Civic Space is shrinking. Here’s how we can protect fundamental rights

24th September 2020 by Deirdre de Burca

Current research shows that civil society in over half of the countries of the world is facing serious and growing restrictions on its freedom to engage, express itself and be heard. Activists and human rights defenders in formal and informal spaces are building new bridges of solidarity to move forward, but these are challenging times for our community.

With increased surveillance, persecution and even violence against activists, many civil society organisations have come under attack, particularly those advocating on behalf of excluded groups and minorities, for democratic rights and in defence of the environment.

Human rights defenders in Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as in other parts of the world, have been targeted and attacked. 212 environmental and land rights defenders alone were killed during 2019, and 219 human rights defenders are estimated to have been killed or died in detention in 2016. Technology advances have brought increased surveillance on civil society and create new risks for civic space.

The civic space case studies contained within the recent Forus report “Realising the potential of Goal 16 to promote and protect civic space” highlight the many restrictions civil society currently faces in different parts of the world. From Nepal to Colombia, it has become increasingly difficult to exercise rights of association, assembly and expression.

Now the question is –  how can we protect fundamental freedoms, essential to the creation of  a healthy, functioning civic space, where people’s voices are being heard?

The recent Forus report, Realising the potential of SDG 16 to promote and protect civic space, highlights how a particular Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)can provide important leverage for civil society everywhere in its efforts to create and defend civic space, and to be more effective in monitoring and implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Many in the human rights community are sceptical about what they regard as the weak potential of the SDGs to advance a universal human rights agenda. In his foreword to the report on Goal 16 and civic space, the former Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, claims that despite almost 20 mentions of human rights in the text of the 2030 Agenda, no reference is made to any specific civil or political right.

Alston argues that human rights in general remain marginal and invisible in the agenda. He points to the behaviour of many governments who have side-lined or even rejected the inclusion of human rights in national SDG programming. He also refers to SDG reports by the UN and World Bank which he claims pay little or no attention to human rights, with the exception of the issue of gender.

Such ambivalence towards the 2030 Agenda has led some human rights activists and practitioners to overlook or disregard the role that SDG 16 could play in promoting civil and political rights globally. Here’s why SDG 16 could be effective in promoting and protecting civic space.

The effective implementation of SDG 16 can have profound implications for civic space in countries across the world. The goal broadly focuses on issues of governance and aims to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. A specific target of SDG 16, Target 16.10, commits UN member states to “Ensure access to public information and protect fundamental freedoms”.

These freedoms, which include basic rights to associate and assemble peacefully and to express views and opinions, are themselves fundamental human rights protected under international human rights law, and they are essential to the creation and maintenance of civic space.

And yet, the two global-level indicators which have been adopted to date by the international community, do not adequately assess progress in protecting and promoting fundamental freedoms.-In particular, because they do not directly measure the extent to which fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression are being protected in day-to-day civic life as citizens attempt to engage with issues which impact on their communities and wider societies.

This failure to monitor and measure the extent to which citizens are free to participate in the civic life is a significant omission where SDG 16 is concerned.

There is an urgent need for the international community to extend the scope of SDG 16 civic space indicators which are currently limited to an outcome indicator measuring the extent to which activists, human rights defenders and others have been kidnapped imprisoned or murdered. Additional global indicators must be developed which measure the extent to which citizens can exercise their rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression in their communities and societies, in accordance with international human rights standards and national human rights laws.

Following the launch of the Goal 16 report at the UN High Level Political Forum in 2020, Forus and its partners intend to collaborate with interested civil society networks and other groups on a new global advocacy campaign. This campaign will call for a wider range of  civic space indicators to be adopted by UN member states as official Goal 16 indicators and to become part of national regional and global review processes of the 2030 Agenda. For this we need human rights defenders.

The involvement of human rights activists and practitioners in this global advocacy campaign, and in the wider monitoring and review of SDG 16 implementation, will be crucial as it could bring its considerable technical expertise, advocacy capacities and political influence to bear on the process.  Let’s join forces to launch a broad dynamic strategy for fundamental freedoms to be promoted and protected.  Please contact me on if you wish to discuss this proposal further!


Deirdre de Burca

Forus Advocacy Co-ordinator

Forus International

Deirdre de Burca currently works as the Advocacy Co-ordinator with Forus (formerly known as the International Forum for National NGO platforms). Forus is a global network of 69 national development platforms and 6 regional coalitions. Deirdre previously worked as Director of Advocacy for World Vision's Brussels office. She was also a member of the EU Steering Committee of Concord's Beyond 2015 EU Taskforce which played an essential role in influencing the position of the EU and its Member States during the UN negotiations on Agenda 2030. Deirdre was one of the founding members of SDG Watch Europe - a broad alliance of European civil society organisations established in June 2015 and which works to ensure the full implementation of Agenda 2030/the SDGs by the EU and its Member States.

Global Perspectives Speakers’ Participation Agreement

10th August 2020 by Thomas Howie
Name of the organisation, network, foundation...etc that the speaker is affiliated with

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Support for making Voices Heard and Count by the Robert Bosch Stiftung

3rd August 2020 by Outi Ruuska

We are pleased to share with you that Robert Bosch Stiftung recently agreed to support the Leave No One Behind Partnership. The support agreement will see €150.000 between July 2020–June 2021 go towards making the most marginalised voices heard and count in sustainable development goals achievement, ensuring no one is left behind.

Specifically, the money will seed fund some of our national level LNOB projects in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, or Nepal. In addition, it will advance our global level work on the development of online data tools and capacity building for our country team. This work is being co-led by our partners from IISD and Development Initiatives.

The Leave No One Behind partnership was launched in late 2017 as a partnership of 12 international civil society organisations (ICSOs). In 2018, the partnership set up national coalitions in 5 pilot countries (Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam). The partnership further brings together national NGOs and civic platforms, as well as community-based organisations with the goal of making the voices of marginalised groups heard and count in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The partnership puts marginalised communities at the forefront of its project design: they are involved in generating monitoring data at the local level. Partners in the action countries have entered into a dialogue with local and national governments, aiming for the official recognition of this data to make it a source of public planning. Marginalised communities are empowered to take part in this dialogue, enabling them to address their needs and challenges face-to-face with authorities.

Between 2020 and 2022, the partnership wants to scale up its activities, globally promoting the use of community-driven data and other unofficial data sources in the SDG context, and establishing additional communities of action at country level. To underline the universality of the promise to “leave no on behind”, collaborative action with a focus on marginalised communities will also take place in countries of the ‘global north’. By 2022, partners aim to have jointly reached 100.000 people with the project, helping to making their voices heard and count.  

Clemens Spiess, Program Director Inequality, Robert Bosch Stiftung

“Generating community-driven data on marginalized groups and feeding the data into dialogues with local and national governments and the international community is a necessary step to make the implementation of the Sustainable Development goals more effective and more inclusive. As Robert Bosch Stiftung, we see the efforts made by the Leave No One Behind Partnership not only as a crucial building block for creating a knowledge base to tackle inequality more effectively, but also to increase the visibility of those most affected by inequality thus making voices heard and count in a true sense.”

The Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH is one of Europe’s largest foundations associated with a private company. In its charitable work, it addresses social issues at an early stage and develops exemplary solutions. For this purpose, it plans and implements its own projects. Additionally, it supports third-party initiatives that have similar goals. The Robert Bosch Stiftung is active in the areas of health, science and research, education, active citizenship, as well as international understanding and cooperation.


To hear more about the Leave No One Behind partnership and its Making Voices Heard and Count project in the pilot countries, contact Peter Koblowsky, Senior Partnership Manager at

Outi Ruuska

Executive Assistant

International Civil Society Centre

Outi joined the Centre in January 2018. She supports the Executive Director in organisational matters and coordinates the Centre’s governance and legal processes. Her background is in Social Sciences and Environmental Policy. She holds a BA in Social Sciences awarded by the University of Lapland from her native Finland and an MA in Environmental Policy and Planning from the Technische Universität, Berlin. In her master’s thesis, Outi studied the framing of urban climate change adaptation to heat stress in Europe.

COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society #14

30th July 2020 by Thomas Howie

This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating to help civil society actors.

Click here to view all available pages.

Click here for our latest events news.

On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest COVID-19 news and analysis. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know. Many thanks to our volunteer researcher Ineke Stemmet.

The sections are:

Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the latest news.

Strategic: We look at the impact and responses to COVID-19 in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change, etc).

Policy: Civil society’s policies that respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.

Operational: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times.

