One month in, 2014 is shaping up to be a landmark year for civil society. Last September on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama brought together leaders from dozens of governments along with representatives of international organizations, civil society groups, and the philanthropic community. Together, they launched an unprecedented campaign to support, defend and sustain the work of civil society organizations worldwide. Partners from every continent have come together over the last few months to follow up on this commitment and take action on three big priorities that we’re calling the “Stand with Civil Society” agenda. First, we’re trying to improve the policy environment for civil society organizations. Civil society groups exist as part of a larger civic ecosystem. In order to flourish, they need good rules and laws that protect basic human rights and keep the ecosystem healthy. Second, we’re coordinating diplomatic action when governments crack down on civil society. Leaders that try to silence citizens need to know that they’ll face consequences in the international community. Finally, we’re partnering with civic innovators to develop new tools that will assist civil society organizations in their work.
We’re excited and encouraged that amazing organizations are coming together to support these efforts. For example, through the Open Government Partnership, participating governments in over 60 countries engage with civil society to develop and implement concrete commitments aimed at increasing government transparency. The Community of Democracies (CD) is coordinating diplomatic action when governments consider laws that restrict the work of civil society organizations. Over the next few months, the CD will also hold TechCamps to provide CSOs with low-cost, high-impact technologies that can make their work more effective. Participants will come up with new ideas for how to advance the Stand with Civil Society agenda and strengthen the role of civil society in the Community of Democracies. Philanthropic foundations are joining these efforts as well and developing networks and knowhow to assist CSOs in navigating the civic landscape of the 21st century.
Supporting civil society not only contributes to progress on issues such as human rights and combating corruption. Ultimately, by coming together with civil society, we build the trust and the social capital that’s essential to solving almost every major challenge in the world today. It doesn’t matter where we live or what our communities look like, we need civil society to make them better. President Obama has agreed to hold another meeting on civil society at the UN General Assembly this fall. In the run-up, we hope you’ll join us and millions of others around the world in standing with civil society.