Hivos co-leads landmark EU partnership to support civil society globally

June 13, 2024

On June 12 the European Union and nine civil society organizations (CSOs) including Hivos signed a new €50 million program funded by the EU to support civil society: the EU System for an Enabling Environment for Civil Society (EU SEE). Hivos is an integral part of this initiative, leading one of its two main components.

The system aims to prevent efforts to restrict civic space and shut down CSOs in 86 countries. This means protecting and expanding the space for citizens and organizations to form associations, organize, and express their views freely.

“Around the world, Hivos supports grassroots leaders who want to change their societies for the better. But increasingly, powerful interests try to shut them down through harassment, violence and even imprisonment. That’s why the EU SEE initiative is so important,” said Hivos CEO Anne Jellema.

Civil society is under pressure everywhere

Governments are cracking down more and more on freedom of expression, protests against systemic injustices, and efforts to defend human rights. Not only in countries led by authoritarian governments, but in established democracies as well.

From repressive laws that cut off civil society funding to administrative red tape, CSOs are forced to cease operating or are excluded from decision-making processes. In some cases, such as LGBTIQ+ persons and organizations, draconian legislation puts them at existential risk.

Monitoring early warning signs and funding the response

EU SEE is an innovative two-pronged response to these challenges.

The component led by Hivos coordinates national, regional and global civil society networks in 86 countries that watch for and report on early warning signs of changes in civic space. They specifically monitor local laws and administrative practices as well as the digital and media environments in which CSOs work. Their alerts and reports are gathered on a platform where they are verified by the implementing CSOs and the EU to facilitate timely (advocacy) responses.

The other component, led by Oxfam Novib, acts on these alerts and facilitates grants and solidarity networks for CSOs most impacted, especially those representing groups that typically have trouble accessing financial support. This assistance can help local organizations mount campaigns or strengthen their internal systems to withstand threats to their operations.

For more details on EU SEE monitoring and financial support, see our program page.

EU SEE signing ceremony
European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen and Anne Jellema (CEO Hivos) sign new partnership. Photo: European Union

EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said: “Civil society is a key partner for the European Union in delivering sustainable impact for communities through EU external action. With civil society partners, we promote democratic civic space, which is essential for the successful roll-out of our Global Gateway investment strategy. I am proud that we can launch together the new EU System for an Enabling Environment for Civil Society programme. It will help civil society to monitor potential restrictions on civic space, raise the alarm and respond proactively to threats to democracy.”

Who’s involved

The EU SEE system supports diverse local representatives of marginalized communities, particularly self-led groups or organizations located outside of major cities. It focuses on rightsholders such as women, youth, BIPOC, LGBTIQ+ people, Indigenous communities, and environmental defenders.

We and our fellow implementing partners have a wealth of experience monitoring, protecting and strengthening civic space with in over 190 countries. Together with Hivos, the organizations implementing EU SEE are: CIVICUS, Democracy Reporting International, European Partnership for Democracy, Forus, Oxfam Novib, Protection International, Transparency International and Urgent Action Fund – Latin America and the Caribbean (UAF-LAC).

EU SEE is part of the EU’s Global Europe Civil Society Organisations program. It complements and supports the work done by EU Delegations in partner countries.

Find out more about Hivos’ work supporting civic rights.