Podcast: Can understanding psychology help rise above populism?

5th December 2019 by Thomas Howie

This podcast is part of Innovation Report 2019 Futures thinking section, check it out for more futures and innovation. Our Innovation Report is all about civil society responses to populism. It has 14 worldwide case studies and 6 key recommendations for all civil society organisations.

Links

 

Mindbridge – https://mindbridgecenter.org/
How the brain works in relation to human rights – https://www.openglobalrights.org/brain-research-suggests-emphasizing-human-rights-abuses-may-perpetuate-them/
Listen on iTunes – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/civil-society-futures-and-innovation-podcast/id1485180683?i=1000455183811
Listen on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/episode/6kPRXlPFMNkLPXlZFjSemT?si=Kw038zTPQSe3fm0HkPlW8Q
Heinrich Böll Stiftung – https://www.boell.de/en/startpage

Understanding how audiences interpret and react to populist and civil society messages. Laura Ligouri from Mindbridge explains how integrating neuroscience and psychology learnings can help civil society organization innovate their messages to engage and persuade new audiences. Produced with support by Heinrich Böll Stiftung

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Links
Mindbridge – https://mindbridgecenter.org/
How the brain works in relation to human rights – https://www.openglobalrights.org/brain-research-suggests-emphasizing-human-rights-abuses-may-perpetuate-them/
Listen on iTunes – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/civil-society-futures-and-innovation-podcast/id1485180683?i=1000455183811
Listen on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/episode/6kPRXlPFMNkLPXlZFjSemT?si=Kw038zTPQSe3fm0HkPlW8Q
Heinrich Böll Stiftung – https://www.boell.de/en/startpage

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Podcast: Can humour fix the world?

5th December 2019 by Thomas Howie

This podcast is part of Innovation Report 2019 Futures thinking section, check it out for more futures and innovation. Our Innovation Report is all about civil society responses to populism. It has 14 worldwide case studies and 6 key recommendations for all civil society organisations.

Links

The Yes Men – https://theyesmen.org/about
Listen on iTunes – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/can-humour-fix-the-world/id1485180683?i=1000455565152
Listen on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/episode/50MOF9Fx1HtBq9iXiDJZHZ?si=mQa4kJ54TgaQvWoutRQLlQ
Supported by: Heinrich Böll Stiftung – https://www.boell.de/en/startpage

Creative and humourous campaigning can capture public attention and imagination on serious and complex issues. The overall effect is to shine a light and make more accessible complex issues. Interview with Keil Troisi from the Yes Men. Produced with support by Heinrich Böll Stiftung

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Links
The Yes Men – https://theyesmen.org/about
Listen on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/can-humour-fix-the-world/id1485180683?i=1000455565152
Listen on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/episode/50MOF9Fx1HtBq9iXiDJZHZ?si=mQa4kJ54TgaQvWoutRQLlQ
Supported by: Heinrich Böll Stiftung – https://www.boell.de/en/startpage

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Leave No One Behind news round-up

5th December 2019 by Thomas Howie

The Leave No One Behind project was launched in late 2017 as a partnership of 12 international civil society organizations (ICSOs). In 2018, the partnership set up national coalitions in 5 pilot countries (Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam), bringing together national NGOs and civic platforms, as well as community-based organisations. Here we round up some news from a couple of our pilot countries:

India: New study published as part of Leave No One Behind

Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (Don’t break your promise) launched a new study: ‘The 100 Hotspots: a snapshot of socially excluded vulnerable population groups and SDGs in India’. It is a first of its kind study on the less recognised population groups in India and their status in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A recent blog by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan featured on Feedback labs explains what the study shows and how it fits into the Leave No One Behind project

Read the blog: 100 Hotspots: Making Socially Excluded Voices Heard and Count in India

Bangladesh: Leave No One Behind gets national coverage

A recent conference organisaed by the project partners in Bangladesh received widespread national media coverage. With several highprofile contirbutions from NGO Affairs Bureau, UNDP and the Project Partners there was plenty to discuss and to carry forward into future work.

