On September 8-10, 2014, an Asia Regional Civil Society Experience Summit was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Summit brought together more than 96 civil society leaders working in 21 Asian countries and jurisdictions to meet, share experiences, and discuss best practices on how civil society, the international community and governments can build better development partnerships. The Summit was held in response to the Stand with Civil Society agenda that emerged from the roundtable chaired by President Barack Obama and Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson at the United Nations General Assembly of 2013, and was co-convened by The Asia Foundation, Kemitraan, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Summit participants acknowledged civil society’s important roles to promote democracy through inclusive and participatory advocacy for all; monitor and evaluate governments’ performance and hold them accountable; provide services to local populations; and educate the public on policies, laws, and rights. Participants also highlighted the leading sectors in which Asian civil society work, which include efforts to strengthen civil society, improve governance and support decentralization, promote and protect human rights, especially for vulnerable and marginalized populations, promote conflict prevention and social cohesion, increase access to justice and strengthen rule of law, and engage media to enhance information dissemination and access. This statement gives voice to the challenges that Asian civil society encounters as well as actions that civil society, governments, and the international community can jointly undertake to support and empower Asian civil society in achieving above-mentioned efforts Summit participants established the most urgent and important challenges for Asian civil society including:
- Lack of understanding and appreciation by many governments of the role of civil society and adherence to a rights-based approach: State actors often lack knowledge and awareness about the role of civil society and are often unappreciative of how CSOs can contribute to service delivery and promote inclusion and participation of the public in determining policies and laws, as well as human rights.
- Lack of political will and incentives for change by some state actors: Despite clear evidence of a role for civil society, some state actors remain resistant to change. There is limited or no incentive and accountability structure to motivate change agents.
- Restrictive legal and regulatory environment: Some governments have highly restrictive or no mechanism for civil society to form and operate. Freedom of expression, association and assembly are either not respected or observed.
- Limited engagement with regional and global partners: CSOs are often isolated and constrained within their country context. Nascent organizations are not aware of similar organizations and/or change agents at the regional or global context. Due to this isolation local civil society organizations are unable to partake in international dialogues, share best practices and lessons learned, and coordinate strategies and mobilization.
- Limited use and understanding of innovation and usage of new technologies: Promoting the acceptance and adoption of new innovative approaches that leverage new communication, networking and market-based technology that complement tested traditional approaches in order to promote dialogue and development solutions that benefit all sectors. These efforts are further challenged by the lack of legal, economic and financial policy frameworks that allow the creation of enabling places where governments, private and the academic sectors can partner to empower all citizens in an inclusive, participatory and transparent manner.
- Inadequate resources and support: CSO sustainability is threatened by the lack of stable sources of income. Without financial stability, CSOs are limited in their capacity to retain staff, maintain programs and strengthen existing networks and partnerships.
In response to these challenges, participants call on civil society, governments and the international community to act on the following essential issues: 1. Build an enabling environment for civil society: All governments should build an enabling legal, social, and economic environment in which diverse societies can grow and flourish. Human rights defenders should be allowed to work for the vulnerable communities without fear or intimidation. Civil society and the international community should engage and demonstrate to regional, national and local governments the vital role of civil society, build safe meaningful and inclusive mechanisms through which civil society can engage state actors. 2. Promote innovative partnerships with diverse actors and change agents: All governments should recognize and engage civil society as a trusted development partner. Modalities of engagement should be revised and broadened to be inclusive of the whole diverse range of civil society as well as other actors such as the private sector. 3. Leverage information and communication technologies to build and strengthen local and regional networks: Civil society and the international community can utilize online and telecommunication technologies to strengthen coordination and build virtual communities of practice to share information, data, best practices, lessons learned, and contribute each organization’s strength to the community as a whole. Importantly the virtual communities can serve as a communication nexus where civil society will further engage academic institutions, think tanks, and the international community on policy and strategic discourse. 4. Explore innovative means to provide technical, institutional, and financial support to civil society: The international community should improve donor coordination and explore novel approaches to support the development of civil society, including local CSOs and subnational, national and regional CSO networks, which play an important role in strengthening civil society. Sustainability of CSOs can be improved by promoting combined donor granting, philanthropy, and social business income generating models. 5. Build and strengthen civil society transparency, accountability and effective governance: The participants commit to build and strengthen initiatives to strengthen transparency, accountability and effective governance within the sector, especially through self-regulatory mechanisms such as Code of Conduct, self-assessment and certification systems. Governments and the international community should support these efforts. This is a strong call to action from civil society Summit participants to Asian civil society, Asian governments and the international community to further empower civil society and enable them to fulfill their vital role in sustaining democratic and peaceful societies, protection of rights, and provision of services. Civil society participants acknowledge and appreciate the panel of world leaders who helped launch the Stand with Civil Society agenda on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly 2013. We call upon the donors, governments, and international community to ensure continued financial and political commitment to civil society, particularly in closing and closed environments
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