    1. Staying up-to-Date

    • Cancelled, postponed, virtual: COVID-19’s impact on human rights oversight (Open Global Rights)
      The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for nonprofits’ services while damaging their finances and staff. What can history tell us about surviving this crisis, and how can philanthropy help?
    • Combatting COVID-19 disinformation on online platforms (OECD)
      Disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 are quickly and widely disseminated across the Internet, reaching and potentially influencing many people. This policy brief derives four key actions that governments and platforms can take to counter COVID-19 disinformation on platforms, namely: 1) supporting a multiplicity of independent fact-checking organisations; 2) ensuring human moderators are in place to complement technological solutions; 3) voluntarily issuing transparency reports about COVID-19 disinformation; and 4) improving users’ media, digital and health literacy skills.
    • COVID-19 Aftershocks: A Perfect Storm (World Vision International)
      This report looks at the impacts of COVID-19 relating to violence on girls and boys. We predict a major spike in the cases of children experiencing physical, emotional and sexual violence, both now and in the months and years to come. Up to 85 million more girls and boys worldwide may be exposed to physical, sexual and/or emotional violence over three months as a result of COVID-19 quarantine.
    • COVID-19 Aftershocks: Out of time (World Vision International)
      Millions of parents and caregivers have lost incomes and jobs due to COVID-19, forcing them to expose their children to harmful and dangerous circumstances, such as begging or child marriage. World Vision has conducted rapid assessments in 24 countries across Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia confirming alarming predictions of increased child hunger, violence, and poverty due to the economic impact of COVID-19
    • COVID-19 Aftershocks: Secondary impacts threaten more children’s lives than disease itself (World Vision International)
      As many as 30 million children are at risk of disease and death because of the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. World Vision’s Aftershocks report considers what would happen if the devastating secondary impacts of the 2015-2016 Ebola outbreak on children were replicated in the 24 most fragile countries covered by the UN’s COVID-19 humanitarian appeal.
    • Embracing Innovation in Government: Global Trends 2020 (OECD)
      New report summarising innovative responses by governments to the COVID-19 crisis, drawing upon the over 400 cases and initiatives, under five key themes: Theme 1: Rapid acceleration of digital innovation and transformation, Theme 2: Seeking bottom-up solutions and insights, Theme 3: Social solidarity and caring, Theme 4: Reducing the spread through virus tracking and adaptive action, and Theme 5: Forging a path to recovery.
    • Fighting COVID-19, Building Peace – a civil society perspective. What Local Peacebuilders Say about COVID-19, Civic Space, Fragility and Drivers of Conflict (Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS))
      This report provides a comprehensive outlook on the lived experiences of local peacebuilders as they face down COVID-19 and its consequences. It explores how the pandemic has affected civil society’s capacity to operate, how local peacebuilders view the pandemic as occasioning violence and stimulating drivers of conflict, and the dearth of coordination between government and civil society.
    • Is the explosion of COVID-19 conspiracies changing people’s real-world behavior? (Fast Company)
      More than 20 million people saw a video filled with lies about COVID-19. Researchers still don’t know how this kind of viral misinformation is impacting people’s willingness to wear masks—or to get an eventual vaccine.
    • ODI Bites: Africa beyond Covid-19 (ODI)
      Early signs from Africa are that in many countries, the response to Covid-19 has been effective. But contrary to commonplace narratives about aiding Africa, recent events highlight opportunities for Europe and elsewhere to learn from Africa.
    • Sensemaking possibilities #2: tools and analyses to support local and global sensemaking (OECD)
      What are some of the different narratives and perspectives emerging from or, or prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated crises? How do we explore them and make sense of them?
    • The Current and Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Nonprofits (SSIR)
      The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for nonprofits’ services while damaging their finances and staff. What can history tell us about surviving this crisis, and how can philanthropy help?
    • Updated forecasts quantify the impact of COVID-19 on Africa (Institute of Security Studies (ISS))
      Compared to pre-COVID-19 projections, Africa’s economy will be between US$349 billion and US$643 billion smaller in 2030. As such, beyond being a health pandemic, COVID-19 is set to create a generational set-back for development in Africa.
    • Urban Thinkers Campus – COVID-19 & the role of youth in cities (Webinar) (World Vision International and Plan International)
      This webinar included youth representatives from Bangladesh, Brazil and Peru and from organizations working with this population segment on how they are involved in prevention, response and recovery efforts to address COVID-19 while contributing to long term outcomes contributing to more liveable cities. Password: $C=Nr89H
    • Why African countries are reluctant to take up COVID-19 debt relief (The Conversation)
      African countries should tread carefully over the debt relief offered by multilateral institutions and other lenders. It could prove very costly in the medium to long term.

    2. Strategic

        Biodiversity and Climate Change

          Civic Space and Human Rights

          • COVID-19 has opened the floodgates for smart cities—whether we like it or not (Fast Company)
            The conditions created by the pandemic will make it easier for local governments to adopt technological solutions.
          • Putting cities at the centre of the post-pandemic world (C40 Cities)
            Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, highlights why both the global health and the global climate crises have galvanized cities’ central roles as global actors.
          • Priorities for mayors for a green post-COVID recovery: global perspective (C40 Cities Knowledge Hub)
            This collection of articles is intended to give a global outlook and shape regionally-appropriate responses for accelerating a green recovery in cities. Whilst there are regional nuances and differences, all experts agree that the response to the climate crisis and this global pandemic must be inextricably linked.

          • Migrant smugglers are profiting from travel restrictions (Institute for Security Studies (ISS))
            Across the world, over 60 000 mobility restrictions to contain COVID-19 have been imposed. Travel constraints, border closures and reduced travel modes severely disrupted smuggling markets. After an initial slowdown though, smugglers are reviving and adapting to meet changing needs.
          • The Dangers Ahead: COVID-19, Authoritarianism and Democracy (LSE)
            LSE article on trend towards authoritarianism and related threats and potential responses. It describes the broader political context CSOs are working in and provides some suggestions for how to counter some negative threats trends Four threats: ‘Deglobalisation’ takes a nationalist form, less democratic participation, more centralisation, surveillance state and erosion of human rights, inequality goes unchallenged.

          Data and Digital

          • Our post-COVID future should be as much about welfare as it is about tech (Open Global Rights)
            Surveillance thrives in unequal environments, and the pandemic has increased inequality. We need a welfare state for our digital information economy.
          • How COVID-19 exposed AI’s limitations (Nesta)
            As COVID-19 spread, a multitude of AI models were put to work in a bid to tackle it. The results to date have been largely disappointing. Instead, the unlikely hero emerging from the ashes of this pandemic is the crowd. Crowds of scientists sharing data, of local makers manufacturing PPE and of people organising through mutual aid groups.


            • Making Strategic Decisions in the Context of COVID-19 (SSIR (Stanford Social Innovation Review))
              The long-term impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on society is still uncertain, but the tools of scenario planning can help social sector leaders better prepare their organizations for the different, possible futures that may unfold.
            • Scenarios to Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic and its Possible Futures (1) (The Red (Team) Analysis Society)
              This article presents nested scenarios – and linked narratives – to handle the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its aim is to provide an organised framework to foresee the future of our world as it lives through the pandemic, while easing understanding.
            • A post-pandemic world: well-being for all or deepening inequality? (Open Global Rights)
              Putting fear aside as we emerge from this pandemic will allow space for what we value most in people: empathy, solidarity and mutual support.
            • 7 predictions for the new normal post-pandemic (In The Black)
              As a society, we have a unique opportunity to re-evaluate how we live and work. There has been a cultural shift that brings into focus new priorities and emphasises the need for adaptability. Futurists believe that our “next normal” will prioritise collective benefit, collaboration and empathetic leadership.
            • Our COVID Future: The Long Crisis Scenarios(Long Crisis Network)
              Scenarios of how the response to COVID-19 could shape the conflict dynamics of the Middle East: some portend the pernicious effects of the virus moving the region even further away from integration and closer toward acute insecurity, but some also see a transition to greater stability, or even the prospect of a “wake-up” moment where leaders move toward a “resilience regional architecture.”
            • Middle East Conflict and COVID-19 A view from 2025 (Middle East Institute)
              Scenarios of how the response to COVID-19 could shape the conflict dynamics of the Middle East: some portend the pernicious effects of the virus moving the region even further away from integration and closer toward acute insecurity, but some also see transition to greater stability, or even the prospect of a “wake-up” moment where leaders move toward a “resilience regional architecture.”
            • Strategic foresight for the COVID-19 crisis and beyond: Using futures thinking to design better public policies (OECD)
              This resource supports the use of foresight in post-COVID 19 policy-making, presenting key uncertainties and possible future developments with short- and medium-term policy implications, a preliminary guide for using these elements, and selected foresight pieces.