Read news: Speakers: Mindset must change for inclusive development

Read news: Three crore marginalised people out of dev process

 

 

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Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Innovation Report, get involved!

5th December 2019 by Thomas Howie

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Our first-ever Innovation Report: Civil Society Innovation and Populism in a Digital Era features stories from people around the world who devised strategies, sometimes unintentionally, to respond to the challenges associated with populism. These are inspiring stories, full of innovation and creativity. We believe they can help others change and improve their world, that’s why we’re sharing them. To do this we need your help.

Below are some simple actions you can take to share inspiration that can be the creative spark in people and organisations, creativity that unites people and communities.

Additionally, we are still collecting stories, to grow our online report with your stories, ideas and actions for a stronger civil society sector. Here’s how you can help spread the word or contribute to our living report:

Actions

  • Join the webinar (Janaury 14 2020): Online Innovation Report launch: Civil Society Innovation and Populism in a Digital Era
  • Promote your own story or futures thinking; we want to hear your examples of Innovation or what you think the future might look like, no matter how small. Just drop the Programme Manager Vicky Tongue an email to say you are interested
  • Share it with your colleagues, especially those working in communications or futures thinking. The case studies feature practical examples from which they could learn.
  • Invite us to an event or lunchtime discussion, we’d love to join your event or team in person or virtually to have conversation on civil society innovation with you and answer your questions about this report.
  • Tell us if the report is useful, or how we can improve it. Send Vicky an email or a tweet.

2020 Innovation Report

We will soon kick off the process for our 2020 report on ‘Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion’. If you already want to register an interest in being part of this report please send Programme Manager Vicky Tongue an email to say you are interested

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Thomas Howie

Communications Coordinator

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.

A new playbook for international civil society to put into action solidarity

5th December 2019 by Miriam Niehaus

A new playbook for international civil society to put into action solidarity

 

Together with a newly formed Working Group of international civil society organisation (ICSO) and CSO colleagues, the International Civil Society Centre is now embarking on the next phase of developing a Solidarity Playbook.

 

For years now, civil society worldwide is facing increasing restrictions to their freedoms of association, assembly, expression and exchange of information. Likewise, their reputations have been consistency attacked. Human rights activists have always been targeted, however, even large ICSOs are now coming under pressure. There are growing fears over staff safety and the ability to deliver essential operations in varied contexts. Even when size does offer some cover, their partners are attacked. In turn, they require support and solidarity. 

Many global coalitions have responded by making calls to action aimed at “providing solidarity”, and yet even in our highly value-driven sector, it often proves difficult to get the results we all hope for. 

 

Why is solidarity playbook needed and how can it help international CSOs show “solidarity”?

 

Many organisations shy away from public proclamations of solidarity as they do not want to put staff members and operations at risk. Through many stakeholder conversations, the Centre has identified the need to approach solidarity differently and enable collective learning on how ICSOs can better support each other and their partners, particularly in contexts where confrontational advocacy is not an avenue they can pursue. Our conversations show that the need and the desire to cooperate better between different strands of civil society has never been bigger and our opportunity to turn this challenge into an opportunity never greater.

The International Civil Society Centre is working with ICSOs and their CSO partners to develop a new playbook for solidarity and cooperation, to be able to better respond to the clampdown, to be better prepared and to push back to the boundaries of what civil society restrictions have come to be. 

 

The Centre commissioned a study on ICSO response mechanisms and national civic space coalitions to assess where we are collectively and to begin sharing and learning from each other. This study “Solidarity in Times of Scrutiny” was shared with some 40 delegates of the International Civic Forum, convened by the Centre on 29 October 2019 in Addis Ababa. The delegates, colleagues from ICSOs, CSOs and philanthropy, highly valued the space for exchange and the Centre’s initiative to facilitate shared learning and re-envision our solidarity mechanisms. They provided ideas and feedback for the Solidarity Playbook. The Centre is currently reviewing and discussing with the Working Group how to turn feedback and ideas into a format that best serves the sector. Throughout 2020, the Centre will be leading the development of the Playbook together with the Working Group and with the help of an Advisory Group. At the end of 2020, the playbook will be launched at the International Civic Forum. 

 

Should you be interested in finding out more or joining our Advisory Group, please contact the project manager Miriam Niehaus (mniehaus@icscentre.org). 

Miriam Niehaus

Securing Civic Rights Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam joined the Centre in 2014 as an Executive Assistant. In 2016 she took on her role as Manager of the Securing Civic Rights projects, namely the Civic Charter and the International Civic Forum. Prior to joining the Centre Miriam worked for VSO International and GIZ in the Palestinian Territories. She holds a BA in Islamic Studies and Social Anthropology from the University of Freiburg and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.

How Amnesty International is Engaging with China Abroad

29th November 2019 by Heather Hutchings

Throughout 2019, the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon futures community has explored the implications of China’s growing global influence on the future work of internationally-operating civil society organisations. Following a well-attended cross-sector meeting in Hong Kong in June, we have published a new Sector Guide of practical entry points for senior civil society leaders to summarise the key themes and implications for our sector. It provides strategic guidance for organisations to think through their current strategies and capacities, and further develop future engagement and adaptation approaches to be better prepared for this major trend.

To accompany the launch of this Guide, we invited this guest blog from Amnesty International’s China Strategy Manager, Heather Hutchings.

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The rise of global China is impacting human rights.

In the increasing number of countries in which China is investing and operating, much-needed infrastructure and employment can help to fulfil the human rights of the people living there. But all too often their rights are abused as China fails time and again to consult with and address the concerns of communities affected by its overseas ‘development’ projects.

Furthermore, an increasingly assertive China has worrying implications for the human rights system as a whole. We see China operating from within the UN Human Rights Council to shrink the space available for the UN and civil society to hold states accountable for their human rights records, as well as making efforts to reframe human rights as a ‘cause’, as opposed to a state’s legal obligation to its people.

But China’s ascension to the world stage is a paradigm shift that is both driving and reflecting a new world order and balance of power. As this excellent new International Civil Society Centre guide notes, this is ‘widely regarded as one of the top global trends influencing the trajectory of other major megatrends for decades ahead’. This means, in other words, we can neither ignore nor resist global China.

Amnesty International vs Global China

I’m pleased – and relieved! – to see that Amnesty International’s global China strategy responds to many of the recommendations in this guide, while some others set us challenges to meet and aspirations to fulfil.

Amnesty views global China as a complex problem, or ‘VUCA’ for those who enjoy military acronyms!:

  • Volatile in its pace of change and sheer scale, which thwarts our attempts to know and understand. Any information we have at any one time is incomplete and quickly obsolete.
  • Unpredictable – as Yuen Yuen Ang summed up, China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative bears “the hallmark of communist-style mass campaigns [in that] everyone pitches in with frenzied enthusiasm and little coordination…lead[ing] to low-quality and mismatched projects, duplication, conflicts of interest and corruption.”
  • Complex, with innumerable and entangled causes and effects. China is both driving and benefitting from the shift in global power. It is changing and shaped by the global economy and feeds both off and into rising authoritarianism.
  • Ambiguous, in the absence of transparent information about China’s foreign policy ambitions, plans and individual projects assumptions. Under such conditions, rumour and contradiction run rife.

China’s impact on human rights abroad is not a simple problem that can be solved. So, Amnesty’s aim is not to bring an end to China’s global reach in a concise campaign timeframe. Our aim is to build capacity across Amnesty’s movement of more than seven million members and supporters to influence global China, now and over time, and adapt as global China itself evolves.

Amnesty’s 16 Regional Offices and 68 national entities position us well to respond to China in and from countries where it is active, and to do so in partnership with local civil society (recommendation 3). As Strategy Manager, I draw together the relevant China expertise from our East Asia office, the local knowledge and connections of our staff in or from countries in which China is active, and Amnesty’s thematic specialists (recommendation 6). Through this network, we add value to work already identified as important by our colleagues across the movement – easily done, given the many ways in which China is showing up in Amnesty’s work around the world (recommendation 1).

Complementing this action-oriented network is a web of horizon scanners who regularly share their views of China from locations as far afield as Buenos Aires, Brussels or Bangkok (recommendations 7 and11). Their broad, light-touch insights about China in the world help deepen our analysis of China’s foreign policy and practice and better equip us to anticipate developments, spot trends and see entry points for our human rights work.

We recognise that we don’t have ready-made solutions to apply to the complex challenges arising from China’s presence abroad. We know we can only influence change together with others by forging partnerships with civil society to engage China in their countries and communities, to negotiate their interests and protect their rights (recommendation 12). And we also need to engage Chinese audiences, inside China and the diaspora of Chinese living overseas, as change agents and in solidarity with human rights defenders in countries where China is active. This is critical if we want to target Chinese state actors and corporations that perpetrate human rights violations abroad, without isolating and vilifying all Chinese people.

Challenges and aspirations

Key to Amnesty’s approach in this ‘VUCA’ context is learning and adaptation, as we actively test our theory of influence and make adjustments to strategy and action.

Learning from our experience to date, we know that the critical approach to human rights in China coming from Amnesty’s base in the ‘Global North’ serves an important watchdog function, but is readily dismissed by Beijing as hypocritical and an attempt to ‘contain’ China. Hence, we have chosen to focus on south-south engagement influencing China with and through civil society and governments of the ‘Global South’ – and moving beyond ‘naming and shaming’ by not (only) pointing to problems. This approach – which departs from Amnesty’s usual practice – is challenging us to frame advocacy messages (recommendation 14) that propose practical solutions and, where appropriate, encourage China’s leadership to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

Amnesty also deliberately adopts an ‘outsider’ strategy (recommendations 4 and 11). The price of our freedom to criticise China – harshly when and where deserved – is that our channels for dialogue with Beijing are few, country access for Amnesty staff is extremely limited, and our website and social media channels are blocked inside China. Understandably, this does not always make us the partner of choice for ICSOs with in-country offices (recommendations 18, 19 and 20).

Even as Amnesty aims to establish an ‘insider’ position with some Chinese actors abroad on issues of mutual interest – and indeed we have already seen promising outcomes through exchanges with Chinese companies and industry bodies – recommendation 16 is, I hope, an aspiration of the not-too-distant future when ICSOs will bring together our complementary ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ strategies for greatest impact.

For Amnesty and across the sector, we need not only to develop a specific, organisation-wide global China strategy now. But also to continue developing and evolving our organisational responses over time, so that we may continually adapt ourselves to better influence the impact China has on the landscape for human rights and development. And thanks to the Centre and our sector Scanning the Horizon community, we now have a guide to help us do just that.

 

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Heather Hutchings

Strategy Development Manager

Amnesty International

Heather Hutchings is the Strategy Manager for Amnesty International’s programme seeking to engage China abroad. Heather holds a MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and has extensive experience in strategy management and capacity building, organisational change and development. Heather has been working with individuals and teams across different geographical locations within the Amnesty International movement for the past 12 years, including the last 7 years in Hong Kong.

Discover: Innovation for civil society organisations in times of populism

18th November 2019 by Thomas Howie

Civil society organisations are innovators. They test new approaches to both traditional and emerging problems. One of today’s most pressing issues is the rise of populism, which can both erode and in some instances directly attack, these organisations’ legitimacy and impact. While civil society organisations have addressed these challenges, there is a significant opportunity for organisations to learn and benefit from the lessons others have encountered. That is the goal of this inaugural Innovation Report, titled: Civil Society Innovation and Populism in a Digital Era.

In this report, International Civil Society Centre partnered with JustLabs to highlight innovative, hopeful responses and solutions by civil society actors around the world, check out some of the case studies:

Hope-based Communications

New narratives for human rights

Shift Myanmar

WhatsApp for LGBT+ Rights

 

Visit our Innovation Website to find out more about the aims of the report and all the case study content:

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Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Six quick takeaways from Global Perspectives 2019 – Legitimacy and Impact in Times of Scrutiny

4th November 2019 by Åsa Månsson and Thomas Howie

Global Perspectives 2019 in Addis Ababa was as action-packed as you’d expect. With more than 100 participants from around the globe representing a range of international civil society organisations, community-level bodies, innovators, academics and activists, it was a place of inspiration, exchange and learning.

The theme of this year’s Global Perspectives was “Let’s make lemonade”, based on the saying if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Consequently, the underlying spirit and challenge of the conference was how do we turn our lemons – problems and challenge – into lemonade – opportunities for impact and legitimacy?

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As we are still digesting everything that we heard throughout an intense week, here are some first takeaways:

1. We can make lemonade!

In the Centre’s first ever Innovation Report, launched and presented at Global Perspectives, we have collected a number of inspiring, innovative and courageous case studies. These are all examples of civil society organisations – of different size, in different contexts and with different tools – changing the way they have worked in order to change the world. These organisations show that it is possible to reinvent yourself if the context requires – and they can serve as a great inspiration for all of us!

2. Connecting to our values and to people is a key ingredient for lemonade

We saw it in the case studies from the Innovation Report but we also heard it over and over again last week: As civil society organisations, we need to make sure we connect to our organisational values, as well as to the people we represent or who we advocate for. This is key for our legitimacy, our integrity as well as for our impact – and should be at the centre of any organisation’s approach to accountability.  

3. Ethiopia lemons and lemonade for civil society

We heard it loud and clear from several Ethiopians: This event would not have been possible just 18 months ago. The reforms that Prime Minister Mr. Abiy Ahmed and the new government have implemented have fundamentally changed the working conditions for civil society organisations. Participants noted, however, that Ethiopian organisations are now faced with the immense challenge of learning how to act and be impactful in this new context.

4. Hope can win, but only if we let it

A reoccurring theme of Global Perspectives was “hope”. Hope is an organisations best friend when it comes to communicating the world we want to see. Expressing what we want to see, rather than what we don’t, can be an infectious way of building support and affecting change. When participants unpacked this topic we saw real depth and complexity to the meaning of hope. This shows the potential challenges and opportunities of hope-based communications.

5. The value of making new connections

I’ve met people here at #GlobalPerspectives2019 who can help us get justice for our tea garden community back in West Bengal.” The words of Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Harihar. On Harihar’s first time out of India, he reported on Global Perspectives by making a short 3-minute video reportage. The report explains that he met people who want to help his community get justice. Other connections were between innovator Jane Muigai and representatives from Plan International discussing how to jointly scale education of youth in Kenya. For us, this is exactly what Global Perspectives is all about – making connections and support people to change their world for the better.

6. Next steps: Let’s keep making lemonade

Our workshops focused on how civil society organisations can increase impact and legitimacy. At the end of the conference, we heard four ‘pitches’ of collaborative projects that aim to do just that. We encourage you to check them out, even if you didn’t attend:

a) Islamic Declaration for Gender Justice

Through a collaboration with Islamic Relief Worldwide, Global Perspectives participants were all part of the preview of the first ever Islamic Gender Justice Declaration, representing a call for action to end gender injustice. For more information, please contact Shahin Ashraf at Islamic Relief Worldwide (Shahin.Ashraf@irworldwide.org)  

b) Reimagining the INGO

To explore how INGOs can meet the needs of the 21st century, including environmental, social and economic needs, in the face of recent failings and critiques of INGOs, a group is coming together to help us re-imagine INGOs and explore what needs to change. For more information, please contact Charles Van Dyck at WACSI (cvandyck@wacsi.org).

c) Solidarity Playbook

There is the need to build mechanisms to support each other in solidarity when a civil society organisation is under undue pressure from governments or others. The Centre will facilitate the shared learning between ICSOs’ response strategies and developing mechanisms to act in solidarity in critical instances. For more information, please contact Miriam Niehaus at International Civil Society Centre (mniehaus@icscentre.org)

d) Ethiopian CSO Accountability Framework

In order to strengthen the legitimacy and accountability of Ethiopian civil society organization, a group has started working on establishing a national accountability framework. For more information, please contact Bilen Asrat at Ethiopian Civil Society Organisations Forum (bilen.asrat@fcsf.net).

More formal follow up to come!

We hope everyone enjoyed Global Perspectives 2019. We will be sharing a more formal follow-up in the following weeks. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

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Åsa Månsson

Programme Director

International Civil Society Centre

Executive Director. Between 2010 and 2013, Åsa acted as manager of the INGO Accountability Charter (Accountable Now). In September 2013, Åsa took up the role as Director of Development, innovating the Centre’s fundraising and communication efforts. Since October 2016, Åsa has been Director of the Global Standard and has additionally taken on the role as the Centre’s Programme Director in mid-2017. Originally from Sweden, Åsa earlier worked for a consultancy, evaluating social projects within the public and civil society sector. Åsa studied European Studies and Sociology at universities in Gothenburg and Berlin. She completed her education with a Master’s thesis on the role of civil society in European governance.

Thomas Howie

Communications Coordinator

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.

Shifting Myanmar’s 46% towards citizen-led power

1st November 2019 by Andy Nilsen

In this blog for the 2019 Innovation Report on ‘Responses to Populism in a Digitally Enabled Era, Andy Nilsen, the Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for Save the Children Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand describes key features of the political and technological context which are driving their innovative Shift! Project.

Myanmar’s rapid recent digital revolution

When I first visited Myanmar back in 2013, the country was in the early stages of a technological revolution. Still, getting my hands on a local SIM card was a challenge requiring all sorts of paperwork and bureaucracy. It was still a luxury item that had once cost hundreds, if not a thousand dollars. Internet access was reserved only for the super-rich or super-connected, and strict regulation of the telecommunications industry meant that in 2012, just 1% of Myanmar’s population had internet access. These barriers to information and connectivity during the military’s 50-year reign oppressed freedom of expression and restricted the ability of communities to mobilize.

Today, when I ask my Myanmar friends and colleagues about the most significant changes in their country since it re-opened to the world eight years ago, access to the internet – and specifically social media – is almost always near the top of their list. According to a 2017 report by Telenor, 90% of Myanmar’s population now live within reach of 3G or 4G services. That’s one of the highest coverage rates in Southeast Asia, and with smartphone penetration at over 80%, Myanmar people are integrating technology into their lives at a rate almost unseen in any other country in the world.

Social media for people or political power?

Myanmar’s prolific use of Facebook as a ‘one-stop’ interface for the internet has fostered an active new space for civic engagement and personal expression. By 2016, successful people-led movements driven through social media started to hold power to account. One such example resulted in the resignation of four members of Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission following public outcry on Facebook around the Commission’s failure to criminally prosecute the perpetrators of a high profile child abuse case. For a community still adjusting to the freedoms of citizen-led-activism, social media was becoming an effective platform for Myanmar people to find their voice.

The ‘honeymoon period’ for social media in Myanmar reflects that experienced elsewhere in the world. Remember when platforms like Twitter were heralded for their potential to break down barriers between individual citizens and institutionalized power? But the world is now grappling with the reality that these same tools can be used to undermine our access to ‘truth’ – and even disrupt and distort democratic processes themselves.

In Myanmar, social media has been used to deliver disinformation campaigns which use hate speech and ‘fake news’ to assert an authoritarian and nationalist agenda – which has further fueled ethnic and religious tensions in order to promote a more mono-cultural view of the country towards the Buddhist majority. The clearest example of this has been the rhetoric used to incite hatred against Rohingya Muslims, in part by evoking a well held myth that the group are ‘recent arrivals’ who should be treated as immigrants. This, along with ‘fake news’ about the actions of the Rohingya during 2017’s clearance operations by the Myanmar Military (e.g. that Rohingya Muslims were burning their own houses), has ‘weaponized’ information, created mistrust of social media – and made social cohesion an even harder task in conflict affected states such as Rakhine.

A new impetus for civil society innovation

The institutionalized use of social media as a tool for spreading hate during the Rohingya crisis has been well documented and sits in stark contrast to the use of these same platforms to drive positive change. This is the great contradiction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Myanmar, being played out through social media right now. On one side are well-organized forces wanting to reassert the control of military elites, discourage freedom of speech and expression, deny historical realities, and oppress ethnic and religious diversity. On the other side are the vast majority of Myanmar people who want to see peace, value diversity, and have fought for decades for democratic principles.

When I created the Shift movement, I was not directly trying to counter these anti-democratic forces within Myanmar. In fact, the primary purpose of the project was to support adolescents and youth to become more active in cyber civic spaces – and to ‘participate’ in a country where people under 25 have traditionally felt isolated from decision-making processes. But I now believe that our approach, by nurturing youth-led movements to campaign for positive change, is an effective way for civil society to push back against Myanmar’s populist and autocratic forces.

Our innovation: How ‘Shift’ works

Youth groups selected for our Shift programme attend a campaign accelerator workshop which connects them to creative mentors. We use a range of participatory activities to help them unpack their issue and eventually develop a campaign strategy targeting the kind of social triggers that need to be addressed to foster change. We also teach digital literacy and critical thinking skills which young people themselves feel is badly lacking within Myanmar’s education system. These skills are especially important given how hostile online spaces in Myanmar have become.

Shift’s philosophy is that all learning should be experiential. After co-creating their campaign plan, Shift fully funds and supports the youth groups to implement it alongside our creative partners. The groups feel instantly empowered to deliver change within their community, and supported by a larger, interconnected community of peers who are also carrying out their own individual campaigns.

The shift for Save the Children

Governments must be transparent and open to the people they serve. But even within the development sector, larger institutions must look for ways to disrupt our own power structures and ensure that resources and solutions are controlled more by the communities we exist to support.

In particular, when it comes to advocacy and campaigning, we must look for new ways to engage with communities, co-create approaches and transition resources through to grassroots organizations. We should be especially an enabler for children and youth to speak for themselves about the issues that matter most to them. By supporting these movements, I believe we will cause a snowball effect in countries such as Myanmar and sprout the seeds of citizen-led power throughout this emerging democracy.

Myanmar people have fought long and hard for the democracy they have today, but because the constitution still reserves 25% of parliamentary seats to military members, this transition is not yet complete. The strengthening of civil society will be critical over the next decade in building an individual’s belief that they can hold power to account and help shape the society around them. This transition of power to citizens must happen at all levels.

Investing in the transition of the 46%

We are supporting a shift away from ‘old power’ structures – that are rigid, authoritarian and seek to exclude people from decision-making processes – and inspire ‘new power,’ defined by citizen-led movements. We must therefore focus our efforts on people under 25 years of age, who make up 46% of Myanmar’s population. The world these young people live in is totally different to that experienced by a 20-year-old living previously under the military regime. This generation will lead Myanmar into its next phase of democratic transition and our Shift project is an investment in this 46%.

Encouraging this kind of transition is also an effective way to counter-punch the rising forces wanting to divide and dissolve citizen power. My fear is that our investment will fail to match the investments already being made by the other side. Technology can enable solutions, but we must not focus on it at the expense of investing in people – which is exactly the Shift we are making. After all, a stage is nothing without the actors upon it.

 

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Andy Nilsen

Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for Save the Children Myanmar

Save the Children

Andy Nilsen, the Director of Advocacy, Communications, Campaigns and Media for Save the Children Myanmar,

Coming Together in Times of Populist-Nationalism in the US

24th October 2019 by Sam Worthington and Mike Fox

“What is the identity of my country and who are we as a people?” is a question that has shaped America’s unique idealism across generations of immigrants. It is also a question that can be used to stoke fear and division. Racism and nativism reside close to the heart of the wave of populist-nationalism that the United States is currently confronting. While all these trends, in addition to the related sentiment of isolationism, have a long history in both US politics and in official government policy, we have rarely faced them all in combination, wielded by a President and his allies. An initiative we call The Together Project, has been at the heart of InterAction’s response to these forces that try to divide people. It draws on and reinforces our community’s solidarity to advance a more compassionate and diverse form of American identity.

Root causes, ‘retrotopianism’ and racism

America’s current wave of populist-nationalism is rooted in racial resentment and a history of grievances that is endemic to US society. As our country becomes more and more multi-ethnic and diverse, a subset of the country’s dominant majority has not seen themselves reflected in America’s emerging identity and progress. Systematic economic inequality has also led to high levels of frustration, particularly in rural areas, that feed resentment and amplify a nationalist narrative among citizens who previously had a sense of power. They now blame others, immigrants or people who do not look like them, for their economic circumstances. Populist narratives have drawn on this racial anxiety and economic frustration by promising a return to a past – remodelling it as an idealised ‘- when their supporters felt more culturally, if not economically, dominant. A past where America First was the norm. President Trump has amplified these feelings through what many see as public racism.

The optimism within (civil) society

Internationally-focused NGOs and our supporters belong to a segment of society that view the constant changing and growth of American identity with optimism.  , seeing participation by different groups in a changing society as something that makes us all stronger. We believe that different elements have contributed over generations to a shared narrative that reinforces our values and collective, yet diverse, identity. Unfortunately, the division between an open and inclusive country, and building walls and promoting exclusion, often splits down political lines. As a result, there’s not much space for nuance in the public conversation.

Reflecting as a community: The need to come Together

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, InterAction hosted our annual CEO Retreat, and – during an exercise that emphasizes honest reflection among our community – a Muslim-American leader shared their fear for themselves, their organization, and their family in the face of growing public racism. A Jewish-American colleague found common ground in sharing their emotions over having lost their grandparents during the Holocaust. The idea that we all have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with vulnerable colleagues gained immediate traction. The conversation evolved towards a shared understanding that those of us in the room, as civil society leaders, had a responsibility to look out for each other and foster a better dialogue in our country. The blend of personal backgrounds, shared values and experiences across different cultural and faith identities further inspired launching the Together Project in 2017.

Building community through trust

Whilst the initial leadership for the Together Project came from our Muslim faith-based member NGOs, it could only become a community-wide initiative due to trust among individuals and organizations across the sector, tapping into a shared safe space at InterAction. Trust and creation of safe spaces for dialogue are essential not just at the micro-, programmatic level, but also at the macro-level for society at large. These two dynamics create opportunity for agreements on how to strategically combat populist-nationalism, while not resorting to a simple adversarial or victimhood narrative, either of which can alienate potential allies. Adversarial or victimhood narratives can often feed the very social divisions wielded by populist demagogues through emphasizing division and differences, as opposed to a sense of shared, values and identity.

Creating a shared national narrative

For the United States to ultimately overcome this current populist-nationalism wave, and its associated racism, nativism, and isolationism, it will be essential to create a shared national narrative. We need an agenda of common action, mutual benefit, and agreement on values. These principles may be as simple as being kind to our neighbors and believing the dignity of all people, whether in this country or overseas. The moment we exclude someone, we tear a country from its pursuit of an ideal future, and start focusing on destruction as opposed to positive change and an inclusive future for everyone. These ideal values cut across faith and political beliefs but are found in the overlapping spheres of our civil society, which can bridge the current, dualistic fight over power in political institutions.

The Together Project is one example of how civil society can come together to preserve space for all by ensuring that no one person or institution is removed from our country’s identity.

Yes, it is often essential to loudly pushback against injustice, but any effort should not be at the cost of pushing someone else out of your country’s future. Otherwise, they will fall back on the politics and an identity of division and fear.

Sam Worthington

CEO

InterAction

Sam Worthington is Chief Executive Officer of InterAction, leading the U.S. NGO sector’s engagement with the UN, governments, and civil society groups around the world. He testifies before the U.S. Congress, routinely consults with the administration, speaks to boards and at universities, and is a regular contributor on numerous national and international media outlets.

Mike Fox

Manager, Strategic Initiatives

InterAction

Mike Fox is the Manager for Strategic Initiatives at InterAction, leading cross-organization projects that help the alliance increase its impact, organizational effectiveness, and institutional reach. He also supports the CEO with policy and communications related research, analysis, writing, and editing.