In the context of increasing threats to democracy and the shrinking of the civic space, it is crucial for civil society organisations (CSOs) to sustain their role as key actors in driving development. Collaboration is essential in that regard.
That was the main focus of the last panel discussion during the maiden West Africa Civil Society Week that took place on the 31st of August 2023, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Spanning three days, the event gathered multiple civil society leaders from a wide range of countries, and working on a variety of issues pertaining to development.
It was a wonderful opportunity to engage in important and thought-provoking conversations around the third sector’s evolving role in a context marked by regional political instability, threats to democracy and rising restrictions of the civic space. Alongside these discussions, the participants were also invited to help chart a way forward for a more robust civil society sector.
This last panel was specifically dedicated to a reflection on the progress made by the Civic Space Resource Hub project, regarding its main mission of strengthening the operational capacities of CSOs and their institutional resilience, as well as exploring practical steps and strategies for greater reach and impact.
The discussion was led by Charles Vandyck, with participants such as Ms. Tsema Ede, Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh, Ms. Diana Amabelle Nwakanma, Ms. Omolara Balogun, and Mr. Jerry Sam.
First of all, the importance of strengthening partnerships between CSOs has been largely stressed and emphasised by all the panelists.
This implies the promotion of a culture of knowledge sharing between CSOs of different kinds, whether it’d be generational, or thematic-based. In fact, engaging in technical exchanges of capacities and skills should form a core aspect of CSOs ways of working, as they are not lacking in resources and expertise. Actually, leveraging on these diverse strengths through sharing knowledge will only prove to be more beneficial to the sector as a whole.
This idea also came into play as the panelists discussed the CSR Hub’s reach and impact. Obviously, it cannot reach every single CSO as it is tailored to civic space protection, governance and regulatory compliance, digital security and protection, and resource mobilisation. Nevertheless, peer learning is a great way and an opportunity for CSOs who have received training for example, to share their learnings with others, who may not have benefitted from it.
Another thing to note is the importance of developing and building relationships with CSOs across borders and countries, given the ever-growing interconnectedness of the main challenges plaguing the region. As Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh, the executive director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, so eloquently said,
“Increasingly, our problems are not local. Even the ones that are local or national are replicated country to country. (…) So there’s a great deal of opportunity there, and as the recent developments in the region have shown, our problems are very regional. So we can think locally, but we should be thinking about acting regionally.”
Fortunately, this increased collaboration is made possible by technology.
Indeed, harnessing the power of technology is another way to strengthen the civil society sector.
Given the ubiquitous nature of technology tools today, its importance in the sector cannot be overstated. That is why one of the CSR-Hub’s core missions is to help CSOs improve their digital resilience.
Undoubtedly, technology has an immense transformative power, in shaping civic engagement and democratic consolidation. Over the recent years, we have observed the rise of advocacy initiatives on social media platforms, through the use and spread of hashtags to raise awareness on issues, such as the end sars and fix the country campaigns in Nigeria and Ghana.
However, it is key that we adapt it to our context, so that it can adequately address our needs, whilst also making sure we maximise its potential in helping us to safely navigate government surveillance, embrace open source solutions, and prioritise digital security, for greater effectiveness.
Finally, a thread that has been recurrent all throughout the conversations during this week is the importance of grassroots communities and their involvement in development initiatives.
Since the communities at the grassroots level are at the forefronts, they should be heard and included in the process of curating solutions to the challenges they are facing. According to Ms. Diana Amabelle Nwakanma, the director of programmes at Leap Africa, “It is about being intentional about going to where they are and including them in your designing and your planning, your projects, your interventions, your initiatives. You should take into account the people that are most in need of what you’re trying to offer. How you ensure that they’re included and you’re reaching them is really using the inputs, the perspectives, the feedback that you’re getting at that level, to inform your work. And it should always be a participatory process.”
All in all, the West Africa Civil Society Week offered a platform for civic space actors to reflect and explore solutions to the many challenges it is facing. It is now more than ever necessary for all CSOs across the region to prioritise collaboration and knowledge sharing, following a “shared north star”.
To learn more about the CSR-Hub, click here.