              Gender Equality

              Multilateralism and international cooperation

              • Protection Requires Co-operation to Combat Covid-19 (Human Rights Watch)
                Cooperation between nations is needed to protect not only people’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to tackle issues such as climate change and the use of technology.

              Pandemic Specific Consequences and Responses (economic, health & social impacts)

              • Pandemic profiteers exposed (Oxfam)
                In Pandemic Profiteers Exposed, Oxfam found that 17 of the top 25 most profitable US corporations, including Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, Pfizer, and Visa, are expected to make almost $85 billion more in 2020 than in previous years. Oxfam is calling for a resurrection of the WWII-era excess profits tax to limit pandemic price-gouging, level the playing field between companies, and raise much needed funds for COVID relief and recovery, such as providing ongoing COVID-19 testing and vaccines for every person on the planet.
              • Divided we stand: the EU’s domestic- and foreign-policy agenda  (International Institute for Strategic Studies )
                Europe was already facing a host of complex geopolitical and economic challenges at the start of 2020, even before the COVID-19 crisis. In this week’s episode, Meia is joined by Sarah Raine and Fabrice Pothier for a wide-ranging and in-depth discussion on how the EU’s political agenda has been impacted by the pandemic and what issues remain at the forefront of its policy priorities.

              3. Policy

              • Almost 10 Million Children May Never Return to School Following COVID-19 Lockdown (Save the Children)
                Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by COVID-19 could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning, especially girls. As the impacts of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may be forced out of school and into labor markets.

                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Call for Global Perspectives Speakers and Workshop Hosts

                29th July 2020 by Thomas Howie

                We are looking for inspiring people to contribute to Global Perspectives 2020 – A Passion for Inclusion. Global Perspectives is an annual conference bringing together leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs) with high-level representatives from governmental, inter-governmental, corporate, philanthropic and academic sectors. Every year around 150 participants engage in interactive formats, discussions and co-creation sessions to analyse the world’s most pressing challenges and devise strategies to bring civil society forward in pursuit of solutions.

                Who are we looking for?

                Anyone with a Passion for Inclusion and an inspiring idea or piece of work from one of the sectors mentioned above, namely: civil society, governmental, inter-governmental, corporate, philanthropic and academic.

                How can you contribute?

                We are looking for anyone happy to host a workshop or panel or be part of a panel. Workshops and panels last between 1 and 1.5 hours. There are three pillars to our conference on which you can focus your contribution: Including CSOs in political processes, inclusive programmes and CSOs as diverse and inclusive organisations. There are also three cross-cutting dimensions: Digitalisation, diversity and futures. To find out more detail, please read the flyer.

                How can express an interest?

                Fill out the form below!

                Where is it and what do I have to pay?

                This year’s event is fully virtual, so there are no travel costs or hotel to pay. We do have a limited number of funded participation spots open, you can find the application form and the regualr participation fees, on the registration page. This event is almost solely funded by participation fees and relies on the generosity of people to share there time and expertise, at the same time as getting access to the most interesting people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

                Got a question?

                Email the Global Perspectives Event Manager, Nihal Helmy

                Name of the organisation, network, foundation...etc that the speaker is affiliated with

                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Call for Applications, Innovation Report Website and Graphics Tender

                23rd July 2020 by Thomas Howie

                The International Civil Society Centre is looking for a web designer (individual or firm) to repurpose and develop specific elements of our Innovation Report website,, design a printable publication and create a report-related headline graphic (for use online and in print) to communicate our Innovation Report 2020, on ‘Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion’.

                The inaugural report ‘Civil Society Response to Populism in a Digital Era’ was a ground breaking and award winning publication. It was first publication to take a broad civil society overview in documenting and sharing effective response strategies and case studies from a range of organisations – national CSOs and networks, ICSOs and campaigns or movements.

                In terms of design, it broke the mould of civil society reports by looking at the bigger picture and trying to find a new way of communicating innovative ideas. The report was a success with 14 case studies from around the world. It gained recognition by winning AIGA’s 50 Books 50 Covers Awards.

                This year we want to continue this winning trend in order to take the stories of civil society organisations and share them as widely as possible.

                Find the full tender and how to apply here

                If you meet the selection criteria, please submit your application to including:

                • A brief implementation plan with the first outline of ideas for the website and publication;
                • A budget proposal, including a quotation of other related software licenses if needed; and,
                • A track record of your experience and examples of relevant work.

                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.

                Global Perspectives 2020 and Delegate Connect

                7th July 2020 by Thomas Howie

                We are excited to announce a new partnership between the International Civil Society Centre and Delegate Connect to deliver Global Perspectives 2020 virtually in November.

                We chose Delegate Connect for its exciting and user friendly platform which provides a space for participants to network, operate on a low bandwidth making it accessible around the world, and for their excellent customer support. Delegate Connect also understands that this event will generate social good and is the flagship event for civil society. As such they are supporting us to put on the best Global Perspectives ever.

                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Join Making Voices Heard and Count at the UN’s High Level Political Forum

                6th July 2020 by Peter Koblowsky

                Event Title: Community-driven data as transformative means for accelerated action and SDG delivery
                Call link:
                Date: 9 July 2020
                Time: 8.00-10.00am (EDT)
                Facilitation: Wolfgang Jamann, International Civil Society Centre

                Download the Agenda

                We will record this event! Room capacity is limited to 300! We advise our audience to arrive at the virtual room before the official starting time. Moderators will be online in the room as of 7.45am.

                Peter Koblowsky

                Senior Partnership Manager - Leave No One Behind

                International Civil Society Centre

                Peter joined the Centre in January 2013, back then as a trainee. He completed the traineeship in the advocacy & campaigning office of World Vision Germany. Peter now coordinates the Leave No One Behind project and contributes to the development and implementation of various other strategic formats. Before joining the Centre, Peter worked for various organisations and think tanks in the development sector, being an expert in multi-stakeholder processes. He studied at the University of Bonn and graduated with an MA in Political Science with a focus on multi-actor advocacy for climate policy.

                We need your help to collect post-Covid 19 signals for the civil society sector

                2nd July 2020 by Thomas Howie

                “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King

                Callling all civil society scanners! We are glad to announce that our work for 2020 is entering its second phase. This includes getting your ‘signals for the sector’. We would like to have your signals for an emerging post-COVID 19 World in our shared database. This might include an article, a conversation, video or podcast (see how below).

                At the annual Scanning the Horizon meeting in May 2020, futures-focused colleagues from across the civil society sector  gather and agreed to share key emerging points for a post-COVID 19 world from June to August. Catch up here:

                Outcomes from Scanning the Horizon Annual Meeting



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                Subsequently, we have launched an ambitious networked approach to horizon scanning to capture ‘signals of change’ on a range of key uncertainties facing our sector after the pandemic.  Sharing signals around 9 critical uncertainties, including COVID-19 and:


                Why this process?

                We want to harvest the power of a networked approach to horizon scanning and collective thinking to see what clues exist regarding the emergence of possible futures. We want your help in this process with these guiding questions in mind:

                What might the new normal look like? Might it:

                • Exacerbate existing inequalities?
                • Accelerate pre-existing trends?
                • Transform things in new and dynamic ways?
                • Bring about paradigm shifts?

                How might we as CSOs need to behave in the face of COVID-19?

                • Reaction – short-term
                • Management – medium-term
                • Influence – long-term

                How can you take part in this process? 

                We invite you to join in with three comprehensive steps:

                1. Watch our short introductory video

                2. Log relevant signals related to one of the nine uncertainties above in our open online database

                3. Look at what others are sharing and encourage other organisations in your networks to also take part, so we have diverse global inputs.

                Sources of signals

                As a guideline for spotting a signal, here are some selected sources of inspiration you might want to consider:

                • Media articles
                • Opinion polls
                • Conversations with ICSOs

                 Timeline for this process

                Scanning in a nutshell

                Initiated in 2015 with seed funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Scanning the Horizon is a growing global platform for (I)CSOs, cross-sector community of experts and practitioners to share insights, explore key trends and develop relevant collaborative future adaptive strategies. The platform also enables peer learning and the pooling of resources.

                For further information, please contact Vicky Tongue – Programme Manager – Futures and Innovation.


                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Anti-racism in the aid sector: A call for all of us to act and accelerate change as individuals, organisations and as a sector 

                30th June 2020 by Andres Gomez De La Torre

                Recent developments have rightly brought back old calls for structural change in the aid sector, and for taking anti-racist action individually and as organisations. CARE International’s Andres Gomez de la Torre Barrera makes a compelling personal case that we can either remain tone deaf (again) to these calls or take the opportunity to listen, reflect and act with a renewed sense of urgency.

