enjoying the company of well-meaning globalists at the SDG and climate summits in New York gives us hope and spirit. However, it should not distract us from the antagonised world around us, which needs stronger engagement by and with civil society actors.

At the end of October, about a hundred representatives of civil society will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to share and discuss strategies of citizens’ engagement, achieve better impact through collaborations, and fight against the pushback on liberal values.

For a civil society organisation, being legitimate means dealing with questions and doubts, addressing flaws, and renewing societal contracts between social and environmental justice actors and with many other parts of society, especially the people they are serving. Hence, the participants of the International Civil Society Centre’s Global Perspectives conference will be a diverse mix of global and national actors, activist and service deliverers, academia, advocates, and supporters. The perspectives are global, but the actions always contextual. Being in Ethiopia, a country that has made remarkable steps towards embracing civic rights and liberal policies will give participants an inspirational setting for a meeting that will make a difference.

We are looking forward to seeing you there.

Wolfgang Jamann

Executive Director

International Civil Society Centre

Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

When we admire decentralised power in other NGOs but we struggle with it in our own

17th September 2019 by Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken

NB: While Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken penned this blog post, thanks goes to Long Tran, the author of the article discussed, who reviewed and had input into its content.

The question

What is the influence of our organisational structure on our NGOs’ effectiveness? Many mid to large size NGOs have built complex, ambitious, often multi-layered organisational forms in the last decade or so, but do they offer enough value in return for tradeoffs such as greater transaction costs, less agility and other unwanted side effects? Centralised, unitary INGO structures tend to lead to more efficient but less democratic decision making than in decentralised structures. Has the pendulum swung too far, not enough, or are things just about right? And what do leaders candidly think about this?

Long Tran, a colleague in my former ‘pracademic’ life and PhD student at American University, USA, recently produced an interesting article about how leaders think about (de)centralised structures (pay walled, citation below), and how it impacts effectiveness in their perception. Long used an INGO leadership interview data set that a team of us at the Transnational NGO Initiative at Syracuse University (USA) had produced some time ago. We had interviewed 152 top leaders of US-registered (though not always US-founded) INGOs about their perspectives on effectiveness challenges — among others.

What Long found

How NGO leaders think about centralised versus decentralised structures in peer NGOs is not the same as what they perceive about their own. Long studied the connection between an INGO’s level of centralisation and its effectiveness reputation, as perceived by leaders of peer NGOs. Perceptions about reputation matter, because they can shape future opportunities and risks. As Long writes and I concur “civil society sector appears culturally averse to concentrated power as a matter of principle”. From this perspective, compared with centralised INGOs, decentralised INGOs may enjoy more legitimacy and, thus, a better effectiveness reputation. Hence, one would expect that INGO leaders would rate their decentralised peer INGOs better than centralised peer INGOs in terms of legitimacy. Long found this expectation to be true in his data.

On the other hand, a centralised structure can be expected to reduce transaction costs, and help leaders feel more confident about their organisation’s effectiveness. Long thus hypothesized that, compared to leaders of decentralised INGOs, leaders of centralised NGOs would rate their own effectiveness higher. This was indeed borne out by Long’s analysis.

Overall, centralised, unitary INGOs thus tend to have stronger internally perceived effectiveness but weaker externally perceived legitimacy than decentralised INGOs do. For example, as one of the interviewed leaders described, “the tension you accept when you accept a confederated structure is you are going to have high transaction costs; the flip side of that is if you were to have a command and control architecture you make other kinds of compromises such as in terms of legitimacy and credibility”. And while academics have argued endlessly about definitions of NGO effectiveness and performance, most agree that these are ‘socially constructed’ – that is, they are defined and negotiated between stakeholders of the NGO and are not absolute.


Several questions arise from these findings:

  1. It is notable that leaders often praise decentralisation when commenting on the INGO world, yet perceive various challenges of implementing decentralisation when it comes to their own organisations! Can we surmise that leaders support the general norm around the value of decentralised organisation, even if they don’t want it or struggle with it in their own organisation? Is there some hypocrisy in this – or at least a clear tension? Does this point to a gap between our aspirations as a sector versus our real in-use practice?
  2. Will we see a return to a more corporate hierarchical models or a further split between, on the one hand large ‘families’ of decentralised (con)federated and networked NGOs, and those who buck that trend and keep their organisational form simple and unitary – particularly because agility is considered as very much needed in a rapidly changing environment and highly competitive civil society ecosystem ?

What leaders can do 

  1. Promote an open discussion within your board and mid to senior managers and leaders about the tradeoffs between centralised and decentralised structures, without anything being ‘taboo’ or off the table. Importantly, this needs to include stakeholders with country level perspectives and experiences.
  2. Consider whether lack of efficiency in deliberation really is due to the structure, or rather due to the behavior of the people who work in the structures? For instance, I have observed some NGOs who have little discipline when it comes to decision making: they will allow for extensive consultation, then finally come to a decision,  to then turn around and  allow for that decision process to be opened up once again for further deliberation.
  3. Experiment with digital deliberation tools for focused yet inclusive globally distributed deliberation processes. These are already in use by digital campaigning platforms in civil society. One example is, and advisory agencies such as and Ethelo specialise in supporting these processes. Our sector has to catch up with these developments.
More resources

Twitter: @Tosca5Oaks

You can follow Long Tran on Twitter to stay in touch with his interesting research.

His article which I draw this post from (with his permission) is regretfully behind a paywall; here is the citation:

Tran, L. (2019). International NGO Centralization and Leader-Perceived Effectiveness. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 0899764019861741.

Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken

Principal Consultant

Five Oaks Consulting

Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken has worked on international development and civil society issues for 30 years, in development practice, in academia and as independent consultant. Before launching her consulting practice, Five Oaks Consulting, Tosca was the Director of the Transnational NGO Initiative at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Management at Syracuse University (SU), in the US. Tosca also served as board member of InterAction (the largest coalition of US INGOs in the US). She currently is an honorary InterAction Fellow, exploring ‘NextGen’ norm shifts in the INGO sector. Tosca also served as board member of Public Interest Registry, which operates the .ORG and .NGO Internet domain names used by 10+ million nonprofits and other customers around the globe, and of ProLiteracy and has recently joined the board of Cadasta. Tosca is a ‘Leap of Reason Ambassador’, a private community of nonprofit thought leaders, leader practitioners, forward-looking funders, policymakers, and instigators who believe that mission and performance are inextricably linked. As Principal Consultant at Five Oaks Consulting, Tosca offers value to senior leaders in INGOs in the areas of change management, leadership development and coaching, and organizational culture. She also serves philanthropic leaders through strategy and facilitation work, organizational evaluations, diversity and inclusion strategies and gender and leadership. Earlier, Tosca worked at the European Center for Development Policy Management in the Netherlands, and in Cambodia for the UNTAC peacekeeping operation, UNDP as well as the US INGO PACT. Tosca also served at the World Bank in Washington DC, USA and in Vietnam for six years. Tosca can be reached at

Digital Transformation: Why we need personal data accounts, similar to today’s personal bank accounts

21st August 2019 by Karl Steinacker

Karl Steinacker explains that in a society of rapid technological change personal data accounts should become the cornerstone of digital interactions, much like a personal bank accounts of today which have transformed beyond recognition in the last 40 years. The key, he argues to change is government legislation and, critically, civil society involvement.

As someone who has lived the transition from the analogue to the digital age, I remember money in paper bags, rental books, and discount stamp booklets. Hiding one’s savings under a mattress or in bed linen was common in a society in which – at least for the wage-earning and rent-paying segments of society – cash was the only thing that mattered.

Although cashless payment transactions have been the norm for most for several decades, it is only recently that consumers in the European Union have gained the legal right to a basic bank account. Also, today’s bank accounts offer customers confidentiality and thus the right to regulate payment transactions and financial circumstances privately, without third-parties spying. The fact that the tax office might have access is no contradiction since there is also an obligation to pay taxes and to contribute to the maintenance and further development of the community.

Data collection about us is changing rapidly

Government legislation is trying to keep pace with increasingly rapid technological development. Since 2018, thanks to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union, each citizen should have sovereignty over his sensitive data. But where did need for such a law arise from and does it work?

