Moritz Bartl is Executive Director at Renewable Freedom Foundation, a German foundation that primarly works with international digital rights and technology groups.
The Funders’ Workshop on Shrinking Space for Civil Society held by Ariadne, European Foundation Centre and the International Human Rights Funders Group earlier this month was the second Ariadne event we had the pleasure of attending. As a young foundation, these meetings are very valuable to us, and I was again touched by how welcoming staff members and participants invited us to participate. The professional, yet joyous and relaxed atmosphere makes these meetings ideal for knowledge exchange and collaborative work.
The closing space for civil society is at the core of our mission at Renewable Freedom Foundation. Since inception in 2012, even though our focus is to strengthen the “Digital Commons” and to support advancement in communication technology freely available to anyone, we have also directly supported civil society actors and initiatives in Hungary, Argentina, South Korea and India – countries which are directly impacted by legal changes that aim to limit foreign influence. I have long studied, under what I somewhat jokingly call “apocalyptical thinking”, how we can strengthen the resilience and independence of civil society actors with sustainable, long-term effect.
The workshop on Shrinking Space was a timely event, and it made me hopeful to learn about the set of responses that funders and governments are working on to combat the threats. While these threats are not new and don’t come unexpectedly, it seems that they now affect such a large number of actors that this opens new opportunities for collaboration and combining resources. Meetings such as this one not only play an important role to educate each other and share strategies, but also serve as a signal on how important a healthy civil society is for the stability of regions. The steady centralization of power and the political developments sure don’t allow us to paint a bright picture of what is to come, but statements by government representatives and the well-selected independent experts at the meeting did make me hopeful that the challenges ahead can lead to long overdue changes in strategy by large actors, towards a sustainable, strong civil society.