Civil society and the ability to exercise the core civic space freedoms – the freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly – have been under threat for many years. Governments continue to enact laws and regulations that impede the ability of civil society actors – individuals, organizations and movements – to exist and operate. This challenge – often called “closing civic space” – has been the focus of much study and diagnosis. The more complex question, however, is what can be done in response.
In late 2016, the Government of Sweden commissioned the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to propose ways in which Swedish development cooperation could more effectively help counteract shrinking democratic space by strengthening civil society. Sida invited input from some 50 respondents on this and other questions relating to civic space. Informed in part by this input, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) set out to explore what governmental donors can do to address the closing space challenge more effectively. This paper is the result.