By way of explaining, a quick story: I travel a lot. I lived abroad for many years. My typewriter was stolen in East Africa in 1989. It went without a trace or shred of evidence connecting it to me. Now consider today: I have several digital identities and have left digital traces on four continents, plus the cyber world. Since I don’t keep a diary, Facebook helps me: every log-in, I am a customer since 2009, is meticulously listed, no matter if I log in from Western Europe or East Africa. Thanks to GDPR Facebook must share this comprehensive logbook so I am aware which data Facebook has collected about me. But, and it is a big but, this doesn’t give me any sovereignty over this data.

Thinking ahead, one day my self-driving electric car will whir through the streets of tomorrow and leave data at each sensor it passes. Twin questions arise; who stores that data and who has access to it? The questions don’t end there, in fact, those are just for starters, consider:

  • If I wanted to know who was sitting beside on a certain day at a certain time, would a CCTV operator be able to pull an image and would I be allowed to view it?
  • What does data sovereignty mean if my digital patient file is stored with the health insurance company and my credit score data with a ranking agency?
  • Do I have the same access to my time account at work as I have to my bank account?
  • How many passwords do I need to memorise so I can track last year’s financial statements or monitor my child’s performance at school?

The need for digital identities

By now it should be clear that the data sovereignty of the individual will only work if there are appropriate infrastructures, legal regulations and profitable business models.

First of all, there is a need to define “digital identities”. Some questions should prompt what they might be. For example, who can and should know who is behind an IP address and who owns the data of a smart electricity meter that buys and sells electricity? Is it possible to make anonymous purchases on the Internet, replicating cash transactions on high street and vending machines? Clear names make sense for online tax returns and other interfaces between citizens and administration. But beyond that, is it just the government-certified identity of my ID card, or do we accept that the big tech companies set up parallel worlds of crypto identities and currencies on their platforms?

It is normal to set up and use accounts that banks operate for us. Modern consumer societies would be unthinkable without the integration of millions of workers and consumers into cashless payment systems. Global trade too. Banks are regulated by the State.

Consumer protection is part of any government’s agenda. This is a well-established system that we take for granted.

In the digital society, where everyone leaves digital traces everywhere and constantly, intentionally and unintentionally, a comparable system is lacking. It is, therefore, necessary to rethink Data Protection and Trust, individual responsibility and State protection, and the associated business models in a new and, above all, practical way.

An EU regulation (eIDAS) largely unknown to the public paves the way for private electronic trust services and a transnational research project ( is working on the necessary digital infrastructure. Start-ups and IT companies are proposing a new technology for this purpose: Blockchain. But technological and technocratic solutions alone will not suffice, we need a broad discussion in our societies. At the same time, quick and bold decision making is called for. Otherwise, a few companies will once again roll-out technologies in a regulatory void and, once again, try to impose a fait accompli to our societies.

Personal data account

The concept of an personal data account is the cornerstone for effective data sovereignty for the simple reason that I can only control what is with me. This applies not only to my money but also to my personal data. My data account is the place where my patient file belongs – and only there. Data retention? Yes – if the storage takes place in my data account!

Politicians everywhere need to realise that access to the mobile Internet is a basic need, comparable to access to bank accounts. But really, this is yesterday’s talk. Today, our societies need to create sufficient and inexpensive storage space on a massive scale, so that data accounts can be set up for everyone. The digital infrastructure for effective cloud computing should, as the provision of electricity and water, roads and public transport, be regarded as a public utility.

The task is gigantic, but not illusory: new laws and regulations must be drawn up. We need institutions that represent the interests of citizens in the digital space while private providers develop profitable business models for each of us managing his digital privacy. Civil society groups, associations, academia, schools – everyone is called upon to participate in this key project for a democratic and digital society.

I have arrived at the end of my short journey through time. I confined myself to the era of cash payments and typewriters. I could have looked further back, to Mesopotamia before our time, for example. There, according to the ethnologist David Graeber, the account was invented in temples before even the money was invented. I cannot judge whether this is the historical truth, but I am convinced that the concept of the account will still be needed for a long time to come: Only data accounts for everyone’s personal data can bring practical meaning to the concept of data sovereignty.


