Supporting Civil Society in Acute Crises

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Whenever a violent crisis gains international attention, ​supporting civil society’ is among the few prescriptions that Western publics and policymakers easily agree on. Rightly so, since fostering more inclusive governance is an important element of peacebuilding and civil society actors are key to holding their governments to account. However, support to civil society actors in acute crises has rarely lived up to its promises.

Donors have often failed to understand the diversity of local civil society and misjudged the importance of different civil society players in shaping the dynamics of a crisis and the way to peace. While outside support has been critically important to many civil societies, a common lack of strategic direction on the part of donors has limited its effectiveness toward better governance, greater stability or peace.

These findings and resulting policy recommendations are based on an analysis of the impact of donor support to civil society actors in four recent crisis settings: Belarus, Sudan, Lebanon, and Mali. In addition to the academic case study literature and publicly available sources, this study is based on almost 100 interviews with donor organization officials, civil society actors and experts across the four country contexts.

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