Posts with the tag

Discover the ‘Anticipating Futures for Civil Society Operating Space’ report 

10th November 2022 by Eva Gondor

This report contributes to the Centre’s multi-year initiative Anticipating Futures for Civil Society Operating Space to strengthen the anticipatory capacities and future readiness of civil society professionals who are working to defend civic and civil society operating space. It is intended to provide a basis for further activities, especially in identifying gaps that require collective sector commitment. 

The report is the outcome of an exercise to map the current landscape: the issues impacting civic space, the strengths and weaknesses of civil society organisations’ (CSOs) responses and their reflections. 

Download Report

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

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

Navigating cybersecurity: Guidance for (I)CSO professionals

11th May 2022 by Eva Gondor

Within the framework of the Solidarity Action Network (SANE), a guidance “Navigating cybersecurity: Guidance for (I)CSO professionals” has been developed to help civil society actors better respond to cybersecurity challenges and digital threats.  

The guidance shares lessons learned and best practices from a series of SANE curated conversations on the topics of data protection and security, prevention and mitigation of cyberattacks, and sustainable cybersecurity support for local civil society. It provides steps to better protect organisations online and highlights further relevant resources and initiatives. This guidance addresses (I)CSO professionals across different departments as cybersecurity needs to be everyone’s responsibility.  

Download Cybersecurity guidance


Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

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

Hope, with a pinch of anger – Collective insights on how to respond to rise of anti-rights groups

23rd February 2022 by Miriam Niehaus, Eva Gondor, Poonam Joshi

At the International Civic Forum in early December, one of the speakers, Israel Butler from Liberties, showed us, a group of some 50 civil society and donor representatives from across the world, how to adjust our framing and build a narrative that can shift the moveable middle of societies – persuading a wider public to support progressive approaches to build a more equitable and sustainable world and to reject the regressive agendas of ‘anti-rights’ civil society. A baking cake metaphor comes to mind as we learned about the different ingredients required to make a message not only stick but motivate people to take action. Very simplified, there’s a whole lot of hope (eggs, sugar, flour and milk combined), but also a pinch of anger (maybe that’s the baking soda?) needed to create powerful messages that will be heard instead of fear-based narratives spread by anti-rights actors. We will endeavour to implement this recipe in this blog with a list of five key takeaways that resonated with us at the forum.

But let’s take a step back: Since 2016, the International Civic Forum (ICF) has been an annual space for civil society representatives to come together across sub-sectors but also with representatives from business, philanthropy and media, to discuss responses to the clampdown on civil society rights and the operational environment for organised civil society. Usually, the focus is on the state as the aggressor. However, building on the 2019 CIVICUS report on civil society responses to anti-rights groups, we wanted to shift the focus to non-state actors – exploring how the distinct category of anti-rights groups impacts ‘progressive’ civil society and what can be done about it. This seemed especially timely as, particularly in countries of the Global North, anti-rights groups have managed to harness anti-vaccination sentiments, further gaining traction and feeding off the fear and frustration of populations as the pandemic is still in full swing. Therefore, the ICF 2021 centred on the issue of anti-rights groups on the rise and how ‘progressive’ civil society can jointly address this challenge.

The conversations at the ICF were incredibly rich, nuanced, and self-critical, with a wide range of speakers including the Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs, Inés Pousadela from CIVICUS, founder of new initiative Noor Naureen Shameem, and representatives of international and local civil society organisations from around the world. Many strategies were shared, but also gaps were identified where we lack experience or don’t yet have good, actionable ideas. These five takeaways stuck with us:

1. The strength of coming together.

Several groups, mainly LGBT+, women’s rights and migrants’ rights groups, have felt the brunt of anti-rights aggressions towards them. For them this is in no way a new phenomenon. During the discussions, it became more glaring how other civil society actors are attacked by anti-rights groups as well. Environmental activists are increasingly feeling anti-rights attacks. The example of aggressions against child advocates in international fora was particularly eye-opening. And while these are terrible developments, it means we have the opportunity for forging much greater alliances and benefitting from a pool of learning and creativity. We must build on the strength of our growing number of affected stakeholders.