, ,

Karl Steinacker

Digital Advisor

International Civil Society Centre

Karl joined the Centre in June 2019 after a professional career in institutions of German technical co-operation and as humanitarian manager in the United Nations. He spent years in conflict zones, such as the Gaza Strip, the Great Lakes region in Central Africa, and in the Sahel. He led multi-sectoral teams on data management, refugee registration and biometrics. At the ICS Centre he will work pro bono on issues relating to artificial intelligence, digital transformation, identity and trust as well as their impact on civil society in general and ICSOs in particular. Karl, born in 1960 in Germany, is a graduate of the Political Science faculty of the Free University of Berlin and studied Public International Law at Cambridge University.

Webinar with Thomas Coombes: Hope based communications, an antidote to NGO apathy?

1st August 2019 by Thomas Coombes

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This webinar with Thomas Coombes, focusses on the power of Hope-Based Communications to change people’s minds and help International civil society organisations (ICSOs) set the communications agenda, rather than react to it.

This September, for the first time, International Civil Society Centre’s will convene Heads of Communications of ICSOs. At this meeting we will look at how hope-based communications can help ICSOs reach new audiences, we will also share what works and what doesn’t work regarding campaigns and look into solidarity messaging in times of crisis.

To get the ball rolling, we are offering a taster webinar of the kind of topics we will engage with to stimulate debate and collaborative action.

More about Hoped-Based Communications Hope is a pragmatic strategy, informed by history, communications experts, organisers neuroscience and cognitive linguistics. It can be applied to any strategy or campaign. By grounding your communications from the values you stand for and a vision of the world you want to see, hope-based communications is an antidote to debates that seem constantly framed to favour your opponents, so that you can design actions that set the agenda rather than constantly reacting to external events.

A hope-based communications strategy involves making five basic shifts in the way we talk about human rights.

Thomas Coombes

Communications Strategist

Hope-Based Communications

Thomas Coombes is a global communications strategist who has developed an approach to framing, called Hope-Based Communications to help organizations and movements develop new narratives for social change rooted in their values and vision. Before setting up Hope-Based Communications as an independent consultancy, Thomas was Head of Brand and Deputy Communications Director at human rights movement Amnesty International. Thomas has also worked in communications for business, government and civil society, including anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, the European Commission and PR firm Hill & Knowlton. From Ireland and France, Thomas is also a triathlete and blogs about world literature.

Leave No One Behind buzzing ahead

25th July 2019 by Thomas Howie
Leave No One Behind Partnership Meeting Berlin

The Leave No One Behind project is lifting off. With concrete results and recommendations from the five pilot countries, there is continued energy among the project partners and allies to continue this joint initiative to make voices heard and count.

At the annual project partners meeting in Berlin, the partnership confirmed that the novel approach to Sustainable Development Goal monitoring and implementation represents an important stepping stone for the realisation of the promise to leave no one behind in SDG implementation. Recognition of this comes from the highest levels, too. In July, the project was invited to present at the United Nation’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF). By participating in the HLPF new connections are made in our shared mission to make all people’s voices heard and count in SDG implementation.

Project Partners Meeting

In late June project partners presented, discussed and evaluated the results of the pilot phase of the project that sees twelve leading ICSOs joining forces to make the voices of marginalised people heard and count in SDG implementation. The five pilot countries are Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Kenya and Vietnam.Leave No One Behind 2019 project partner meeting

The principle at the heart of the SDGs, to leave no one behind is yet to be fully realised in current monitoring and implementation. The pilot project shows that the novel approach taken by the project partners is capable of ‘building a bridge’ between gaps in statistical monitoring and policymaking. Community-driven data has proven its potential to identify specific drivers of vulnerability at the local level and to develop purposeful policy recommendations to address these local issues.


The project partners will now define the concrete next steps to move ahead towards a collective four-year engagement until the mid-point of SDG delivery in 2022. Together with partners from across the sectors, we want to work towards a more inclusive, accountable and participatory SDG implementation in a growing number of countries worldwide.

High Level Political Forum

The partnership presented its results at the High Level Political Forum in New York. In addtion, the partnership were central to two well attended side events where there were in depth discussions about our unique approach and futre collaboration.

As a result their input, the partnership is invited to contribute to the Voluntary National Review labs of the HLPF. They will present the approach to an international expert audience of statistics agencies and political decision-makers. Also, the UN Deputy Secretary General’s SDG strategy hub is keen to explore how we can work together.

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

It’s time for international NGOs to reflect on our China work

24th July 2019 by Kevin Li

The timing of the Scanning the Horizon Annual Meeting 2019 in June coincided with the huge demonstrations against the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, which created strong fluctuations in every citizen of Hong Kong, including myself. What was happening beyond our air-conditioned meeting room coincidentally matched with the main theme of our discussions, China’s global role. While we were taking advantage of this space, our discussion served as a timely and meaningful start for exchange of experiences.

We shared with each other the context, the analysis and the strategy in dealing with the changing and emerging role of China in overseas investments, in global governance, philanthropy and other areas. China’s technological innovation in particular is one of the most interesting trends which might have big implications for inequality and poverty issues around the world. As it will have an impact on our work, this will need to be considered by many INGOs, including Oxfam.

The most timely and valuable overall message from the meeting was the importance of structural reflection on a regular basis. We shared and understood each other’s constraints in operationalising different strategies and approaches. Practitioners were meeting with a whole range of challenges and might deal with them in a practical way, for example, by stopping certain areas of work or not using particular approaches to avoid risk.  However, more structured and regular reflection can help us learn lessons and explore how we could work differently.

My main points of reflection, especially in the context of constrained civil society space in developing countries, are:

  1. Identifying added value: Even with good intentions, international NGOs or our local partner organisations need to identify our own niche to contribute to multi-stakeholder dialogue with governments and companies. Thinking beyond our brand, it is even more critical to make the dialogue more meaningful and proceed on the right path with our expertise, knowledge and skillsets.


  1. Maintaining relevance: international NGOs and our partner organisations’ groundwork in local communities is also important, building a robust foundation so synergies can be created between advocacy and community work. Staying relevant in the local communities will become even more essential in gaining and maintaining our reputation in support of advocacy work.


  1. Understanding the external context: While international NGOs and our local partner organisations advocate for pioneering and innovative ideas, the world is changing rapidly, and other stakeholders are also learning and updating their own narratives and practice. The dynamics of foreign relations between China and the rest of the world is also vibrant, which may occasionally impact on our strategy. Resilience and agility are therefore important in this context. Strategy adjustment might be more frequent than before, and funding models for international NGOs and our partner organisations will require a higher level of flexibility, transparency and accountability.

It is now a critical moment to reflect on the role of international NGOs in this vibrant context. Whether we stay relevant depends so much on our capability of comprehension and reflection as an organisation. We look forward to continuing to share our experiences and lessons with other organisations on this important topic.


Kevin Li

Programme Manager

Oxfam Hong Kong

Threat or Opportunity? China’s Increasing Role in International Development and What It Means for the Future of ICSOs

24th July 2019 by Darren Ward

In a world becoming increasingly dominated by geopolitical issues, authoritarian rule and populism, the role of international civil society organisations (ICSOs) has perhaps never been more threatened, or more necessary.

At the heart of many of the discussions on these issues is China, and its rise as a global power. China is no longer a minor voice in development that can be ignored. It now presents the potential to be the biggest influencer in how the development sector changes in coming years.

It is clear that China’s increasing role in global development is done through a very different lens and approach to the traditional western rules-based order that has been evident over the last 50 years or so. It is challenging the status quo.

Whilst we often portray the international civil society sector as a somewhat dissident voice to the predominantly western approach to global governance and development, it reflects and reinforces much of this approach in its work and structures. The sector’s background in the western liberal way of thinking is creating some real challenges as ICSOs look at how they engage with a new participant with a different values base and approach.

It is clear is that China is here to stay as a major player in international development. This has been recognised by governments and the private sector, and the civil society sector must also recognise this, and identify how it needs to adapt to be relevant in this changing environment it works in.

So how should the sector, and the organisations working in it, respond? Here are my reflections from the Scanning the Horizon Annual Meeting in June, where we met to explore these questions:

• Focus on the central vision and adapt to the operational culture

The vast majority of ICSOs were founded to meet a deep and deserving need. They are an embodiment of a vision for change. This vision gives them purpose and meaning and must remain at the heart of all they do.

However, vision shouldn’t drive rigid adherence to approach or operations. Organisations who want to remain relevant in disruptive environments need to be agile and adaptive in their operational model. To work with different values, different approaches and different cultures, you need to be willing to invest in understanding them, how they think and work and how you can work with them. Engaging with China, and others, should be a part of every ICSO’s global strategy.

