CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

Archive for February, 2010

CIVICUS teams up with Heidelberg University to deliver global comparative analysis of civil society

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 26, 2010

Since the beginning of current phase of the Civil Society Index (CSI) project, CIVICUS and the Centre for Social Investments of Heidelberg University (Germany) have been aiming towards delivering high quality comparative analysis of the state of global civil society. Since signing a memorandum of understanding and the finalisation of the formal details of the partnership in January 2010, the two institutions have been stepping up their joint work as they set about delivering world class analysis from the results of the 2008-2010 phase of implementation.

Last week, the partnership took a new turn, with Jacob Mati and Tracy Anderson from the CIVICUS CSI joining Professor Helmut K. Anheier, Dr. Michael Hoelscher and Dr. Hagai Katz for a three-day meeting at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. During the meeting, the two institutions set out plans and timelines for delivering the outputs of the CSI research, and plotted a way forward to make sure that the findings of the CSI reach a global audience.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Anael Labigne, winner of the 2009 Civil Society Index Essay Contest. The Essay Contest celebrated the launch of the CSI Indicator Database in September 2009, which pulls together the findings of the 2003-2006 phase of implementation. The Indicator Database is free to use, easily searchable by indicator, and serves as one example of how the Civil Society Index findings have been made available in previous phases.

During the meeting in Berlin, CIVICUS and Heidelberg University recognized the need to find creative ways of addressing new and emerging audiences of the CSI, while continuing to guarantee rich comparative analysis of the state of civil society.

To help achieve this, participants considered numerous inputs from CSI partners, stakeholders and audiences on the possible thematic and regional focus areas of the comparative analysis. In total, 12 in-depth submissions were gratefully received by CIVICUS from external partners in response to the CSI call for suggestions and expressions of interest.

In the weeks and months ahead, CIVICUS and Heidelberg University will continue with renewed energy in their discussions on the research publications and in delivery of outputs planned for the end of 2010 and early 2011.

 Do you have thoughts on how the CSI findings can be brought together and analysed across regions and themes? What outputs or publications would you like to see?

Email us at

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Armenia and Turkey working together in Istanbul

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 23, 2010

Lusine, CSI project coordinator in Armenia, talks about the new cross-border initiative being conducted by Counterpart International Armenia and TUSEV within the framework of the Civil Society Index. Supported by the Black Sea Trust and USAID, the initiative brings together civil society in Armenia and Turkey.

Last week, representatives from Armenia visited TUSEV offices in Istanbul and met with key civil society organisations, as well as identifying the strengths, weaknesses, outcomes and findings of CSI implementation in the two countries.

You can also check out further updates on Counterpart International Armenia’s Facebook page:

Lusine from Counterpart International Armenia and Zeynep from TUSEV in conversation about what the intiative means for cooperation between CSOs in the two countries. Click here (Facebook only).

Arsen from Counterpart International speaks about what’s been going on during the meetings, and reflects on some of the key CSI findings and comparisons between the two countries. Click here (Facebook only).

On the first day of the Istanbul trip, Lusine introduces the initiative and some of her hopes for the week ahead. Click here (Facebook only).

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‘Imitation of the West’? Civil society in the Arab world

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 22, 2010

This article was written for e-CIVICUS no. 475, the weekly CIVICUS newsletter, and is based on analysis by Mark Nowottny, Jacob Mati and Julia Sestier from the CIVICUS Civil Society Index team. It follows CIVICUS involvement in a regional conference organised by the Foundation for the Future in January 2010.

Click here to download a PDF of this article

On Thursday 28 January 2010, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi declared in a televised address to the General People’s Congress that the idea of civil society “is a bourgeois culture and an imitation of the West that has no place here [in Libya]”[1]. Gaddafi’s statement last week drew particular media attention because it came on the eve of a proposal due to be announced by his son, Saif al-Islam, which would have permitted the creation of NGOs.

Gaddafi’s comments were grounded in Libyan history, and specifically within the unique context of Jamahiriya (‘direct democracy’ or ‘state of the masses’). In this proclaimed view of society, popular local councils and communes rely on mass citizen involvement to run the country, blurring and removing the supposedly Western distinction between the state and civil society. Nevertheless, the sentiments which underpinned Gaddafi’s comments – and specifically the notion that the idea of civil society is rooted in a culturally alien agenda – are ones which civil society activists across the Arab world have long found themselves confronted by. Against this challenging background, what role exists for international organisations in promoting the growth of civil society in the Arab region?

In search of authenticity

It has long been asserted that a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) possess vibrant civil societies grounded in centuries-old histories of Islamist philanthropy. But in the late twentieth century, organisations emerged which were also increasingly recognised as part of a broader civic, human rights and pro-democracy movement. In doing so, they cast a very different light on existing ideas about what it meant when citizens came together with shared interests.

The deliberate distinction between, on the one hand, ‘culturally authentic’ civil society organisations and, on the other, those whose origin was supposedly rooted in the West, at times became a central and well-practiced argument used to discredit the pro-democracy movement. Curiously enough, the civil society organisations considered to be authentic tended also to be those that did not threaten to undermine the authority of a series of repressive governments.

Nevertheless, the argument that the idea of ‘civil society’ simply does not apply to the Arab culture remains a convincing and compelling one for many. In a number of Arab countries, CSOs find themselves distrusted and disliked, not only by government but also sometimes by the private sector, by the media, and even by academia. More importantly, popular opinion itself seems often to have turned against civil society.

In response, certain CSOs suggest that culturally relativistic arguments, in which they suffer from being portrayed as the outsider, are obscuring the real issue: that people across the Arab world are increasingly articulating and demanding their rights, from the grassroots upwards. But while asserting that this process is entirely organic and authentic, many of these same CSOs nevertheless do receive funding from foreign donors to continue their work. The tension between, on the one hand, the need for financial sustainability and, on the other, the desire to avoid a crippling blow in public perception, continues to be an uncomfortable and often unresolved situation for many CSOs in the region.

How, then, can international organisations seek to support the growth of civil society and civic space in the Arab region, without in the same breath undermining the potential public support base of some CSOs?

Drawing the bigger picture

One answer lies in creating space for indigenous CSOs to arrive at a common, and evidence-based, understanding of civil society in the region. Indeed, on the very same day that Gaddafi made his statement, a lower profile but perhaps equally important meeting was taking place at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Hosted by the Foundation for the Future, the conference discussed one such way to enhance the room for civil society through strengthened support for regional research on civil society organisations[2].

Amid overwhelmingly normative arguments about the relative virtue of CSOs, the need for empirically based research and objective insights has perhaps never been greater. As Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) and a member of the CIVICUS Board, put it during the conference, “the actual use of research by CSOs, which is still very limited, could enhance their interventions, effectiveness, policy impact, credibility with official parties – even dialogue among themselves”[3].

But why specifically does research matter? One school of thought suggests that the emergence of NGOs as part of an uncompromising human rights and pro-democracy agenda may actually have contributed to the polarisation of opinion about civil society. On the one hand, some support has been won for recognition of an important regional agenda. Meanwhile, massive popular support for other forms of civil society organisations has been lost, as evidenced in part by Gaddafi’s statement, which only tapped into wider sentiments.

Research, however, can perhaps help clarify that such NGOs do not necessarily represent the entire realm of associational life. Indeed, evidence[4] emerged in the conference in Jordan that in places, the presence of NGOs has had a detrimental effect on overall associational life, in places even reversing its vibrancy. The implication is that the controversy surrounding the role of NGOs, Western or otherwise, in the Arab region may be obscuring the bigger picture of everyday associational life; of family and clan associations, of sports clubs, of unions, of service providing CSOs, and of philanthropic organisations. A more accurate picture of this reality, in other words, could help build bridges and move away from the polarisation of opinion around civil society, from which it continues to suffer deeply.

The role of CIVICUS

CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, represented at the meeting by Research Officer Jacob Mati[5], recognises and supports this prominent role for knowledge generation and dialogue about civil society in the region. The CIVICUS Civil Society Index[6] (CSI), a participatory action-research project implemented by and for civil society organisations in the region, encourages the development of a better collective understanding of civil society. Although the project enables international comparability, this understanding is nevertheless rooted primarily in the experiences and worldviews of those who lead the research. In the MENA region, this ownership of the civil society agenda could not be more important.

In 2003-2006, the CIVICUS Civil Society Index was implemented in three areas of the MENA region: Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine. In Lebanon, for example, partners implementing the project concluded that “a crucial issue for the future of Lebanese civil society is the extent to which major civil society actors will be willing and able to move beyond sectarian confines, embrace internal organisational democracy and accountability, and reach out to the young generation, which is fervently pushing for political reforms”[7]. For the implementing partners, the CSI created space for discussion and cast new light on Lebanese civil society at a critical juncture in its history.

