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Arab Foundations Forum contributed a guest essay to this year’s CIVICUS Annual “State of Civil Society Report 2015” with a piece on the trends in Arab philanthropy. Please find our essay here and visit this landing page for all sections of the full report which features 27 guest essays from around the world.

A few highlights from the Year in Review:

  • 2014/2015 demonstrated that civil society is the first responder to humanitarian emergencies, including those caused by conflicts and disasters.
  • We continue to see a rejection of conventional politics, because increasing numbers of citizens see through the attempts to mask collusion between political and economic elites.
  • The trajectory of contemporary protest movements generally takes an identified pattern of growing from small local issues to larger more profound matters such as inequality and lack of voice.
  • The power of civil society is recognised indirectly, when elites try to suppress civil society’s essential role of speaking truth to power.
  • In 2014, there were significant attacks on the fundamental civil society rights of free association, free assembly and free expression in 96 countries.
  • Threats to civil society emanate from both state and non-state actors that benefit from perpetuating governance failures and denying human rights; including corrupt politicians, unaccountable officials, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists.
  • New attempts are underway, even by democratic states, to roll back long-established human rights norms, which are described as obstacles to national development and security, while critical voices are conflated with terrorism.
  • Hostility to civil society is becoming normalised, and CSO energy is being forced into fighting existential threats.

Key insights on resourcing for civil society:

  • Change-seeking CSOs are finding it harder to receive funding, including funding from international sources because of government restrictions.
  • Many governments want to subdue CSOs that express dissent, and where there is an absence of domestic resourcing bases for change-seeking CSOs, restriction of cross-border funding is an effective tactic.
  • Out of the $166 billion spent on official development assistance (ODA or aid) by OECD-DAC countries in 2013, only 13%, or $21 billion, went to civil society.
  • Although current data is hard to obtain, the latest estimate from 2011 suggests that Southern-based NGOs get only around 1% of all aid directly.
  • Many traditional donors are trimming their list of priority countries, and withdrawing particularly from countries assessed as having middle income status, despite their engrained social problems. E.g. Brazil and South Africa.
  • The rise of new economic powers, such as the BRICS countries, means that some Global South states are now donors, but almost all their support is for government-led initiatives.
  • We are seeing new donor conservatism with aid being more strongly connected with strategic foreign policy and trade agendas of donor governments, and the stronger pushing of free market policies on recipient countries to create opportunities for donor country businesses.
  • Many international CSOs risk being seen as promoters of their home governments’ foreign policy agendas, and channels for government attempts to use ODA to project soft power.
  • At the domestic level, state funding often goes only to CSOs on favourable terms with ruling elites, and strongly favours service-oriented work.
  • A lot of funding for CSOs is short term and project focused often not lasting long enough to usher in systemic change.
  • To counter negative trends, CSOs need to exercise exemplary transparency, demonstrate accountability to citizens, develop volunteerism and entrepreneurial capacity, where relevant, to reduce donor reliance.
  • CSOs should establish and implement resourcing policies to clarify the grounds on which they accept and do not accept resources from donors.
  • Conventional approaches to philanthropy are not working; donors need to be braver in their resourcing decisions to support the change the world needs.

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