• Focus on building relationships

We work with people we like. What we do is not a transaction, but a relationship. This is especially true in working with the Chinese, who value understanding and relationship and think in a much longer timeframe than many of us in the West. Engaging with Chinese development partners will need a long-term approach and investment.

• Build real cross-sector partnerships

The traditional development model is being replaced by a much more diverse approach which includes increased engagement with the private sector. Much of this work is happening in sectoral silos at the moment, including the work of Chinese state and private organisations. Building capacity within ICSOs for real cross-sector partnerships, including creating the right culture for these to be a success and developing or recruiting the right skills, will be crucial to ensuring civil society can increase its influence and reach.

• Look to opportunities

ICSOs work in communities where there is an identified need. With the expanded development model, many more opportunities exist for partnerships that will enhance the effectiveness of the work being done by all involved. Whether it is partnering for economic development, environmental gains or acting as a constructive watchdog and community advocate, many new opportunities are presented through cross-sector partnerships.

This creates increased opportunities to influence the delivery and effectiveness of projects by Chinese organisations.

• Understand the risks and mitigate them where possible

Engaging with new partners who have different values presents real risks that can’t be ignored. Be realistic about these. Look to mitigate them wherever possible. An agile and informed operating model will help this immensely. However, if mitigation isn’t possible, don’t enter into partnerships that undermine your vision and values.

• Identify ways to engage in the new funding landscape of loans and grants that flow to the private sector

Organisations that have invested in understanding, in building relationships, who are open to cross-sector partnership and have an agile operational approach will be well positioned to engage in new models of funding. The final part is to look differently at how they can add value and where this will benefit both the community and the other partners in delivering better impact.

This has particular potential in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where partnering with implementing contractors to make BRI projects more effective through community engagement and development, or with local communities and governments to build negotiating capacity, are both areas where ICSOs could add real value.

In summary, China is one of many disruptors influencing ICSOs today. It is here to stay as a dominant player.

The implications of not adapting how the sector engages with the various Chinese development organisations and initiatives are large and serious.

The benefits of making this a strategically important focus are potentially larger.

What is required to deliver this is what is required to build the future of ICSOs.


Darren Ward

Managing Partner

Direct Impact Group

Leave No One Behind Partnership at the SDG Global Festival of Action

3rd May 2019 by Thomas Howie

The Leave No One Behind Partnership is excited to be at the Sustainable Development Goal Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany from 2 to 4 May 2019. The SDG Global Festival of Action brings together more than 1,500 political decision-makers, activists, experts, business leaders and creatives from over 130 countries at the World Conference Centre.

Thao Hoang, Country Director of ActionAid Vietnam, representing the Partnership at the Festival, participated in a panel discussion about how to make SDG implementation and review processes more inclusive.

Thao Hoang participating in the panel on “Leaving No One Behind: How to make SDG Implementation & Review More Inclusive?” at the Sustainable Development Goal Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany from 2 to 4 May 2019

An influential partnership of a dozen of the world’s largest international civil society organisations (ICSOs), ‘Leave No One Behind’ partnership brings together actors from the local up to the international level to realise a more participative and inclusive SDG implementation. The coalition aims to fill knowledge gaps about marginalisation and to advocate for evidence-based policy-making at national and global levels. Put simply, Make Voices Heard And Count.

Thao Hoang, Country Director of ActionAid Vietnam, said:

“SDG implementation by government alone is not possible. They can only be achieved with the inclusion of civil society, private sector, academia and, most importantly, with the most marginalised people’s voices being heard. We need to all work together.

“SDGs are not one size fits all, they mean something different to each person, education for one person and safe cities for others. To address this diversity, we need to work together.

“Change takes time, you just won’t wake up finding all the SDGs implemented. Its time to stop asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ and, instead work on the why and how now – that’s why we attend the SDG Global Festival of Action.”

Peter Koblowsky, Senior Partnership Manager, said:

“Being at the SDG Global Festival of Action shows that there is a strong global level focus on SDG implementation. Likewise, there is an appetite to work more locally, and across sectors and organisations. Our multi-stakeholder Leave No One Behind coalition serves this need, bringing in marginalised communities and advocating for their needs both on a global and local level. This is how we will make voices heard and count.”


Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

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 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)


Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre