This week we want to share with you the content that you have found most compelling this year. We’ve compiled a list of the most read blogs on Disrupt&Innovate in 2018, so you can see what others in the civil society sector are interested in. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the strength of this platform, it’s diversity of topics and range of contributors. Take a look at the blogs below, we hope you enjoy.
A few weeks ago I recruited a new colleague to our small Centre secretariat team. The pattern of many previous rounds was repeated: We reviewed a number of very qualified and competent young female candidates, struggled to invite equally impressive male applicants for an interview and in the end offered the position to a very dedicated, ambitious and talented woman who wants to develop a long-term career in the civil society sector. I have met and worked with many women like her over the years at the Centre and in the civil society organisations (CSOs) we work with. Read more
The need for innovation is clear: The twenty-first century is shaping up to be one of the most challenging in recent history. From climate change to income inequality to geopolitical upheaval and terrorism: the difficulties confronting international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are unprecedented not only in their variety but also in their complexity. At the same time, today’s practices and tools used by ICSOs seem stale and outdated. Increasingly, it is clear, we need not only new solutions but new methods for arriving at solutions. Read more
Many CSOs around the world have realised the potential linked to both Blockchain and Big Data and are currently experimenting with how these technologies can support their work. Read more
One year ago I reviewed the political environment in which civil society had to act and drew some conclusions for the year 2017. I expressed my expectation that “we will not succumb to Brexit and Trump” and demanded: “We urgently need to come together in a powerful global movement to defend tolerance against the intolerant, pluralism and the rule of law against authoritarianism, and our future as a global community against chauvinism and xenophobia.” What has happened in this respect over the past twelve months? Read more
In recent years, governments around the world have responded to increased activism, protests and political engagement of citizens and various civil society actors with cracking down on civic space. Unfortunately, these trends have not passed the Western Balkans and Turkey by either.
As restrictions on foreign funding (in Kosovo, Turkey), barriers to registration (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey), intervention in CSOs’ internal affairs (Macedonia and Turkey), negative narratives (Serbia and Macedonia), and declining public trust in civil society in almost all of the countries become the new normal in this region, civil society and donors are going to have to adapt to this context. Read more
Growing up in the 1980s in Tunisia, hailed as a modern society, International Women’s Day was a long day of celebrations staged by President Ben Ali’s regime while his police tortured and harassed women in prisons.
Many states are known for their strategy to exploit women’s rights for political purposes. But, the international community practices are not that different either–not to the same end for sure. If international NGOs (INGOs) keep using the strategies and approaches they are using now to fight against gender inequality, progress on gender parity will surely grind to a halt and we will need another 200 years to close the gap.
At the centre of the problem is the fact that INGOs still consider women’s rights a secondary issue, a ‘soft’ battle, rather than a core one. We see evidence of this on two levels: that way that sexual harassment and abuse within the development sector is addressed (or not addressed) and states’ responses to gender inequality abuses. The recent scandals involving sexual exploitation by aid workers, which are engulfing the civil society sector, expose the internal, loose practices that fail to address gender and power imbalances. The State of Civil Society 2018, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS that assesses conditions impacting civic space globally, outlines 10 trends affecting civil society. One of those trends is growing efforts to put patriarchy under the spotlight, as embodied in the #MeToo and Times Up actions, and to challenge and address behaviours and attitudes that enable sexism and gender discrimination. INGOs should be taking the lead against sexual harassment and wider gender inequalities through practising what they preach.
It is also important to celebrate achievements and progress made but turning a blind eye to women in more disadvantaged positions shows the selectivity of women’s struggles. When Saudi Arabia finally gave women the right to drive in September 2017, many celebrated a decision that overturns a cornerstone of Saudi conservatism. However, women’s struggles in the kingdom go beyond driving, to include sexual abuses of domestic workers and the lack of opportunities for working-class women. States such as Saudi Arabia keep intentionally failing to meet gender parity commitments but INGOs and the international community do little to respond to this beyond statements, media releases and side events at UN conferences. States are not being held to account.
Furthermore, the struggle to effectively mainstream gender equality is the result of a conventional understanding of the role of women and their contexts. In fact, decades of a “one size fits all” approach has hindered the achievement of women’s rights in local communities. Local women do not lack capacity and their nuanced understanding of local issues goes beyond how they articulate their struggle without jargon.
For instance, before the rising of Muslim feminism, the Muslim world resisted and rejected the western interpretations of gender inequality. Women’s movements in the Middle East/North Africa region were the only, effective actors pushing the women’s agenda. In 2017, Tunisia passed its first national law to combat violence against women, an effort led by local women human rights defenders.
This means that the push for progress in gender parity should not be only around motivation and action, but also around reflecting, healing and change from within. It is time to support local women’s unique leadership by giving them the space to act and by fighting alongside them and not through them. Equip them to be more efficient, give them access to the international community and resources, push for more inclusion, not only by ensuring a quota of representation but through striving for a more gender- and socially-inclusive strategies and operations. But most importantly, INGOs have to adhere to the values that they espouse and walk the walk.
I just spent two fascinating weeks with in Sri Lanka, advising an ICSO on possible new operational/business models.
The World Bank has declared Sri Lanka a “lower-middle income country”, which means that foreign governments and, subsequently, many individual donors are shifting their attention away from Sri Lanka and towards poorer countries. However, while the average per capita incomes are rising, pockets of persistent poverty remain, especially in the regions that were most strongly affected by the country’s civil war.
In this situation many of the international civil society organisations (ICSOs) working in the country are facing two critical questions:
Finding and implementing positive answers to both questions will force ICSOs to transform themselves. If they are unable to transform themselves, ICSOs will find it hard to secure their own sustainability and may have to leave the country.
What are the transformations ICSOs need to undergo over the next few years in countries like Sri Lanka?
From charities to rights based organisations
Practically all major ICSOs talk about themselves as “rights based organisations”. However, if we look at their approaches, behaviours or governance we find that much of their charitable past still prevails: Programmes often still are “assistencialistic” providing people with aid rather than contributing to their empowerment. “Beneficiaries” often need to content themselves with the benefits on offer rather than being able to determine themselves what they need: And ICSOs’ governance is usually dominated by representatives from fundraising countries in the global North and with little influence for those who are supposed to benefit from ICSOs’ work. As poverty declines and more and more people are able to think and act beyond the needs of their immediate survival they will no longer tolerate assistencialistic and paternalistic behaviour. For ICSOs, this means: they have to practice the rights based approaches they preach.
From organisations that spend money to organisations that can only spend the money they raise
In countries like Sri Lanka, most ICSOs have been focused exclusively on spending money that had been raised abroad. No fundraising activities took place in the country. This means, ICSOs in Sri Lanka and similar countries have a strong knowledge and culture of programme excellence but very little experience and culture in funding their own operations. In a situation where funding flows from abroad decrease and will eventually dry up, ICSOs’ exclusive focus on implementing programmes is unsustainable. In order to prevail, organisations need to adopt a much more entrepreneurial approach aiming for a sustainable balance between fundraising and programming activities.
From foreign donors to national affiliates of global organisations
In countries that can perfectly well take care of themselves having “country offices” maintained by foreign donors no longer make sense – however, having a national affiliate of a global organisation does. For instance, even in the richest countries, there are some poor and marginalised people, some children who are abused, and some women who are oppressed. Having national organisations that effectively address these challenges is essential, and for those being part of a global family of like-minded national organisations is of a major strategic advantage. A farsighted policy of building civil society capacity and effectiveness around the world will create strong global networks whose local, national and regional members will systematically learn from each other and cooperate where beneficial. Transforming ICSO country offices into national affiliates can be a useful first step in this direction.
In short: In emerging economies such as Sri Lanka ICSOs only have the choice between fundamentally transforming themselves and leaving. If they want to stay, they will have to transform their worldviews, cultures and power relationships.