Highlighted results

10,372 organisations supported in more than 60 countries

6,069 organisations are now more effective lobbyists

7,000+ activities to place inclusive and sustainable development on the agenda

1,481 laws and standards adapted to foster inclusion

Introduction

In large parts of the world, poverty is decreasing, more children are going to school and standards of hygiene and health are improving. At the same time, however, human rights and democratic processes are under pressure in many countries. The gap between rich and poor is widening and critical voices are being silenced. Some countries are for example applying strict laws that make it difficult for journalists and human rights defenders to speak up against the government or companies. A stronger civil society can contribute to an open society and boost democracy and the rule of law.

The Netherlands supports civil society organisations in protecting and raising their voices for equality, human rights and democratic processes, with a particular focus on women’s rights and gender equality. Civil society organisations like trade unions, human rights and environmental organisations play a vital role in informing people, advocating for rights and expressing people’s concerns. They also act as bridges between structurally excluded or discriminated groups, companies and the authorities. They make authorities, companies and communities aware of their responsibility to implement laws, respect rights and pursue the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This makes civil society organisations important partners in the implementation of Dutch policy. This theme focuses on the results achieved under the Dialogue and Dissent policy framework, which is focused on strengthening an independent civil society and its contribution, to a more sustainable and inclusive society.

Results 2019

The Netherlands works in partnership with civil society organisations by engaging in strategic dialogue on goals and results, exchanging knowledge and using each other’s network. Each party contributes in its own unique way to combating inequality and promoting democracy. This allows results to be achieved in partnership that could not be attained otherwise.

The Netherlands supports 10,372 civil society organisations in more than 60 countries. In 2018/2019 7,377 initiatives were taken to inform and mobilise people and to engage in dialogue with authorities. This helped influence 1,481 laws, policies and standards to ensure they foster more inclusive and sustainable development.

Such results affect the lives of millions of people. They bring about structural long-term change, gradually improving the position of women and young people, thanks in part to organisations that inform them on their rights and protect their interests. These changes help improve the prospects of people in development countries, and contribute to stability and security in the interests of society both here and there.

Result areas

Investing in change makers On the road to change Improved laws and behaviour

Featured project strengthening civil society

Fair allocation of land for Kenyan market traders

A provincial authority in Kenya allocated land to people who sell their produce by the roadside. Despite the fact that 85% of the suppliers are women, women were allocated only 20% of the available land. The Count Me In! strategic partnership supported a local women’s rights organisation in its lobbying of the local council and the organisation of a protest with 150 women. As a result, the local authority launched an internal investigation. This led to positive change. The government has since then reapportioned the land: 70% has now been allocated to female traders. The women are therefore able to support themselves and acquire ownership of their land. At a time when space for civil society organisations is shrinking, it is crucial to strengthen groups defending the rights of women and girls, so that they can continue their work in support of human rights, equality and justice.

Fair allocation of land for Kenyan market traders

Investing in change makers

Strong civil society organisations and human rights defenders worldwide

Human rights defenders, climate activists, journalists and civil society organisations play a vital role in helping to achieve sustainable and inclusive development. The Netherlands funds 25 consortia of civil society organisations in a variety of fields, including women’s rights, conflict prevention, nature conservation and fair trade. These alliances support local organisations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, enabling them to represent and protect the interests of their constituencies as effectively as possible.

Open result area

The Netherlands invests in the lobbying and advocacy capacities of civil society organisations to enable them to bring about social, political and economic change needed for inclusive and sustainable development. In 2018/2019 over 10,372 civil society organisations in more than 60 countries on various themes were supported. More than 6,000 of them are now demonstrably better able to fulfil their roles as advocates and lobbyists. The support took various forms, including training on human rights, development of lobbying techniques at local, national and international level and exchange of lessons learned. