Gráinne Mathews

Former Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

ICAI finds UK Government should be doing more to protect civil society space

15 April 2019

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact this week published its report on DFID’s partnerships with civil society organisations. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) is an independent non-departmental public body tasked with the scrutiny of DFID expenditure.

The review looked at how well DFID works with, and funds, civil society organisations (CSOs). The report included a number of key findings and recommendations on how the UK government can more effectively support and facilitate a free and independent civil society space.

This is an area we campaign on as we believe stronger CSOs are key in tackling the closing space for civil society. We believe DFID should invest in civil society infrastructure which promotes a positive operating environment for civil society and breed a culture of giving that helps development reach the world’s poorest.   

ICAI findings

ICAI recognises DFID’s success in working with CSOs as key partners in achieving humanitarian and development goals. We know that the department does great partnership work with the sector.

The report also welcomes the reduction in funding instruments and introduction of strict requirements which support CSOs in improving transparency and accountability. And we know that lack of trust in CSOs is a barrier to growing giving in many countries.

ICAI also highlights that the UK government lacks clear objectives for achieving the protection and expansion of civil society. Closing space for civil society is a very real and dangerous issue. The 2017 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report talks about a global civic space emergency and reports that only three percent of the world’s population lives in countries where civic space is fully open.

CAF's Groundwork for Growing Giving campaign works to harness the power of philanthropy to develop a thriving civil society across the globe.

Groundwork for Growing Giving

Our Groundwork for Growing Giving campaign looks at how governments can protect this vital space for civil society. This CAF campaign sets out the requirements for the development and growth of a locally led, resourced and accountable civil society sector in-country.

A free, fair and open civil space is vital in making sure CSOs can act as an independent and trustworthy voice for society. CAF believes that mass engagement in giving ensures CSOs are reflective of society and trusted locally. An open civil society space safeguards CSOs’ role of representing society to government, of being a critical friend.

Mass engagement in giving can be encouraged and facilitated by creating and supporting civil society infrastructure organisations. These organisations would provide validation services which increases trust in CSOs. They can also increase capacity and improve governance within charities.

The time for the Government to act is now. Our Groundwork for Growing Giving campaign shows the huge transformational growth of the emerging middle classes up to 2030.

We estimate that if the world’s middle classes were to give over just 0.5% of their spending – less than the average UK household and about the same as people in the Republic of Korea – that could amount to $319 billion in resources for civil society organisations annually by 2030.

Governments, both in the UK and internationally, must be committed to supporting locally led, resourced and accountable civil society. It is only by ensuring this local ownership of civil society that CSOs can truly speak for and represent local populations and hold national governments to account.