Can civil society survive COVID-19?

By Elly Page, Senior Legal Advisor, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and Simona Ognenovska, Research and Monitoring Advisor, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law Stichting (ECNL)

As the world confronts new waves of COVID-19 cases, civil society should be wary of a parallel surge of new emergency laws and measures that restrict fundamental freedoms. According to our COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker, 146 countries enacted 385 measures in response to the pandemic that affected human rights, during the initial waves of the virus from January to September 2020. While some may have been a necessary and understandable reaction to a public health crisis, many overreached, exacerbating existing challenges to civic space. In particular, existing barriers to foreign funding for organisations have remained in place during the pandemic, limiting their ability to provide support to vulnerable populations during the crisis. The onslaught urgently requires an international response to roll back restrictions and increase support for embattled civil society.  

Our Tracker, based on information from our worldwide network of civil society partners, reflects ways that governments’ responses to COVID-19 have affected civic space, and suggests ways that OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members could respond. These suggestions are timely as the OECD-DAC takes further steps to develop a DAC policy instrument on enabling civil society.

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Implementing the SDGs: why are some civil society organisations being left behind?

By Vanessa de Oliveira, Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are widely recognised as important partners in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But to what extent is civil society really engaged and involved in SDG processes or consultations at the country level?

A new Task Team study undertaken by the International Institute of Social Studies points to a lack of diversity in the types of civil society organisations engaged in these processes. Organisations that are part of the aid system – typically urban, often international or based in donor countries – are at a clear advantage.Similarly, another study (the 2018 Monitoring Round of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation) found opportunities for civil society organisations to be irregular, unpredictable and lacking the involvement of a diverse set of actors. The latest OECD study on Development Assistance Committee members and civil society also echoes these conclusions: dialogues between donors and CSOs are more likely to take place at the donors’ headquarters, and lack general good practice standards like setting a joint agenda.

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