Making civic space resilient

March 24, 2020

Cordaid and Hivos launch a new report about the resilience of civic actors

In the new report Making civic space resilient, Cordaid and Hivos investigate how people around the world deal with the oppression of their desires and hopes, and how they are able to restore human dignity after it has been violated.

Repression of civic action has found its way onto the political agenda. We see a worrying global trend of laws being proposed curtailing freedoms of civil society organizations. Politicians and cartoonists are threatened, hate speech is increasingly common, and judges and the rule of law are set aside or mocked. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate these trends: global attention for essential human rights is decreasing, and countries and regions are becoming ever more isolationist.

At this critical moment, it is crucial to keep in mind how some people are creating sparks that ignite positive flames. Whether inspired by their artistic talents or their religious motives, they touch people around them, even in the most repressive situations, and collectively transform their societies for the better.

To get a better understanding of their experiences and thoughts, Hivos and Cordaid organized meetings with civic actors and activists in ten countries. Making civic space resilient is a reflection of these meetings and aims to inspire people from different parts of civil society by showing what can be done to increase their space to operate. Sometimes, the people we interviewed tell us, the best way is to silently continue working, keeping your head down. Other times, it is crucial to shout out.


One of the most important lessons we have drawn from the conversations we held is that boldness and sincere involvement are indispensable. This requires long-term support and strategies. Both financially and politically. We have to increase the solidarity and support amongst different organizations, communities and individuals, especially for those affected most, like indigenous groups, women and LGBTI persons.


Hivos and Cordaid cooperate with civil society organizations in more than 35 low and middle-income countries. In 2019, we convened meetings with civic actors in ten countries to discuss the status of civic space. The countries were selected based on requests from organizations in our network, on the availability of a diverse range of civic actors, and on the wish to include countries with very little to moderate civic space.

We interviewed people who know how to deal with backlash and who have ideas on the way forward. We would like to thank them and their organizations, also those who cannot be mentioned by name, for sharing their ideas. Besides all the troubles civil society actors face, which we do not shy away from, we see creativity, humor and resilience. That is what we want to stress in this report. These are characteristics we can all learn from.

Find out more

Making Civic Space Resilient summarizes the main barriers to fully utilizing civic space. The report brings together the recommendations and best practices that were discussed at the meetings. For each of the ten countries, there is a short paper available on the issues and the local context of civic space transformation. Each gives a snap shot of the situation at the end of 2019, which means that more recent developments, such as the NGO oversight law in Guatemala, are not included. The papers will be used in each country to continue the development of a joint proactive strategy to strengthen civic space.