In consortium with Ariadne (the European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights) and the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG), the European Foundation Centre (EFC) has published a report on Challenging the Closing Space for Civil Society, A Practical Starting Point for Funders. The report aims to provide grantmakers, private funders and other non-governmental organizations (NGO) key methods to counteract the growing threats to civil society, including counterterrorism laws and policies.

The report comes from a two-day workshop, Challenging the Closing Space for Civil Society, organized by Ariadne, IHRFG and EFC, which took place in Berlin in June 2015. This event, which included over 80 participants, developed seven key topics, or “levers,” for improvement:

  • Economic interests – to make the business case for civil society, by utilizing the often under-valued relationship between private funders and business enterprises;

  • Countering the impact of counter-terrorism policies

  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – with particular focus on Goals 16 and 17, which emphasize strengthening the global public-private and civil society partnerships available, and to engage with initiatives such as the SDG Philanthropy Platform.

  • International Norm-setting – to protect and promote international and regional institutions from becoming hijacked by authoritarian governments.

  • Counter-narratives – to diversify information and opinion around civil society’s mission and values so as to counteract the growing fear and mistrust.

  • Diplomatic response – to make a cohesive effort across governments, international institutions, private philanthropy and civil society.

  • Developing resilience – to find short term and long-term strategies, specific to different regions, so as to provide a more targeted response to the problem.

In particular, the session focused on “countering the impact of counter-terrorism policies” (Lever 2), which highlighted a growing concern for the negative effect that Financial Access Task Force (FATF) recommendations can have on civil society. The report criticizes FATF for not upholding transparency and accountability standards, with one participant condemning the organization for “the structured abuse of the NGO sector.” The session identified key next steps, which include: educating FATF officials; advocating for a risk-based approach rather than catch-all, over-broad legislation; establishing transparent rules to guide NGO participation; and increasing engagement with national governments that claim that they “simply don’t hear concerns from domestic civil society actors about counter-terrorism measures and it is, therefore, just an elite concern.”

Ariadne, IHRFG and EFC hope that this report and its workshop can promote collaboration between civil society actors, and bring these groups one step closer to presenting cohesive, tangible strategies to minimize the shrinking space. The report declares, “This is long-term work. We will not see abrupt shifts in the short term we need to dig in for years of work.”

Read the full report here.