ISTR in Istanbul: written by Megan MacGarry
Posted by civilsocietyindex on July 23, 2010
My colleague Jacob Mati and I recently attended and presented papers at the 9th Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) in Istanbul, Turkey which ran from the 7th to the 10th of July 2010. The week proved to be an amazing opportunity for me to meet Civil Society Index (CSI) partners; the people behind the scenes, who are implementing every stage of the project, dealing with every triumph and challenge, and who are the very life of the project.
It was fantastic to meet and interact with these CSI partners at the conference and to see our project being used in everyday life and to not just observe from behind a computer screen in Johannesburg. Being new to both CIVICUS and CSI, and a Programme Officer for just four months, the conference certainly has helped me to better understand and enjoy my work with partners. To be part of a project with such history and scope as CSI, and to know that you are helping to track and measure civil society in places such as Armenia, where there has previously been very limited investigation or research possible into civil society can give a really significant feeling of accomplishment.
For me, the CSI became a living programme in Istanbul not least because it gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with current and past CSI implementers, as well as other researchers and friends of CIVICUS. What struck me in particular was that both CSI and CIVICUS seem to have impressive reputations and that they are generally well received and respected in the academic world. Working across continents and in different regions, usually in the bubble of email and telephone, can sometimes obscure these realities.
During the conference itself, I was fortunate enough to attend numerous workshops presented by our implementing partners, and the conference itself was warmly and very successfully hosted by our Turkish partners, the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV). Throughout the conference, it was impressive to see what relatively small civil society organisations can achieve when operating with limited resources but extremely dedicated staff.
The success of our partners has certainly made the CSI team proud. On one afternoon, I attended a half-day workshop, hosted by the Black Sea Trust, which brought together Black Sea regional CSI implementing partners to discuss commonalities in strengthens and weaknesses they had found in the civil societies within their countries. The afternoon proved to be a particularly productive, interactive and rewarding process and, I think, highly beneficial not only for the active participants but also for observers. In fact, Jacob and I both learned so much rich information about the region, the countries, our partners and even our own programme. This can only help us work better with our partners in the future.
A day later in the conference, along with our Japanese implementing partners from Osaka University and our academic partner from Heidelberg University, both of us presented papers in a session on CIVICUS Civil Society Index findings, entitled “Building On Knowledge in Strengthening Civil Society Around The World.” The session had the following paper presentations: “Comparing the Old and New Methodology of the CIVICUS Civil Society Index: Many Improvements and Some New Problems” by Michael Hoelscher, from Heidelberg University. “Imperatives for innovations in civil society: Reflections on experiences in the implementation of CSI (2008-2009)” by Jacob Mati, from CIVICUS CSI. “Do Action-Research Projects have Impact? Insights from the Civil Society Index Programme’s Impact Assessment” written by myself, and “The Japanese Civil Society at a Crossroad: Findings from the CIVICUS CSI Project” by Naoto Yamauchi and Midori Matsushima, from Osaka University. The panel session was very well attended with approximately 50 people present, including the chair of the CIVICUS Board, implementing partners and numerous interested parties. It was also moderated by Beniam Gebrezghi from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Overall, the week was a thrilling and invigorating – if not exhausting – experience. Meeting researchers and practitioners from around the world, active in civil society and the third sector, and hearing about new ideas and current trends, such as increasing threats to civil space and new ways civil society are responding to challenges and difficulties, meant that there was so much to take in. The conference showcased the work of some of the most accomplished and thoughtful researchers and scholars in civil society and philanthropy from around the globe. ISTR is now an established and well-regarded international association promoting research and education in the fields of philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and civil society. The hope is that it will continue to provide as excellent a forum for the development and dissemination of knowledge as it did in Istanbul this July. If it can do so, there may just be success in building a much-needed global community of researchers and scholars to better assess the emerging trends and challenges of the third sector.
For more information about ISTR and the conference: