Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society

Defending civic space

The Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS) was established in 2016 to develop a strategic funders’ response to the systemic challenge of closing civic space.

Around the world, civic space – the freedom and space for individuals and organisations to share ideas, promote social cohesion, and advance shared interests – is under threat. Activists and civil society organisations face growing legal restrictions, hostile rhetoric in the media or by political actors, new barriers to foreign funding, intimidation, and – in more severe cases – arrest, detention, and even violence. FICS and its partners believe that private philanthropy has an important role to play in helping civil society to resist closing space and in ensuring it continues to operate even if space is closing or closed.


  • In 2019, FICS interviewed 150 funders and civil society representatives to understand the opportunities and threats that will shape civic space in the next ten years.

  • A key finding was that several of the assumptions that have shaped philanthropy’s approach to civic space no longer are now fragile. We had assumed that, despite setbacks, liberal democracy would continue its global advance. Yet the 2010s were characterised by a significant backsliding of democracy and the rule of law, by resurgent Far Right populism, nativist politics, and new religious-right alliances. With this realisation comes the need to predict how these trends will evolve and develop new strategies to defend and expand civic space.

  • Through research, forecasting and convening FICS works to identify strategic opportunities for funders in a world being transformed by on-going threats to democracy, deepening inequality, the impacts of climate change and evolving technology. In this rapidly changing context, we work with a wide range of funders to identify specific – often collaborative – interventions that will be most effective in supporting civic actors to hold vested interests to account and advance alternative visions for the future.


With thanks to: American Jewish World Service, Arcus Foundation, Ariadne Asfari Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders, Ford Foundation, Fund for Global Human Rights, Human Rights Funders Network, Mama Cash, Oak Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Wallace Global Fund for their support to FICS.

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