Encourage cooperation among diverse civil society actors

Key Finding:  Strong civil society actors create and leverage their national and international networks to achieve change. Yet human rights actors may lack robust networks with social actors outside the human rights NGO sphere, including youth actors, which limits their ability to have a broader social impact.

Practical Steps

TJ is a social process that requires more than the state and a small group of human rights NGOs to be successful; a wide range of social actors need to be engaged for sustainable results. Yet international assistance to TJ tends to fund a standard list of “professional” NGO activities like workshops, trainings, facilitation, and report-writing or service provision that encourage human rights actors to build relationships primarily with other like-minded NGOs. This comes at the expense of investing in (perhaps political) activities to build a social movement, like community-based outreach and mobilization, which requires building bridges with other social actors, such as religious leaders or those working in the media.

"This year’s public outcry [in February 2014] was really interesting because it was not driven by the NGOs we work with. They weren’t there. That does not imply that the NGOs we work with are bad…it seems like two different worlds…the protests have been an interesting indication of their limitations."

Donor BiH

Building sustainable networks and social capital across borders and social sectors (not just NGOs) is critical. On the international level, successful civil society actors on TJ often have links with international solidarity networks—whether these are human rights INGOs, transnational activist/political movements, religious actors like the Catholic or Anglican church, and so forth. These networks are highly important in countries where civil society is repressed and under threat, as national and international actors can work together to keep international pressure on the local government. They remain important in a transitional period, too, connecting national actors to peers in other countries with experience with TJ to share lessons learned.

On the national level, in many cases human rights and victim organizations seem to be rather isolated. Many human rights organizations have networks mainly with other human rights NGOs. In some cases, these organizations and their professionalized staff might have tenuous links with victims or victim groups. Without creative coalitions that cut across social and professional boundaries, sustained social change is difficult to achieve. In Uganda, one donor expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that they did not see people “in the streets” advocating for TJ—although doing so in Uganda might be dangerous, given the climate for NGOs.

"We are all competing, in a way. We have networks, but struggle in making those networks effective. It is hard to get timely cooperation."

Civil society actor BiH

In recent years, countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Morocco have seen significant social movements, including youth-led movements, that are relatively (or completely) disconnected from TJ and TJ actors. Indeed, in general, relationships between human rights NGOs and youth actors remain strikingly weak, creating gaps in sustainability and legitimacy over time.

Donors can encourage this cross-sectoral collaboration in their funding, but should keep in mind the limits of international influence. In particular, our research found no evidence of sustainable networks that were pure creations of donor funding. Instead of trying to create networks on TJ from scratch, a more sound approach is to support existing and emerging networks already working on TJ-related issues, which are more likely to have deep roots (and legitimacy) in communities.

Practical Steps – Foster cooperation

Develop incentives for cooperation.

Use funding models that incentivize or even require cooperation between local civil society actors (such as joint proposals), rather individualized models that foster competition for scarce funds.

Look beyond the usual grantees.

Seek out new and unlikely local civil society actors on TJ; set aside a proportion of TJ funding for other organizations, rather than the usual suspects.

Invest in existing and issue-based networks.

Support actions that foster existing or emerging networks around issues relevant to local communities (missing persons, for example), rather than trying to “invent” TJ networks for which there may not be a clear constituency.

Focus on international networks and peer-to-peer links.

Support programs that enhance local civil society links with relevant regional/international networks; this may include supporting programs for transnational, peer-to-peer exchange on TJ, where people from other countries advise local civil society actors on TJ processes.

Support neutral brokers.

In divided contexts, support neutral brokers (often international actors) to foster networks among NGOs, victim organizations, etc.