3 March 2020

Philanthropy speaking at Council of Europe event on civil society space

Commemorating the World NGO Day, on 28 February 2020, the Conference of NGOs (INGOs) of the Council of Europe (CoE) organised a workshop “From the Past to the Future: A Living Civic Space for a Living Democracy” to discuss the challenges the civil society faces, and the ways civil society organisations can work to strengthen their organisational resilience, financial viability and capacities for action.

Hanna Surmatz, representing the philanthropy sector at the event, as one of the panellists together, with Adam Bodnar, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, Sandra Boudjoulian from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Birgit Van Hout, Regional Representative for Europe, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Valerie Hopkins, South East Europe Correspondent of the Financial Times discussed How do policymakers, ombudsmen, civil servants, academia, journalists and the business sector see the legitimacy and effectiveness of different expressions of civil society? Which is the most ethical model of funding and governance forms which respect the self-governing and self-organising character of the CSOs?

Hanna recalled that the increasing restrictions of civil society space are a global trend, as reported by researchers as well as by civil society organisations, philanthropic organisations themselves and their beneficiaries/partners. She emphasized that restrictions most often take the form of deterioration of legal environment, including tax law, access to funding, over-implementation of the security agenda , de-legalisation or harassment and public smear campaigns.

Hanna´s intervention focused on what the philanthropy sector is doing to strengthen the space for civil society including philanthropy space. The work of Philanthropy Advocacy and particularly the European Philanthropy Manifesto´s recommendations to policy makers to create an enabling space were mentioned as were wider civil society calls around civic space. She also highlighted different funders´ initiatives aimed at strengthening civil society space. Namely, she mentioned a pooled fund Civitates born in 2017 out of concern for the state of democracy in Europe, the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS) established in 2016 to develop a strategic funders’ response to the systemic challenge of closing civic space. She also stated that the closing civil society space is a complex picture with different drivers and actors. Strategic coalitions such as the specific engagement of the philanthropy sector in the global NPO coalition on FATF around the security agenda have been very successful to push for money laundering and terrorism financing policy to follow a risk based approach that does not unduly restrict civil society space.

The discussion in the second panel focused around the questions whether more informal movements, activists, change-makers and human rights defenders need NGOs. What can NGOs and social movements learn from each other and how can they work together? How do NGOs and umbrella organisations work with and approach non institutionalised citizen groups and social movements?

The seminar was concluded by an interactive session on the transformation and future of the civil society sector in which participants discussed the role for governments, donors, institutions or communities supporting the sustainability of the CSO sector.

Provided by the Philanthropy Advocacy Team