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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

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 the operations of civil society organizations (CSOs) amid a rising tide of restrictions 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 is focused on three lines of effort: (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 $3.2 billion invested in strengthening civil society since 2010.

The Administration is committing additional resources and working – in partnership with other governments, regional and multilateral institutions and bodies, the philanthropy community, and the private sector – to protect and promote freedom of association and assembly; expand the space for civil society around the world; and advance the Stand with Civil Society Agenda, through the following areas:

  • Presidency of the Community of Democracies (CD).  In July 2015, the CD Governing Council elected the United States to hold the CD presidency for the 2015-2017 term.  The CD is a key partner in United States’ efforts to build multilateral support for democracy and open civic space.  The United States has canvassed other members of the Governing Council for their priorities for the Community’s next two years and will use the two-year term to expand the Community’s efforts to combat excessive restrictions on civil society through diplomatic outreach, expert consultations, and dialogue with civil society.  The United States will also, with assistance from other CD governments, work to increase the CD’s ability to support and coordinate the efforts of democratic governments in multilateral bodies such as the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
  • Supporting Cooperation between Governments and Civil Society through CD-UNITED (Using New Investments to Empower Democracy).  The United States is continuing to support the CD’s groundbreaking effort to support targeted, action-oriented initiatives aimed at promoting and protecting democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms around the world.  CD-UNITED is designed to encourage and expand the number of donors supporting democracy and human rights work by enabling governments and civil society organizations to easily pool resources and co-finance projects. 
  • Continued 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 $7 million that the United States has provided to date.  Estonia, Latvia, the Netherlands, and Norway have also renewed their financial commitments to Lifeline, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg joined this year.  This funding will augment emergency assistance for civil society organizations under threat, as well as for advocacy initiatives focused on civic space.  Since its founding in 2011, Lifeline has assisted 672 civil society organizations in 94 countries.
  • The Civil Society Innovation Initiative (CSII), announced in September 2014, is a groundbreaking effort to support and connect civil society in open, closing, and closed environments for the operation and programs of civil society, by fostering a network of demand-driven civil society innovation hubs that encourage cooperation, innovation, research, learning, and peer-to-peer exchanges. 
    • Hubs Partnerships: U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) fostered a co-creation process to ensure that civil society is an active partner in the design process of the hubs. This has featured a series of co-design workshops around the world with regional and national CSO leaders, coupled with stakeholder analysis that has mapped civil society’s needs, existing networks, and resources in each region.  Regional Hub blueprints will detail key elements of design, including stakeholders, services, and governance, as well as establishment of a robust community of practice that will provide a strong foundation for Hub development and gathering real-time evidence on threats to civil society.  USAID and Sida have been pleased to be collaborating with the Aga Khan Development Network and the Open Society Foundations on this multi-donor partnership.
    • Civil Society Research and Mapping:  As part of the CSII process, CIVICUS has produced the most comprehensive and up-to-date database of civil society opinions on civic space issues.  New CSII reports synthesize the findings of research from thousands of key activists in six regions on what they identify as being the most important challenges and opportunities facing civil society, and maps the key actors that are helping to protect civic space and strengthen civil society globally. 
  • Real-time Legal Assistance to Civil Society through the Legal Enabling Environment Program (LEEP):  Under the expanded LEEP program, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) enhanced legal protection of civil society’s rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression and has become one of the most utilized tools by civil society, legislatures, and governments to improve the enabling environment for civil society globally.  Over the past year, the LEEP program provided technical assistance in 19 countries.  Over the next year, LEEP will continue to rapidly respond to cases where restrictive laws are proposed, track and report on closing space for civil society, and build capacity of local lawyers to improve their CSO legal enabling environments.  
  • Emerging Global Leaders Initiative (EGLI): Atlas Corps Fellows. Since the announcement of EGLI in September 2014, 77 of the world’s best social change leaders have come to the United States on a leadership development fellowship, each ranging from 6-18 months. As part of the program, fellows convene three times in Washington, D.C. for leadership training and placement at leading civil society organizations across the United States.
  • Presidential Memorandum directs U.S. agencies to defend and strengthen civil society abroad by:  consulting regularly with civil society organizations, seeking their perspectives, utilizing their expertise, and building strong partnerships to address joint challenges; opposing efforts by foreign governments to impose 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 U.S. Government is expanding public and private consultations with civil society organizations to explore new approaches and partnerships around civil society sustainability.
  • Facilitating global philanthropy by U.S. private foundations. The U.S. Government is facilitating international grantmaking by U.S. foundations.  U.S. tax laws generally require a foundation to use certain detailed and sometimes costly procedures when making grants to foreign organizations, unless the foundation determines that the foreign grantee is equivalent to a U.S. public charity.  Under new tax rules, foundations may rely on advice from an expanded class of tax advisors, including qualified in-house counsel, in making the determination, and they generally can rely on that advice for up to two years.  Similar proposed rules issued in 2012 spurred the creation of cost saving options for U.S. foundations seeking advice in making these tax determinations.  Finalizing these rules is expected to enable foundations to engage in international philanthropy in a more cost-effective manner, while still promoting tax compliance.
  • Enhancing efforts with other governments and within intergovernmental bodies to protect non-profits 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 important laws on combating terrorist financing while working to protect the legitimate activities of non-profits from being disrupted.  For example, the United States has worked closely with the FATF over the past several years to increase engagement with civil society, including publishing an assessment of the terrorist financing vulnerabilities facing the non-profit sector and updated best practices to mitigate such threats using a risk-based approach while, at the same time, respecting the legitimate activities of non-profits.  The U.S. will continue to support regular FATF engagement with the non-profit sector and the inclusion of non-profits during the FATF anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance country assessment process. 
  • Continue to lead by example in the Open Government Partnership (OGP).  The United States is leading by example in OGP by seeking ways to expand U.S. Government engagement with U.S.-based civil society organizations to develop and implement the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, and we will continue to coordinate with our government partners and the OGP civil society chairs on international open government priorities.  As a founding member of OGP and member of the OGP Steering Committee, the United States remains committed to leading by example and work with participating countries to advance transparency, accountability, citizen engagement, and technological innovation for good governance. We commit to promoting transparent and accountable implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals globally, and joined other OGP Steering Committee members in signing the Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development declaration