CIVICUS World Assembly: Discussing Key Issues for Civil Society


The ACTION Support Team attended the CIVICUS World Assembly on 24 November at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Participants shared experiences and ideas around key issues for civil society, such as an enabling environment, accountability, capacity development, civic participation and advocacy on the Post 2015 agenda.

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg. The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

The event gathered around 500 activists, participants and panelists engaged on many topics, and one of the key questions was: How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilizes the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

There was a common sense that there is limited solidarity amongst CSOs in South Africa. On this particular point, participants suggested that it is important to promote cooperation between CSOs locally, as well as globally.

Another point highlighted by Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) was that bureaucracy required by donors and funders to have access to grants sometimes leave some NGOs stranded, as they lack skills and capacities, for instance to make proposals, amongst other things.

There was a brilliant presentation by Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, about her inspirational story of resistance against her country’s unjust autocracy. From her experience lessons could be drawn such as unapologetic activism, resilience and determination.

Navi Pillay also made an outstanding presentation on the issue of human rights. It is important to note that Navi Pillay was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to August 2014. Her experience and insight on the issue of human rights at the local level and on the international stage are inspirational and influential in deepening activists’ culture of human rights.

The lesson learnt from this gathering was summed up in Rilli Lappalainen’s, (Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform) statement: “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens”

This event was rich of experience and global insight on human rights activism, and the ACTION Support Centre appreciated the opportunity to have participated in this event.