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Funders Initiative for Civil Society

Defending and expanding civic space

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  • Source: Pexels, Ryutaro Tsukata, People walking on spacious concrete square, August 25, 2020
  • Source: Shutterstock, Sharon Photo, Octagon Shape building inner court
What is FICS?

The Funders Initiative for Civil Society brings funders together to tackle the problem of shrinking civic space.

FICS provides analysis on what is driving the attacks on civic space, tests strategic interventions, and seeks to motivate the funding community to move more resources to rights-based movements and their allies on the frontline.

Source: Shutterstock, Jessica Girvan, Protesters at a KILL THE BILL protest, London, UK, May 1, 2021

Source: Shutterstock, Jessica Girvan, Protesters at an anti-PCSC bill protest in London, May 1, 2021

Source: Shutterstock, SGr, Soldiers marching in parade

Source: Shutterstock, SGr, Soldiers marching in parade
Civic Space is
under attack

Civic space – the physical and virtual places where people can come together freely, and speak and create without fear – is one of humanity’s most precious assets. But governments on every continent are making concerted attacks on freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, and they are doing this with extraordinary momentum and little joined up scrutiny. Anti-rights groups are adding to this repression and further constricting the space for action.

This shrinking of civic space is happening at exactly the point we need it more than ever. If we are to tackle the enormous crises humanity faces, from irreversible climate change to the economic and social inequalities that are pulling societies apart, we must expand civic space. Then people will be able to come together freely, work out the answers to our problems and create better futures for us all.

Source: Youtube, Poonam Joshi, November 9, 2021
#OnWhatMatters: Hilary Pennington talks with Poonam Joshi

Watch our Director Poonam Joshi discuss shrinking civic space for the #OnWhatMatters series.
Source: Unsplash, Matt Palmer, Ice break up in the ocean, Antartica, June 23, 2021
Climate, civic space and philanthropy

Environment defenders are facing increasing restrictions on their ability to organise.
Source: Shutterstock, Marcin Jóźwiak, Aerial view of distribution center
How can we defend and expand civic space?

People organising in on and offline civic spaces have been integral to almost every progressive political and social ...
Time to push

FICS believes that the funding community has a special role to play in enabling progressive movements to step back and view the drivers of this repression, and then develop strategies to resist it.

FICS is bringing resources and energy to new collaborations between groups on the frontline resisting government repression, those monitoring rights violations who have a bird’s-eye view, and those positioned to advocate at transnational level. We produce analysis which looks at the trends and possible openings in the contest over civic space, and we are testing and incubating strategic interventions with partners that may disrupt the forces which are trampling on civil society’s freedoms.

Source: Shutterstock, Julian Leshay, Protect Black Women and Girls Banner, New York, USA, July 26, 2020

Source: Shutterstock, Julian Leshay, Protect Black Women and Girls Banner, New York, USA, July 26, 2020
  • Source: Shutterstock, 100 Words, Anti government protestors push shields of riot police during rally, Bangkok, Thailand, November 24, 2021
  • Source: Pexels, Yew Hui Tan, Red Balloon on Green Grass Field, July 03, 2021

There has been recognition for some time that counter-terrorism laws and frameworks instituted over the last two decades have failed to adequately build in human rights protections. It has also been observed that many governments have used the pre-emptive terrorism mandate to repress all kinds of opponents, and have in particular created hostile environments for NGOs, activists and social movements. Populists, including far right and religious right groups, have seized on and amplified fear and hate narratives that support their agendas. And private business has benefitted as those who would challenge them face repression.

But the response to this from the international community, including funders, has tended to be a ‘downstream’ one of assistance and spotlighting of human rights defenders when they are already facing arrest and worse.

At FICS we recognise that progressive social movements need space and time to strategise and build resistance to the attack on their organising spaces. We hope to enable these movements and their allies, including the funding community, to find the best ways to tackle not only the downstream harassment, arrests and abuse of civil society, but its upstream drivers. We seek to motivate the funding community to move more resources to rights-based movements for this task. We believe networking and collaboration here are key.

Rethinking Civic Space

FICS spoke to more than 150 civil society representatives and funders working across the globe on human rights, equalities, climate change, land rights, corporate power and technological threats, to develop a unique analysis of the systemic drivers of shrinking civic space.

Our analysis, Rethinking Civic Space, lays out how the abuse of counter-terrorism laws and policy, intertwined with increasingly concentrated economic power and threats to democracy and pluralism from regressive political forces has put the shrinking of civic space on a full force trajectory.

FICS concludes that – responding only after activists are under attack is not enough. Civil society organisations urgently need resources to disrupt over-reaching security frameworks, create narratives which value pluralism and equality, and hold economic power in check.

Explore more
Source: Shutterstock, Alexandros Michailidis, Flags of UN and EU stand in European council Building, Belgium, May 15, 2018
Counter-terrorism policies are cutting off civil society’s access to resources

Expert Submission to UN Special Rapporteur, based on new research with funders and Civil Society Organisations, finds counter-terrorism ...
Source: Shutterstock, 100 Words, Anti government protestors push shields of riot police, Bangkok, Thailand, November 24 2012
FICS report reveals proliferation of agencies influencing counter-terrorism

Expert authors pinpoint drivers of human rights violations and call for radical change in funder approaches.
Source: Shutterstock, Merania, Street Artist
Being bold about futures-thinking

At the October 2021 EDGE Funders Alliance annual conference, FICS Director Poonam Joshi was among the keynote speakers ...
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