Importantly, the project also brought to light the specific situation of Lebanon, avoiding the generalisations so often brought to bear on the Arab world. And in the 2008-2010 phase, implementation of the CSI is now accordingly being targeted in a much wider range of MENA countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Djibouti and Sudan. One hope among project partners is that the analytical country reports and policy action briefs which will pull together the research later this year will set out a series of country-specific roadmaps for civil society strengthening. These roadmaps, crucially, are based on empirical research, and may therefore be rather better suited to walking the tightrope of public opinion in MENA countries. In short, a collective, evidence-based understanding of civil society can be critical in helping activists to navigate a route between normative and politically-charged arguments about their value, and introduce a degree of stability and renewed confidence to their work.

The CIVICUS CSI is only one such research initiative, and CIVICUS, like many other global organisations, has perhaps not always engaged with the region as well as it might have. Implementation of the Civil Society Index project by under-resourced national partners, for example, has continued to face significant practical difficulties. Global organisations, meanwhile, can sometimes be unprepared to engage with the region linguistically and culturally, particularly when they perceive the threat of occasional clashes with their own core values.

The Foundation for the Future conference at the Dead Sea, opened by the Jordanian Minister of Political Development and attended by a representative from the League of Arab States, and the United Nations Development Programme, can only be one small step towards a programme of integrated support for the region’s civil society research and self-reflection. Indeed, there will inevitably be many more turns in the road before all Arab CSOs can exist, engage and express themselves without fear of being accused of being Western puppets.

But one thing is clear: the world is changing, and new generations of citizens in MENA countries are demanding to have their voice heard. Neither they, nor their active presence in the non-governmental, civic, sphere, will disappear quietly. And while Gaddafi busied himself last Thursday with obsolete rhetoric, something rather more productive was taking place at the Dead Sea in Jordan. The region’s researchers came together to begin a conversation that could just help the region’s next generation reach a common understanding of what citizen participation means, and of how to better support and recognise its role. Perhaps ultimately, such research can help the region move beyond an unhelpful and destructive dichotomy between ‘Western’ and ‘Arab’ civil society.

[1] See for example:


[2] For full details of the Foundation for the Future conference, titled “Research on Civil Society Organisations: Status and Prospects”, visit

[3] Ziad Abdel Samad, ‘CSOs: Status, Challenges and Democracy in the Arab World’, paper delivered in Jordan, 26-28 January 2010. Available online at Ziad Abdel Samad is Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), a CSO network active in 12 Arab countries. Its main objectives are CSO empowerment and enhancing their role in advocacy on social and economic rights.

[4] Papers delivered at the conference are available at

[5] Jacob Mati, ‘Bridging research, policy and action in civil society strengthening initiatives: lessons from a decade of CIVICUS Civil Society Index implementation’, paper delivered in Jordan, 26-28 January 2010. Presentation available online at

[6] More information about the CIVICUS Civil Society Index, its implementation, its objectives and its methodology are available on the CIVICUS webpage at and on the project blog at

[7] Finn Heinrich (ed.), CIVICUS Global Survey of the State of Civil Society. Volume 1: Country Profiles, Kumarian Press, USA: 227.

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Katsuji Imata speaks to CSI partners

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 18, 2010

Katsuji Imata, Deputy Secretary General (Programmes) at CIVICUS and responsible for overseeing the Civil Society Index project, addresses CSI partners, and highlights opportunities and challenges ahead in the project in 2010.

Katsuji was speaking at CIVICUS House, Johannesburg, on Wednesday 17 February 2010. 

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Islamic fundamentalism and the internet in Egypt: CSI sparks debate

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 15, 2010

In the 2003-2006 phase of implementation, the Civil Society Index was implemented in Egypt.

Now, research and discussion has emerged on the role that the internet plays in Egyptian civil society, with a specific focus on the case of the Muslim Brotherhood. The research uses as its starting point the findings of the CSI in Egypt in the 2003-2006 phase.

The research paper, titled “Egypt’s Changing Civil Society: The Muslim Brotherhood and New Media”, is available on the website of Ikhwan Scope. Ikwhan Scope describes itself, on its website, as “an independent Muslim Progressive and moderate non-profit site, concentrating mainly on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement” which “hopes to construct a foundation in which all references about the movement are available to those who are interested in Islam and Islamic movements”.

Click here to visit the Ikhwan Scope website, where you can read and download the paper.

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Final chance to nominate individuals to join the CIVICUS Board

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 9, 2010

The deadline for nominations for the upcoming CIVICUS Board elections have been extended to midnight, Saturday, 20 February 2010.

