Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society

Defending and expanding civic space

Around the world, the space for citizens and civil society organisations to be able to organise, participate and communicate freely is under threat.  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.

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. We found:

  • The 2020s will be a decade of intensifying economic and social inequality, rising populism and authoritarianism combined with a growing ecological crisis, the prospect of irreversible climate change and the proliferation of new technologies including “artificial intelligence” (AI) controlled or abused by malign actors.

  • Concern about these crises is also creating unprecedented opportunities to reform political systems, economics and societies in ways that could strengthen democracy, human rights, social justice and protect the environment.

  • Progressive civic actors are ready to lead and shape those reforms but many are limited by restrictive laws, surveillance, harassment, smear attacks, criminalisation and physical attacks.

  • Keeping their civic space will require us to tackle the underlying drivers of closing civic space – from the use of counter terrorism laws to criminalise activists, and the rise of far right and religious right movements with an anti-rights agenda to reducing the ability of economic actors to unduly influence politics or target and restrict civic actors.


  • Throughout 2020, we will be working to identify the strategic and collaborative interventions that will disrupt the key drivers of closing civic space;

  • Building a community of funders willing to resource these intervention together and at scale

  • Influencing philanthropy to support a collaborative and cross movement approach to keeping civic space open.

FICS is grateful for the support and partnership of funders and networks, including: American Jewish World Service, Arcus Foundation, Ariadne: European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, 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, and Wallace Global Fund.

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