We Know We Can’t Do It Alone, But How Can We Work Together?

by Amy Miller Taylor, Chief Networks Officer, CIVICUS

We’re living through a crisis of democracy where progressive internationalism is under attack[1]. It’s now clearer than ever that civil society organisations cannot realise the more just, inclusive and sustainable world by acting alone. Instead a collective effort is needed – between civil society, philanthropy infrastructure organisations and others – to achieve the kind of transformative change that we seek.

Despite people power being under attack[2], there’s growing recognition of civil society’s central role in driving the change we seek, as well as the inherent connection between the scale and nature of resources available to support the strength and diversity of civil society.

However, a disenabling environment for philanthropy, especially in the Global South –where needs are acutely felt— is undermining civil society agency.  Not enough resources find their way to smaller and Southern organisations. Only about one percent of all official aid from OECD-DAC countries, and an even smaller portion of humanitarian assistance, goes directly to the Global South.[3]  In addition, international funders tend to favour larger organisations, and funding decisions are often donor-led or aligned closely with their political interests.  In many Global South countries, civil society organisations that speak truth to power are being stymied by measures that make it more difficult to access international funding as domestic funders are not yet able or willing to support change-seeking activities that challenge power holders.

Philanthropy infrastructure organisations thus play a critical role in shaping behaviour and supporting a more enabling environment for philanthropy by engaging in activities ranging from advocating for legal frameworks and tax structures that support philanthropy to enhancing the effectiveness and accountability of funders.  However, there are limited partnerships between philanthropy infrastructure organisations and civil society actors who are on the forefront of the transformative change.

So, how can we work together more effectively on our journey towards a more just, inclusive and sustainable world?  Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Create forums that facilitate dialogue and learning among the various actors in the broader philanthropy ecosystem.
  2. Implement partnership principles that address power imbalances and treat local civil society actors as true partners and not sub-contractors.
  3. Introduce new feedback loops aimed at improving relevance and responsiveness of civil society funding.
  4. Advocate for funding mechanisms that support locally driven change-seeking activities that support social justice.
  5. Broaden the definition of civil society beyond registered organisations (which are not necessarily representative of those they serve) to be more inclusive.
  6. Explore and experiment with new funding modalities that support civil society actors deeply rooted in the communities they serve.
  7. Support networks and alliances that provide services and benefits to members (including access to funding).
  8. Support mechanisms that enhance accountability and impact without being overly cumbersome (e.g. civil society led self-regulation initiatives).
  9. Advocate for a more enabling legal and regulatory environment that allows local actors to access international funding directly (and provide creative alternatives in the interim).
  10. Support locally identified issues and responses based on shared values and respect, versus organisational agendas.

In short, philanthropy infrastructure organisations must stand together in true partnership with civil society in all its diversity to enable the kinds of activities that will deliver our collective ambitions for a better world.

[1] http://www.diplomaticourier.com/2017/04/18/can-democracy-stand-cult-strongman-leader/
[2] http://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications/2802-people-power-under-attack-findings-from-the-civicus-monitor
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/nov/09/five-reasons-donorsgive-for-not-funding-local-ngos-directly

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