Apply and find out more by clicking here.

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‘Partner, not enemy’: Depoliticising civic space in Nicaragua

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 5, 2010

This article was written for e-CIVICUS no. 473, the weekly CIVICUS newsletter, and is based on analysis by the Civil Society Index and Civil Society Watch programmes. It follows a field visit by CIVICUS to Nicaragua in January 2010. 

Daniel Ortega remains an unavoidably contentious figure in Latin American politics. Known most widely outside of the region as leader of the armed struggle which brought about the end of the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979, his political reincarnation as a democratically elected leader in 2006, for many at the time, pointed to the latest shift towards the left in Latin America. Along with a manifesto for stemming the tide of poverty and inequality, however, came increasingly divisive rhetoric and alleged fraud in the 2008 mayoral and local elections. This was followed by a Supreme Court decision to allow Ortega to stand for re-election in 2011, and fears have grown of a return to the caudillismo of dominant leaders which has plagued Nicaragua for many years in the past. What, in such a politically charged environment, are the prospects for cooperation and collaboration between government and civil society?

The impact of the political situation on civil society’s work in Nicaragua has been noticeable. In recent months, reports have emerged of motivated prosecutions against dissenting activists, the marginalisation of organisations lobbying for greater accountability, harassment of media groups and the directing of federal funds away from independent civil society organisations (CSOs) and towards ‘GONGOS’ (Government Organised NGOs). Perhaps most notable – from an international perspective – is the implementation of a draft law on international cooperation, which now places restrictions on local CSOs accessing support from abroad.

Such developments, though, are far from uncommon across the region. Recent years have witnessed the election of a series of radical leftist leaders, each on a different but not entirely unique platform; Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and, most notably, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. With Raul Castro’s Cuba showing signs only of gradual change (‘evolution revolution’, if you will), the axis of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution seems strong, and not least in the wake of the global economic crisis.

But in each of these situations, the impact of revolutionary politics on civil society asks fundamental questions about the way we think about ‘civil society’. In Bolivia, civil society reached remarkable levels of polarisation between the largely indigenous social movements backing the Morales revolution, and those civil society organisations rooted in separatist Santa Cruz. In Venezuela, the much-reported crackdown on media and civil society comes, of course, only in the context of unprecedented levels of civic engagement in los circulos bolivarianos, the Chavez-backed Bolivarian Circles. One person’s civic activist becomes another’s enemy of the state.

But the features common to these political landscapes bring with them contradictions which can be highly uncomfortable for those who would choose to lend support. In one corner lies the promise, however utopian, of social justice. In the other, however, lie the most basic of civic rights: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. And in both corners stand those who would co-opt and use the idea of civil society: either endorsing it as an independent (though persecuted) last bastion of opposition to an imminent dictatorship or, alternatively, denouncing it as the interfering puppetry of foreign powers and elitist business interests. Not all these allegations, of course, are without foundation. But when elephants fight, as they say, the grass suffers – and it is often civil society organisations who are the first to take the hit as the rhetoric surges and their national space becomes politicised.

So how, then, should interventions be targeted when civic space – and even the very concept of civil society – becomes a political weapon?

One approach pursued by CIVICUS in these nuanced contexts has been to support knowledge generation about civil society, and to make sure that an empirical assessment of civil society exists in the public domain as a foundation for action. The CIVICUS Civil Society Index, a participatory action research project designed to provide just such an assessment, is now being implemented for the first time in Nicaragua by the Red Nicaraguense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (RNDDL), one of two local partner organisations. Drawing on quantitative data generated from three surveys with the population, organisations and external stakeholders, as well as a series of in-depth case studies, the Civil Society Index project provides both a quantitative and qualitative analysis and picture of the state of civil society. The final results of the Index are due in Nicaragua in early 2010, and will help inform action plans by civil society.

CIVICUS is also making concerted efforts in the Latin American region to monitor emerging threats to civil society through the Early Warning System (EWS) formulated by CIVICUS partners and its Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme. Only last week, CIVICUS undertook a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua with the support of RNDDL and CIVICUS’ other member in the country, the Coordinadora Civil. Anabel Cruz, who headed the mission and is currently Chair of CIVICUS’ Board, noted that despite many of the areas of concern that emerged from the mission, “talks with key officials [had] been open and positive”.

Supporting civil society to engage with government as a partner in the development of the nation is a complex challenge and one which, in Nicaragua, will inevitably be fraught with difficulties. Since the 1990s, when a number of former Sandinista revolutionaries drifted towards social movements, NGOs have often struggled to assert their own autonomy and independence from the political environment. In 2004, a law on Citizen Participation was passed in Nicaragua, institutionalising space and raising hope for productive interaction with government. But following a few initial years of genuine engagement on social policy, much of this growth has been cut back amidst a rapidly deteriorating environment in which civil society activists fear that government now sees them as an enemy rather than a partner. Frustration levels, on both sides, are understandably high.

Nevertheless, as Anabel Cruz seemed to recognise, in calling on the “Government of Nicaragua to consider civil society as partners in national development”, the path away from the polarisation and politicisation of civic space offers the best hope not only for a healthy independent civil society, but also for an active citizenry amenable to and supportive of the politics of Latin America’s left.

Daniel Ortega once allegedly explained the armed roots of the Nicaraguan Revolution by commenting that “we grew up in a situation where we didn’t know what freedom or justice were, and therefore we didn’t know what democracy was”. Now, in working closely with the civil society sector as a true partner in national development, Ortega could make sure that the children of tomorrow’s Nicaragua cannot say the same.

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‘Examples of violence within civil society’: Essay Contest winner announced!

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 3, 2010

The CSI team is delighted to announce that Anael Labigne has won the CSI Indicator Database Essay Contest and will scoop a prize of USD $500. The essay contest was opened in September 2009 to celebrate the launch of the Civil Society Index’s interactive Indicator Database, which for the first time puts together in a single place the data generated on global civil society from the 2003-2006 phase of implementation. Over 200 people have now registered for free to use the database, which is easily searchable by indicator.

Anael’s essay, titled “Examples of violence within civil society”, uses the data and information on violence generated by the Civil Society Index to contribute to the broader debate on the role of civility in ‘civil society’. Placing an emphasis on the need for empirical research to underpin conceptions of civil society, Labigne outlines that ‘instead of arguing for or against a normatively charged civility concept, I propose to evaluate the indicator of non-violence within the civil society sector arena surveyed by the CSI 2003-2006 data’.

Anael is currently a PhD candidate at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies, where his research focuses on the historical question of the role of ‘civility’ in society. On learning that he had won the award, Anael commented that:

“Working in the academic field is an ambivalent privilege. On the one hand, I do like research. On the other, it is often abstract and, especially as a young scholar, you sometimes ask yourself about the relevance of your every day work in the real world. The CIVICUS Civil Society Index is a scientific project that helps to dampen down this paradox and an essay contest gives the possibility to contribute in a more tangible way.

“I want to find out more about violence and civility in a transnational context. From a sociological point of view these are highly contested and difficult concepts. There are good reasons to differentiate between various forms of violence and this essay attempts to do just that by looking at empirical examples. Of course data does not speak for itself, but it can’t be underestimated in research. This essay and a lot of other research projects across the globe would not have been possible without CIVICUS’ commitment to this extensive Civil Society Index.”


Anael Labigne, Winner of the 2009 CSI Indicator Database Essay Contest

The essay contest forms one part of the CSI team’s strategy to encourage widespread empirically-based reflection on the state of civil society, as well as wider and deeper use of the findings of the Civil Society Index. 

It is expected that the data generated from the current 2008-2010 phase of implementation will be collated together in a similar database towards the end of 2010 when it becomes available.

Visit the CSI Indicator Database and register for free by clicking here.

Download Anael’s essay in full by clicking here.

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Civil society in the Middle East and North Africa

Posted by civilsocietyindex on February 1, 2010

On Thursday 28 January 2010, Jacob Mati, Research Officer at the Civil Society Index (CSI), represented CIVICUS in Amman, Jordan. In a conference organised by the Foundation for the Future, he shared global perspectives from the experience of the CSI project with regional researchers. The conference, addressing the status and prospects for research on civil society organisations in the Middle East and North Africa region, brought together participants from across the region with the objective of strengthening and supporting better mapping of civil society in the region.

During the current 2008-2010 phase of the CSI, Bahrain, Djibouti, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco all targeted implementation of the CSI project in their countries. With some difficulties in implementation arising at the regional level, the conference also served as an opportunity for the CSI team to identify steps forward in offering greater support and resourcing for research in a region where civil society continues to be a particularly important sector.

Jacob Mati’s paper, titled ‘Bridging research, policy and action in civil society strengthening initiatives: lessons from a decade of CIVICUS Civil Society Index implementation’, can now be downloaded by clicking here (PDF, English only).

Other papers from the conference can be accessed directly at the conference website.

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