CIVICUS Civil Society Index

An international action-research project by and for civil society

CIVICUS World Assembly 2010: Looking back

Posted by civilsocietyindex on August 27, 2010

With a clear three days of sunlight – and at least one night of sleep – between ourselves and the closing ceremony of the CIVICUS World Assembly, the Civil Society Index team here at CIVICUS can look back and reflect on some of the key lessons and key trends. So what do we know now that we didn’t on 19 August 2010, the day before the World Assembly started?

  • The crises are multiple and complex, but so are the solutions. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for economic injustice, climate injustice and development ineffectiveness. It’s no longer enough to call out for a voice, to lament the lack of civil society participation. Citizens and the organizations through which they mobilize have a responsibility to step up to the plate at this time of crisis and do more than criticize. Their voice is a valuable one, but it’s also one which decision-makers in governments, IGOs and IFIs need if they are to be empowered to make change. Civic action, as Kumi Naidoo put it, also gives legitimacy to those within the system who want to bring about change. Across the board and in different and complex ways, civil society needs to think not just about participation, but about how participation can bring about solutions.
  • Civil society space is expanding in some respects, but contracting in other key areas. In some respects, the space in which citizens are able to organize and act has never been greater. The space for associational life in community groups and religious, cultural and sporting organizations has rarely been this strong. But at the same time, human rights NGOs and those who would challenge governments directly are experiencing forms of repression and tightening legislation. The World Assembly bore testimony to this much. But what next? How can the different stakeholders – government, private sector and civil society – enhance the quality of dialogue and engagement, and begin to value each other’s contribution to making the world a better place?
  • Safe, organic spaces for civic reflection, exchange and action need to be supported and leveraged where they do exist. What we saw in the second CSI workshop, on cross-border initiatives, was evidence of healthy spaces for reflection, planning and action. In the case of the Turkey-Armenia Cross Border Initiative and the Latin America regional research initiative, we saw examples of reconciliation, of cooperation and of the generation of social capital. Given the perceived assault on civil society space, renewed effort also needs to be given by the CIVICUS alliance to supporting and valuing demand-driven spaces for civil society to convene and engage. There were promising signs that the Civil Society Index can offer one such entry point.
  • The Civil Society Index needs to find ways to measure and value the contributions of individual citizens to civil society. It’s increasingly clear that organizational life might obscure, rather than accurately paint, the picture of civil society life. How can we assess the state of civil society and measure the acts and individual moments of civic, associational life? How do social movements and rapidly shifting organizational dynamics get quantified and represented? This is one key challenge ahead for the Civil Society Index team in reshaping its methodology and project framework.

From a personal perspective, we all thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with so many Civil Society Index partners – from Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Zambia, Armenia, Turkey, Russia and Italy. We were reminded of the immense amount of expertise residing with our partners, and we were reminded once again that they do – and should – lead the process. As we continue the journey that is the Civil Society Index, the World Assembly 2010 will represent an important milestone for CSI partners, for CIVICUS, and for civil society.

Until next year…

In this picture from right to left: Megan McGarry(CSI officer), Mark Nowottny(CSI coordinator), Zeynep Meydanoglu (TUSEV, Turkey), Uygar Ozesmi (Greenpeace Mediterranean, Turkey and CIVICUS Board Member), Lusine Hakobyan (Counterpart International, Armenia) and Tracy Anderson (CSI officer)

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