                The pandemic is exposing deep inequalities in our world, and our sector is not immune

                It’s difficult to sum up how I’ve felt in the last few weeks. I’ve gone from frustration to excitement, sadness to hope and, at points, rage. It’s been heart-breaking to witness people in my home country, Peru, dying due to COVID-19. But even more than the virus itself, the real killers are years of oppression, inequality, corruption and gender-based violence, underpinned by structural racism, indifference and patriarchy. All around the world, the pandemic is exposing the deep inequalities in our world in the most brutal way.

                Protests and reactions around the world are also refocusing attention to how racism is structural and embedded into all aspects of our society. It’s inevitable the aid sector is also deeply marked by it, despite the ideals it embraces of humanity, equality and empathy. Nearly everyone has a story, as highlighted in this recent Bond blog, “from overt experiences of racial discrimination, to everyday micro-aggressions and unsafe workplace cultures”. Passionate and thought-provoking statements from within seem to be finally shaking our sector, particularly (but not exclusively) from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), despite these same voices (and others before them) having already tried for so hard and for so long to prompt change.

                A new opportunity to challenge ourselves and make our sector more equal and inclusive

                We have an opportunity, with a renewed sense of urgency, to go as deep as we can and face the real underlying issue: we need to decolonise the aid sector. The level of change needed is so significant, that we can’t waste time in accelerating actions to tackle racism and colonialism in aid. It’s a call for all of us, because no one is immune – individually or as an organisation, by action or inaction – to structural racism. We need to see this as an opportunity to reflect on how racism – subtle or open – shows up inside our organisations, shaping the way we conceptualize our work, our behaviors and ways of working.

                Anti-racism means learning and listening as individuals

                White supremacy culture, with roots in colonialism, designed and constructed the aid system we work in and – by action or omission – we have supported this dominant power and narrative. As Stephanie Kimou, Founder of PopWorks Africa, said during last week’s #AntiRacistInAid webinar, “You don’t need to be racist or a white supremacist to support white supremacy culture.” If we feel called out, fragile, guilty or uncomfortable with this discussion, there are plenty of resources and voices that we can use to educate ourselves. They can help us start reflecting on our own privileges and how we have engaged with racism and the systems that embed them in our own lives.

                Listening to inspirational and fearless leaders will challenge the way we see the world and the aid sector, while helping us to reflect on our own assumptions and privileges. I’ve been particularly drawn to Stephanie Kimou and Degan Ali, Executive Director of ADESO, in the two superb and inspirational webinars that took place last week, #AntiRacistInAid and #RethinkingHumanitarianism.

                Essential reading is this fantastic piece by Vu Le on Have nonprofit and philanthropy become the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about? and Jennifer Lentfer’s ‘Professional do-gooders, here’s 14 ways to be in action against anti-Black racism. And if you enjoy audio, listen to Challenging the “‘White Gaze’ of Development” during COVID-19 with Liberian academic, activist and author Robtel Neajai Pailey.

                Anti-racism means taking active stands, engaging in difficult conversations as leaders

                If we’re in a position of leadership within an ICSO, it is key to listen, learn fast, and reflect on the role and responsibility we hold, and bring attention to the need for change. Tweeting supportive messages or publishing solidarity statements mean very little if not accompanied by reflection and concrete commitments, including taking an active anti-racist stand in our own organisations. As Degan Ali says, we need a “radical reckoning” else #BlackLivesMatter might become a trend in our sector, if structural issues are not addressed.

                People in leadership positions in our sector – predominantly white men – should not run away from difficult conversations because of their political nature. The international aid system is political, as everything in it is about power relations and hierarchies. As compellingly argued by Vu Le, if sector leaders do not publicly call out white supremacy or nationalism when protesters are risking their lives in a pandemic, or ‘think it’s too political or uncomfortable to say that Black lives matter and act/fund accordingly, then…you are part of the problem.”

                Leaders should promote spaces for staff to discuss racism, inclusion, gender inequality and privilege, without forcing our presence in what might need to be safe spaces. We need to support these as important and necessary ongoing investments in our staff well-being and organisational development. Our own Leadership Teams must learn and reflect about these issues, listen to the lived experience of others, and be prepared for uncomfortable conversations, at least at the beginning. If these are not making you feel uncomfortable, then you’re probably not having the right conversation.

                Anti-racism means reflecting the diversity of our communities in our own people

                Our leadership and teams should better reflect the diversity of our own communities. Significant changes are needed in the way we approach our own people and what we value the most – recruitment and promotion, equal pay for equal jobs, expat salaries and benefits, investment in training and support – and the promotion of an organisational culture that truly embraces gender equality and inclusion. Women, and particularly Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour must be fully represented in the most senior leadership, executive and board roles in our organisations.

                Finally, and irrespective of the position we hold in our organisations, we should all reflect on our privilege and, from this point, engage in discussions with a different perspective. We should be able to recognise if (or how) we are beneficiaries of a system that discriminates BIPOC, and engage with more empathy, acting and seeking fairer practices and, why not, taking a step aside.

                Anti-racism means being serious about localisation in our operating models and behaviours

                All the #AntiRacistInAid panellists agreed, “we can’t be truly anti-racist in this sector if we are not serious about true localisation”, although tokenistic localisation itself is coming under question as another construct of the same system we’re trying to change. We must start by asking what is needed and who is best placed to meet that need, rather than articulating what we – as ICSOs- can offer or bring (“our expertise”). We need to properly engage with demands from national actors for a paradigm shift whereby we support and not compete with them. And we need to stop trying to justify why this is not possible yet, and instead make it happen. “As national as possible and as international as needed” is regaining momentum as a clear vision, and “leading from behind” or “speaking on behalf of the voiceless” finally starting to lose ground.

                This also means taking actions to ensure we are: investing more in locally-led actions, engaging in more equitable partnerships – which recognise power imbalances but genuinely embrace the added value of each partner brings, being fully transparent on how much of the money we raise actually reaches local communities, questioning who makes the decisions on the use of the funding, and having effective exit strategies which avoid perpetuating our presence and/or harmful dependency. Everything we do must aim at complementing existing local capacities – which were there way before we arrived and will be way after we depart.

                Anti-racism means rethinking our knowledge, communications and language

                The aid sector has basically been built on the transfer of knowledge and resources from “givers” to “recipients”, reinforced by all actors in the system. From donors reinforcing paternalistic needs for “capacity building’ to those at the ‘receiving end’ embracing the model – for multiple reasons – white supremacy practices are not exclusively by White people or those from “the global north”. Most examples of driving progress, innovation or “out of the box thinking” seem to be “exported” by the same suspects. Communications focus should be on rethinking who is telling the stories and getting the credit for the work done, and constantly reflecting if we are behaving like “white saviours”. Simply asking for permission for photos “we take” and use in “our channels” or trying to portray communities in a dignified way is not good enough.

                Last but definitively not least, language is both power and political too. Let’s start just by getting rid of all these terms I still hear: “beneficiaries”, “capacity building”, “first” and “third world”, “going on a mission” or “travelling to the field”. My colleague Tessy Cherono Maritim really gets us thinking on this: “Going to ‘the field’ is the same as saying ‘third world’ and fuels this racist and white saviour fantasy of ‘exploring in the wild’ or going somewhere dangerous to rescue people with no autonomy or initiative. We never refer to European or North American offices as ‘the field’. The term perpetuates this idea of a powerful centre and places outside this as the ‘other’. If we believe in the notion of a networked, multi-polar world, where ideas, capacities, money, power, exist in contexts outside the West/North, we should stop reference to this term. Changing language is a simple way to communicate our commitment to anti-racism.” The responsibility for changing white supremacy language is on those who constructed it.

                Anti-racism means us joining together to shake the system we’re part of.

                While this is obvious, sometimes it seems like we don’t want to see it: ICSOs are just one set of actors within a much broader and complex aid architecture. But we have both a right and responsibility to shake the system from within, “unlearning” from being in it for so long, and getting our act to work together in solidarity to bring about this much-needed change.

                The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CARE International.


                1. The organisers of #AntiRacistInAid made available some free resources they are happy for us to share. Take a look.
                1. A good collection of articles, reflections and suggestions by Nadine El-Nabli and Anna Myer. It includes useful resources and suggested practical commitments on several areas. (link).

                Andres Gomez De La Torre

                Head of Organisational Development

                Care International

                Andres Gomez de la Torre Barrera is the Director of Confederation Development & Governance (Interim) at CARE International. Originally from Peru, Andres works at the CARE International Secretariat on issues such as confederation development and diversification, operating models, governance, policy and strategy. Previously, he worked for a range of organisations, including global alliances (Family for EveryChild), international INGOs (CAFOD and WomanKind) and national CSOs, government and private sector firms.