FACT SHEET: U.S. Support for Civil Society
In September 2013, President Obama launched Stand with Civil Society, a global call to action to support, defend, and sustain civil society amid a rising tide of restrictions on its operations globally. Working in partnership with other governments, the philanthropic community, and multilateral initiatives, including the Community of Democracies and Lifeline: Embattled CSO Assistance Fund, the United States Government has focused on three lines of effort over the past year: (1) promoting laws, policies, and practices that foster a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms; (2) coordinating multilateral, diplomatic pressure to push back against undue restrictions on civil society; and (3) identifying innovative ways of providing technical, financial, and logistical support to promote a transparent and vibrant civil society. The United States is the largest supporter of civil society in the world, with more than $2.7 billion invested to strengthen civil society since 2010.
Today, President Obama deepened the United States’ commitment to Stand with Civil Society by issuing a Presidential Memorandum to U.S. agencies engaged abroad. Specifically, the Presidential Memorandum directs U.S. agencies to defend and strengthen civil society abroad by: consulting regularly with civil society organizations to explain the views of the United States, seek their perspectives, utilize their expertise, and build strong partnerships to address joint challenges; resisting efforts by foreign governments to dictate the nature of U.S. assistance to civil society, the selection of individuals or entities to implement U.S. Government programs, or the selection of recipients or beneficiaries of those programs; opposing efforts by foreign governments to impose excessive restrictions on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association; and creating greater opportunities for exchange and dialogue between governments and civil society. Through this directive, the President is mobilizing the U.S. Government to address the global crackdown on civil society.
The President also announced a new, groundbreaking initiative to support and connect civil society across the globe through the launch of Regional Civil Society Innovation Centers, in partnership with the Government of Sweden and the Aga Khan Development Network. Over the next two years, up to six networked Regional Civil Society Innovation Centers will be created worldwide. These Centers will connect civil society organizations at the regional and global level to each other, new partners, and resources; encourage peer-to-peer learning; provide civil society organizations and their networks with virtual and physical platforms to access tools and technologies that will bolster their work; and amplify civil society voices around the world. Civil society organizations, academia, and technology partners will provide additional financial and in-kind resources, as well as technical expertise, to enhance the value of the Centers to civil society.
The Administration is committing additional resources and taking new actions – in partnership with other governments, regional and multilateral institutions and bodies, the philanthropy community, and the private sector – to expand the space for civil society around the world and advance the Stand with Civil Society Agenda:
- Providing core funding for the Community of Democracies (CD). The United States will provide $3 million over three years in core funding to CD to strengthen the architecture for global diplomatic action when governments are considering new laws, regulations, or administrative measures that restrict civil society in a manner inconsistent with their international obligations and commitments, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Financial Action Task Force. This funding will also help CD in its efforts to repeal or reform excessive restrictions on civil society through expert consultations and dialogue with civil society representatives from repressive environments.
- Operationalizing CD-UNITED (Using New Investments to Empower Democracy). The United States is supporting a groundbreaking effort that enables governments and organizations in CD to pool resources and co-finance projects that strengthen civil society and democracy worldwide. From training women activists in Central Asia to helping citizens and the media monitor elections in North Africa, CD-UNITED is making it easy for donors to team up and provide multilateral funding that supports civic engagement and citizen action. The new core funding for CD from the United States will allow CD-UNITED to build civil society partnerships and projects with courageous organizations in more countries around the world.
- Expanding the Legal Enabling Environment Program (LEEP). An increasing number of governments are inhibiting the free operation of civil society and cutting off civil society organizations’ ability to receive funding from legitimate sources. In some cases, these restrictions arise out of the implementation of laws, regulations, and administrative measures that are being inappropriately applied; in other cases, the laws, regulations, and administrative measures are themselves problematic. The U.S. Government will expand the LEEP program, which is implemented by International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), to further strengthen legal and regulatory environments for civil society by providing technical assistance, financial support to partner organizations, training, and expert research to mitigate restrictions on civil society.
- Coordinating with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to support civic participation and making government more responsive, effective, and accountable. OGP’s 64 participating countries represent one-third of the world’s population and have made more than 2,000 open government reform commitments since 2011. OGP National Action Plans (NAPs), developed through consultations between government and civil society, commit to advance transparency, accountability, citizen engagement, and technological innovation for good governance. The United States consulted with the general public, a broad range of civil society stakeholders, academia, and the private sector in developing its first two National Action Plans in 2011 and 2013. Globally, the United States works with participating countries to deepen engagement with civil society organizations to improve good governance in key thematic areas, such as the environment, health and education. The United States strongly supports the development of OGP’s Rapid Response Policy to respond when participating countries do not fulfill their commitments to inclusive governance.
- Consulting with civil society. Over the past year, the U.S. Government has held public and private consultations with civil society organizations to explore new approaches and partnerships around civil society sustainability and civic space. Consultations included a Partners’ Forum in June on “The Challenge of Closing Space” and the Civil Society Forum of the African Leaders Summit in August. Most recently, in September, the Asia Civil Society Experience Summit in Indonesia (co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme and others) brought together over 150 participants from civil society, government, and the private sector from 21 countries across Asia. A joint statement by participating civil society organizations called on civil society to leverage information and communication technologies to strengthen regional coalitions; called on the international community to improve donor coordination and promote innovative partnerships with non-traditional actors; and called for civil society and international partners to engage local governments to collaborate with civil society to solve community problems.
- Enhancing efforts with other governments and within intergovernmental bodies to protect civil society while combating terrorist activity. The United States is committed to working with relevant institutions and bodies, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to implement laws on combating terrorist financing while working to protect the legitimate activities of civil society organizations from being disrupted. For example, the United States has worked closely with the FATF over the past year to increase engagement with civil society, including in the development of the FATF Non-Profit Organization Typology Report, and supports the inclusion of civil society during the important FATF anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance country assessment process. In the coming year, the Administration will continue to work with the FATF and seek continued consultation with the private sector to revise the FATF Best Practices on protecting non-profit organizations from abuse by terrorist organizations.
- Expanding assistance to Lifeline: Embattled CSOs Assistance Fund. The Administration will contribute an additional $2 million to Lifeline, a multilateral initiative in which the United States participates. This builds on the $5 million that has been provided to date. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Norway have also renewed their financial commitments to Lifeline. This funding will augment emergency assistance available to civil society organizations under threat and deliver more coordinated diplomatic engagement in priority countries. Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 446 civil society organizations in 85 countries.
- Developing the Next Generation of Civil Society through the establishment of an Asian Civil Society and Non-Profit Management Curriculum Program. The U.S. Government is partnering with Khon Kaen University in Thailand to establish Southeast Asia’s first School for Civil Society and Non-profit Management. This program will allow 140 university students per year, as well as 40 civil society leaders from throughout the Mekong Lower Basin, to complete a degree or certificate program that builds their non-profit management skills. Over the next three years, the University will develop Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs as well as executive certification (non-degree) programs, and will serve as a regional hub for coordination, best practice exchange, and networking among civil society leaders.
- Emerging Global Leaders Initiative: Atlas Corps Fellows. The United States Government and Atlas Corps will partner to bring 100 of the world’s best social change leaders to the United States on a leadership development fellowship, each ranging from 6-18 months. As part of the program, Atlas Corps will convene fellows three times in Washington, D.C. for leadership training and place them at leading civil society organizations across the United States.