CIVICUS Civil Society Index

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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.

Posted in Americas, CIVICUS News, Country News, CSI Impact, General Information, Profiles | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Katsuji Imata “on what is missing in between”

Posted by civilsocietyindex on January 13, 2010


Katsuji Imata, Deputy Secretary General (Programmes) at CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, spoke recently with Anna Mazgal from OFOP, the Polish Federation of NGOs, on how civil society organisations can find common ground against a backdrop of very different global challenges.

You can read the interview in full by clicking here.

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CSI-Chile obtains Bicentenary Commission’s sponsorship

Posted by civilsocietyindex on November 19, 2009

The CIVICUS Civil Society Index Project in Chile, coordinated by the Fundación Soles, obtained the sponsorship of the Bicentenary Commission on 13th October 2009. With this recognition, information about the events and activities of the CSI-Chile will also be shared through the communication channels of this governmental committee.

The Bicentenary Commission is the consultant entity that advises the Presidency of the Republic about initiatives which allow the country to achieve the objectives of the commemoration of the 200 years of republican history. The Bicentenary Commission also supports organisations oriented to improving and deepening democracy in Chile.

With this award, the CSI in Chile has therefore been acknowledged as a relevant initiative that strongly supports democratic conditions, citizens’ liberties and social dialogue, in order to advance to a more integrated and just country.

Sponsored by: 

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One World Trust and CIVICUS working together to improve knowledge exchange

Posted by civilsocietyindex on October 30, 2009

The Civil Society Index team is now pleased to be working closely with the One World Trust to better share and disseminate knowledge generated by civil society self-regulatory initiatives, including the findings of the CSI project.


One World Trust

  About the One World Trust

The One World Trust is an independent think tank that conducts research, develops recommendations and advocates for reform to make policy and decision-making processes in global governance more accountable to the people they affect now and in the future, and to ensure that international laws are strengthened and applied equally to all.  To achieve this the OWT develops practical tools and recommendations in support of organisational reform, identifying gaps in the accountability of governance systems, and highlighting opportunities for cross-sector learning.  

Visit the One World Trust’s website at


About the CSO SRI Portal

The One World Trust has launched a portal on civil society self-regulation which includes a database listing over 320 initiatives (codes of conduct, certification schemes, working groups, self-assessments and information services) across 80 countries. Each initiative has a unique page with summaries of its content; contact details; areas and types of activities the initiative addresses; a list of participant organisations; compliance, monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms; among others.

The launch of their database provides the first ever detailed stock-taking of the content and mechanisms of CSO self-regulation worldwide. In addition, the portal offers an interactive map of CSO self-regulatory initiatives linking directly to the database, briefing papers, and the latest news on CSO self-regulation. The portal will be an important tool for civil society organisations, donors, researchers and the general public interested in the self-regulation of the sector.  

Visit the One World Trust’s CSO SRI portal at

Posted in CIVICUS News, General Information, Profiles | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Partner Profile of the Week: Red Nicaragüense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local, Nicaragua

Posted by civilsocietyindex on October 27, 2009


La Red Nicaragüense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local, es un espacio de comunicación e intercambio horizontal de una expresión de la sociedad civil nicaragüense, cuya identidad se construye en un proceso permanente de interacción sobre la base de principios y valores acordados entre sus 54 miembros.

La Red Nicaragüense por la democracia y el desarrollo local es un espacio autónomo integrado por organizaciones de la sociedad civil y personas a título individual, que promuevan de manera articulada e inclusiva el desarrollo local con equidad de género, generacional y pluricultural, de forma participativa y descentralizada.

Sitio web:


The Nicaragua Network for Democracy and Local Development (NNDLD) is a space for communication and horizontal exchange. It exists as an expression of Nicaraguan civil society, whose identity is constructed through a permanent process of interaction around the basic principles and values that have been agreed to by their 54 members.

The Nicaragua Network for Democracy and Local Development (NNDLD) is an autonomous platform made up of civil society organizations and individuals who are working to inclusively and concretely promote local development in the country. This work is done with attention to gender equity and equal representation of all social groups, and in a way that is participative and decentralized.


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Partner Profile of the Week: ZCSD in Zambia

Posted by civilsocietyindex on October 22, 2009

Congratulations to our partners, the Zambian Council for Social Development (ZCSD), who have been enjoying great successes in implementing the CSI in Zambia. Below their profile, you can find some pictures from recent CSI activities undertaken in the country.

zcsd logo

The ZCSD is an umbrella organisation of more than 100 civil society organisations whose main goal is to promote vibrant, independent and well coordinated civil society organisations in the country.

The mission for ZCSD is to promote and facilitate sustainable, social-economic development through collaboration and networking among Non Governmental Organisations, Community based organisations, strategic partners and stakeholders.

The vision for ZCSD is to improve lives for the vulnerable where people are healthy, educated, motivated and empowered to make informed choices.

Since its formation in 1974, ZCSD has aimed at giving support to civil society organisation, networking and strengthening member linkages, advocating and policy work as well as internal capacity building.
To live up to its mission, ZCSD has undertaken activities mainly focused on:

  •  providing relevant information, resources and support to CSOs. The special emphasis on this area is placed on youth and women organisations concerning their rights and ability to effectively and freely operate.
  • Collaboration with CSOs and CBOs. Its emphasis is placed on youth and women organisations in Zambia and in the region. This area has paved way to provide institutional and technical support the Zambia Social Forum and other Social Movements.
  • Building capacity of key CSOs including youth and women organisations in the nine provinces of Zambia to understand and advocate on key policy issues affecting them; and strengthen ZCSD research, popularisation, dissemination and advocacy on relevant policies.
  • As well as well as ensuring that the organisation is recognised as a credible and independent advocacy civil society organisation amongst the national CSOs, INGOs and donors as well as ensuring a professional and competent ZCSD secretariat in terms of staffing, offices and management systems.

On a regional level, ZCSD as a national umbrella body represents Zambian civil society in a number of international and regional bodies most notably the SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC CNGO), lobbying for greater influence for civil society, and tackling important issues such as Human Rights and Good Governance on a regional and national level.

In the field of research, ZCSD is currently conducting a research on the Civil Society Index Project to assess the state of civil society organisations in Zambia through CIVICUS.

Contact information
No 11 Azikiwe Cresent Northmead.
P: Box 32997 Lusaka Zambia
Telefax: +260 211 236219
CSI contacts: Chimfweembe Mweenge (, Lois Kayumba (


Focus groups

At a CSI regional focus group meeting

group photo for the mansa FGM

Group shot of the focus group meeting in Mansa

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Profile of the Week: Malta: The People for Change Foundation

Posted by civilsocietyindex on October 13, 2009


Creating Change for People



Preparing People for Change


Set up in 2007, the People for Change Foundation is structured into six specialized institutes, each of which takes on projects and initiatives within its respective area with a high degree of professionalism owed to the experience of the individuals involved within their areas of expertise.

The People for Change Foundation’s vision is of a just, fair and inclusive society all members of which may reach their full potential unhindered by factors such as age, race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The People for Change Foundation’s mission is to undertake research, advocacy and proactive action to promote social cohesion, respect for Human Rights and empowerment.
Current Projects
The People for Change Foundation is currently involved in a number of projects including:
  • providing asylum seekers with adequate material to be able to acquire assistance and healthcare within Maltese society;  
  • in the area of racism as the national European Network Against Racism coordinating body;  
  • in the area of youth capacity building as a partner in an e-learning project funded by the Council of Europe;  
  • on Overseas Development Aid within the National Platform for Non-Governmental Development Organizations;  
  • and in human rights and citizenship education by providing resources and support on a national level on these topics.  
  • We are also working on policy recommendations in the field of children and the media, children’s participation, national youth policy, racism, health of asylum seekers, human rights education within formal education, and civil society involvement in national fora. 

The Civil Society Index in Malta

Work on the preparation for the Civil Society Index in Malta commenced in 2008 with initial proposals and presentations. The actual implementation of the initiative started in July 2009 following the seed grant provided by CIVICUS. At present, the focus of our work is on the gathering of all the data through the various surveys. Moreover, we are continuously looking for further funding and support for the implementation of the project.

Contact Details

The People for Change Foundation
176, St. Julian’s Str. San Gwann, SGN 2803 Malta
CSI Website:
CSI e-mail:
Contact Number: 00356 27445954

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Partner Profile of the Week: CENPRI, Japan

Posted by tracycivicus on October 6, 2009

japanlogoOSIPP Center for Nonprofit Research and Information (CENPRI) was founded in April 2002 to promote graduate-level education and advanced research on various civil society issues such as NPO/NGOs, volunteering, philanthropy, corporate social responsibilities. The center provides on information Japanese and international civil societies, and publishes research papers and monographs. The center hosts monthly seminars, NPO Research Forum in Osaka and Civil Society Forum in Tokyo, both open to the public. CENPRI has grown to be a global hub center in the Asian Pacific region and promote international research with leading academic institutions overseas. CENPRI also cooperates with JANPORA, Japan NPO Research Association to promote networking of well over a thousand nonprofit and civil society researchers and practitioners, and also to publish the Nonprofit Review, biannual academic journal edited both in Japanese and in English.