2. Tap into unlocked solidarity.

We can strengthen our causes even more by tapping into unlocked solidarity, namely that of faith-based groups. Representatives from several civil society sub-sectors cited how faith-based organisations have supported them when they were attacked: they have helped build bridges with religious actors that have more moderate and sympathetic views and can defuse escalating conflict. However, this can be a complicated matter as sympathetic religious dignitaries in some cases take considerable risks by standing in solidarity. Therefore, nuanced and mindful tactics are key.

3. Hope is on our side.

Whereas most anti-rights actors run on a narrative of fear, ‘progressive’ actors develop aspirational narratives built on core human values. We highly recommend looking at the concept of hope-based communication to understand how messaging affects the brain on a neurological level and how we can make that knowledge work for us.

4. Frame our own narratives instead of accepting unhelpful dichotomies.

We need to be careful to not cement dichotomies put forward by anti-rights actors, or we might lose vital ground in that “moveable middle”. An example of where this comes in to play (and this will be old news to many) is LGBT+ or women’s rights advocates being portrayed as anti-family by anti-rights actors. Some LGBT+ actors have done wonderful work on ‘claiming back family’ and shifting the frame of family not to who it consists of, but what it can mean, namely love.

5. Never let a good crisis go to waste?

This seems certainly to be true for anti-rights actors. Imagine this: A virus threatens humanity. A logical response is to mobilise all forces of humans against the virus. That’s the battle line. But no, how about we as humans divide and help the virus conquer by scape-goating certain populations (remember the attacks against people of Chinese heritage in the U.S.)? This is just one example of how some anti-rights groups in some contexts have exploited the current pandemic (and the tactic may ring awfully familiar for LGBT+ groups in reference to HIV). ‘Progressive’ civil society needs to better understand how to take over the narrative in such crises, because while the current COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging, the climate crisis is in equal swing.

Clearly, more conversation, strategising and action need to take place within civil society and with cross-sectoral likely and unlikely allies. We will further address this issue within the scope of the Solidarity Action Network (SANE). Is this a burning topic for you too? What do you do on this front? Who and what are you still missing and looking for to make your work on this fly? If this list of takeaways has made you hopeful but also angry enough to want to collaborate on the topic, let us know about it!

Miriam Niehaus

Head of Collaboration and Partnerships

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam leads the Centre’s strategy and projects on collaboration and partnerships. She started at the Centre as Executive Assistant in 2014 and then, as Project Manager, developed and implemented the Centre’s projects on civic space between 2016 and 2019. 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.

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

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

Poonam Joshi


Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS)

Poonam Joshi is Director of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS). Prior to this Poonam was the Executive Director of the Sigrid Rausing Trust. Poonam has worked on range of human rights issues as a lawyer, policy advisor and grant-maker, and has established and managed programmes to support civil society in the Middle East North Africa, South Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Balkans.

Solidarity and freedom of expression – How can we protect and harness online spaces?

20th October 2021 by Sarah Pugh

Freedom of expression is a basic requirement for maintaining democracy and open societies where citizens are able to stay informed, express opinions and participate actively in public life. Over the summer the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) explored different aspects of freedom of expression through a series of curated conversations looking at the role that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) can play in protecting and increasing free expression and civic space, particularly in relation to digital space and freedoms. 

The first example came from Takura Zhangazha and Arthur Steiner from Hivos, who shared how Hivos has played an ‘incubator’ role in supporting young artists and makers to champion free expression, and to increase and even celebrate civic space. Through its R.O.O.M. Program Hivos has designed interventions that support young creatives, strengthening their resilience to remain critical and independent so that they can continue to challenge damaging narratives and shrinking civic space. Beyond the solidarity shown through this form of ‘incubation’ and direct support, Hivos has also made use of facilitation as a method of solidarity. The programme has facilitated the convening and connecting of young makers and creative hubs, enabling cross-fertilisation between these makers and other actors in support of Pan-African solidarity that can counter closing civic space. 

These forms of solidarity are brought to life through stories of R.O.O.M Program partners – in particular, the Magamba Network based in Zimbabwe. The network focuses on the arts, digital media, activism and innovation. It has opened up space for free expression online through supporting and incubating young bloggers and new media start-ups speaking truth to power, and has inspired the creation of other, similar hubs in Southern Africa. As one of its activities, the network has convened discussions around the topic of internet access and ownership, inviting makers and creative hubs across the region to discuss the rise in internet regulations, cyber-crime laws, internet shutdowns, and – in some countries – the increasingly prohibitive costs of internet access.

(Still from video: Who owns civic space? by Hivos featuring Magamba Network) 

How international actors can show solidarity through support to local civil society actors to maintain and defend freedom of expression online, and protect online civic space, led us on to the next curated conversation with Felicia Anthonio from Access Now. Felicia shared insights on the role that Access Now has played in coordinating and convening #KeepItOn, a global campaign and coalition that aims to end internet shutdowns.  

Members of the #KeepItOn coalition work together to prevent shutdowns through awareness-raising, advocacy, capacity-building and litigation. Access Now further builds resilience among affected communities through technical support and grassroots grants, and applies multiple forms of solidarity at local, national and international levels. 

(Graphic from: #KeepItOn update: who is shutting down the internet in 2021? by Access Now) 

The campaign uses public solidarity to tackle shutdowns, for example through advocacy at the global or national level calling for specific internet shutdowns to be ended. Tensions can arise between public solidarity on the one hand, and access on the other, and risks to access, staff or partners’ safety can act as barriers to ICSOs signing on to open letters or speaking out publicly on the issue of internet shutdowns. However, as the #KeepItOn coalition’s work demonstrates there is a spectrum of different modes of solidarity available to ICSOs.  

There are different examples of more ‘quiet’ acts of solidarity that ICSOs can take, such as helping to document restrictions in a particular context, or supporting local communities or groups affected by a shutdown. The coalition itself employs multiple modes and levels of solidarity; for example combining awareness-raising at the multilateral level with litigation or advocacy at the national level, alongside strengthening of local capacities to deal with the impacts of shutdowns. So, whatever their appetite or capacity for risk might be, ICSOs can contribute to the protection of digital space and freedoms, and joining the #KeeptItOn Coalition can be an effective first step. 

Further details about these two examples can be found in the Solidarity Playbook, in the case studies on Hivos and Access Now which cover strategies for the protection of online free expression, as well as its potential to bring about social change, revealing different strategies for solidarity in the face of closing civic space. We encourage you to delve deeper into these topics by reading the cases!  


Sarah Pugh

Research Consultant

RINGO Project

Sarah Pugh, Research Consultant, has worked with activists, grassroots movements and storytellers internationally. She has conducted research for both funders and civil society organisations, including human rights and women’s rights NGOs based in India and Burma, and has over a decade of experience in the human rights and social justice philanthropy sector, having worked with a variety of funder collaborations whilst based at Global Dialogue. She has managed pass-through grants and pooled funds for human rights and social change in the UK and globally, and supported the inception of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS). Sarah is currently acting as Project Manager for the RINGO Project - a systems change process aimed at reimagining the INGO.

Call for Applications: Research Consultant

23rd September 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

The ICSCentre is looking for a research consultant to support its Solidarity Action Network (SANE) in building a resource directory for its members. The directory will consist of strategies, tools and guidelines to respond to threats and clampdowns faced by international civil society organisations (ICSOs) and their local partners as well as expert contacts that can help with a swift and suitable response.

SANE focuses on strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors when faced with civic space restrictions or changing operating conditions for civil society. It particularly connects humanitarian and development ICSOs and brings them into discussions on civic space challenges and opportunities.

The ICSCentre is commissioning a consultant to:

  • Develop a framework for presenting resources and contacts in a digestible and easy-to-use way.
  • Map and pick relevant publicly available resources based on suggested topics (desk research).
  • Reach out to or follow up with ICSOs and CSOs on their materials.
  • Prepare resources for the website with a short and easy-to-follow overview and upload them to the website.
  • Map and pick relevant expert organisations and individual experts on selected topics.
  • Prepare expert information for the directory and upload them to the website.
  • Consult topics and structure of the directory with the ICSCentre and the SANE task force.
  • Think proactively about technical aspects (especially usability) of the directory and consult them with the ICSCentre and the web developer.

Find the full tender and how to apply here

The ICSCentre invites qualified individuals or organisations (“Offerors”) to submit a proposal for the requested services. The application needs to be submitted by 13 October 2021.

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

  1. Cover letter (no more than 3 pages), including:
    – A brief description of your experience and expertise in the field that illustrates your overall qualifications and capabilities for this scope of work
    – Your consultancy rate (amount in EUR/day)
  2.  Your CV
  3.  Two references that can be contacted should you be shortlisted.

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre