It was in Warsaw, on the 4th and 5th of December, that Civitates’ grantees who have received funds for their work on advancing a ‘strong and resilient society’ came together for the second time. The meeting mainly focused on strenghtening relations across the coalitions, which operate in many different countries. Apart from sharing updates, peer to peer advice and the exploration of possible collaboration, participants also attended an inspiring workshop on hope-based communication and learned more about how to use advocacy to strengthen the space for civil society in Europe. Representatives of some of the foundations that are part of Civitates took part in the meeting as well.
Latest developments and achievements
The first morning started off with participants exchanging views on the latest developments in their respective countries. While it was recognized that many challenges with regard to regulations, governments and other parties are still to overcome, the grantees were able to point to several achievements as well.
Jana Milerova from Glopolis in the Czech Republic for instance shared information about an innovative mechanism that they invented, the so-called Orange Alert. Jana: “We facilitate the distribution of messages prepared by the members of our coalition, based on their expertise and knowledge, to our networks. These are messages on topics that jeopardize democracy and civil society. We have now tested the tool and together with our coalition partners we successfully defended the independence of Czech public TV from anti-liberal political influence. The anti-Semitic candidate to the public service Czech News Agency was not elected in the end.”
One of the representatives of Klon/JaworAssociation in Poland, Dorota Setniewska, was proud to tell how their positive messages enabled them to reach over 2 million people online: “We use different kind of materials, for example short films that we distribute on social media. One of these films is about Polish families inviting refugees for a dinner to celebrate Independence Day together. This film is now even shown in cinema’s, which gives us the opportunity to reach audiences that haven’t heard from us before.”
Hope based communications
One of the issues that many of the grantee partners mentioned being crucial for their work, is ‘communication’. Communication, not only within their coalitions and between their coalition and others but also in terms of the narrative, the wording of their messages. The hope based communications workshop that followed in the afternoon, offered answers. With numerous inspiring and evoking visuals, Thomas Coombes, leading the workshop, shared his vision of the need to make popular what need to be said. Listening to him, it became all very clear: to convince people one needs to change the audiences’ gut feeling. And in order to do so, we need to leave aside the arguments from ‘the other side’ and strengthen the things we stand for. Thomas asked the participants: “What is the most effective talk about the things you hold dear? Ignore what the others are doing and find your own ways. It is very important to have a message that is simple and repeat that on and on, so that it becomes common sense.”
Strengthening civic space using advocacy
On the second day Balázs Dénes, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Union for Europe shared his views on how to use advocacy to strengthen civic space in Europe. Balázs: “There are governments who are sympathetic to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). They see why NGO’s are vital. Others think differently. That is why communication with the public is crucial.” Balázs emphasized that not only the communications staff of NGO’s should know about framing messages as this is just as important to know for advocacy and policy staff. Some other tips that he shared: when offering recommendations to any politician, make sure these are realistic, invest in building constituency and don’t overestimate press conferences and releases as it has turned out to be much more effective to work with one or two selected journalists.
Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in Dublin, then took the floor and continued by using his own country as an example. Liam: “Ireland would be categorized as a country with a reasonable and stable place for NGO’s. We currently sponsor a resolution on the question about civic space and our development policy is used internationally as an example. However we face some problems that are similar in countries with a less supportive government.” One example is that in Ireland foreign funds cannot be used for work with any political purpose. Because this provision is very loosely defined it has been posing a lot of difficulties of civil society. Liam also shared a few takeaways, such as the need to focus on the online sphere and the need for human rights organizations to take the backseat and have community groups come to the front.
Participants also discussed the draft of a civil society policy paper on a framework for a more systematic approach towards the regulation of civil society organizations in the EU. In groups people talked about what the most interesting EU interventions from their collective point of view would be and which further steps should be taken.
Inspired return home
The second meeting day ended with a last Open Space discussion in which some of the topics that had come up in earlier discussions were discussed in more detail. After a last wrap up participants left the meeting, feeling inspired and enthusiastic and taking a lot of information on how to intensify their work for a strong and resilient societyback home.