Naoto Yamauchi, Ph.D, Professor of Economics, OSIPP, Osaka University


Naoko Okuyama, OSIPP, Osaka University

Midori Matsushima, OSIPP, Osaka University


CIVICUS on the Civil Society Index Project

Israeli Center for Third Sector Research (ICTR), Ben Gurion University of the Negev on comparative research project on policy initiatives for civil society

Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society on Nonprofit Satellite Account Project

National Cheng-Chi University, Taipei, Taiwan on international academic exchange

Office: 1-31 Machikaneyama, Toyonaka, Osaka, 560-0043, Japan



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CSI Partner Profile of the Week: TUSEV from Turkey

Posted by civilsocietyindex on September 28, 2009


Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) was established in 1993 by Turkey’s leading civil society organizations (CSO), and has now grown to a supporting network of over 100 associations and foundations that share a vision of strengthening the legal, fiscal and operational infrastructure of the third (non-profit) sector in Turkey.

Among TUSEV’s main objectives are civil society law reform, research on civil society and philanthropy, promoting social investment and social justice philanthropy, and facilitating partnerships across sectors, as well as across borders. Since its establishment, TUSEV has been a leader in producing literature and policy for the sector’s needs and future, and has played a crucial role in recent reforms concerning civil society laws.

In 2008, the Foundation and its trustees hosted the 19th EFC Annual General Assembly and Conference in Istanbul, which marked the largest international gathering of foundations in the history of Turkey. TUSEV also conducted the CSI National Workshop in June, and is now well on their way to finalizing their reports and the implementation of the CSI in the country for this phase. Congratulations on all of your hard work!

More information on TUSEV is available at, and more information on the CSI implementation in Turkey is available at

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CSI Partner Profile of the Week: GERDDES from Burkina Faso

Posted by civilsocietyindex on September 15, 2009

gerddes logo

Le Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherches sur la Démocratie et le Développement Economique et Social au BURKINA FASO (GERDDES-Burkina) est une section du Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherches sur la Démocratie et le Développement Economique et Social en Afrique (GERDDES Afrique), créé en mai 1990 à la suite d’une rencontre d’un millier d’intellectuels africains, à Cotonou au Bénin, autour de la problématique du bilan de trente années d’indépendance et des perspectives du continent africain en matière de gouvernance démocratique.

Le GERDDES-Afrique est né de la volonté et de l’engagement de ces intellectuels de soutenir les perspectives de réalisation de la démocratie en Afrique. A ce jour, il est représenté dans 25 pays africains dont le Burkina Faso, en France, au Canada et aux Etats Unis d’Amérique.

L’article 2 des statuts stipule que « le GERDDES Burkina a pour ambition de contribuer à éclairer l’opinion publique nationale et internationale, par des analyses sur la paix, la démocratie et le développement » dans le but de contribuer à améliorer la qualité des institutions démocratiques et la capacité des citoyens à jouer un rôle essentiel.

Les objectifs spécifiques que s’est fixé le GERDDES Burkina sont les suivants :

  • contribuer à la prise de mesures pour la promotion et la consolidation de la démocratie pluraliste au Burkina Faso, dans ses dimensions politique, économique et sociale ;
  • aider à promouvoir au Burkina Faso un enseignement et une éducation civique afin de faire entrer les idéaux de démocratie dans les mœurs des populations ;
  • contribuer à la transparence des élections et à la crédibilité des résultats par une observation indépendante des scrutins ;
  • contribuer au développement économique et social à travers une stratégie de promotion de la participation citoyenne des populations au développement, par le biais de la décentralisation ;
  • contribuer au renforcement de la participation de la femme dans le développement économique et social ;
  • entreprendre des initiatives citoyennes pour la prévention des crises/conflits sociaux et politiques et faire de la médiation entre des parties en conflit ;
  • effectuer des études et des recherches sur les différents aspects de la démocratie en vue d’accélérer le développement économique et social ;
  • coopérer avec les organisations nationales et internationales poursuivant les mêmes objectifs

La vision globale de base consiste à oeuvrer à ce que la démocratie, comme système politique contemporain avec ses vertus de respect des droits de l’homme et des libertés, sa capacité de créer les espaces libéraux permettant le développement économique et social, puisse se réaliser au Burkina Faso de manière fonctionnelle. Connaissant toute la sensibilité et la délicatesse de la sphère politique, le GERDDES Burkina va développer une stratégie propre basée sur une approche médiane et conciliatrice.

Au delà de la méthodologie, la démarche stratégique du GERDDES Burkina est une démarche générale de prévention, d’orientation et d’éclairage. Le GERDDES a choisi d’aborder les questions relatives à l’instauration et à l’enracinement de la démocratie, en se plaçant en amont pour étudier et relever les défis à venir, pour identifier les facteurs de risques et prévenir les conflits.

01 BP : 584 Ouagadougou 01
Tél : (226) 31 45 77 /
33 27 05 (B) 33 40 36 (D)
Fax : 31 45 79
Tél/Fax : 30 53 36 / 34 05 29

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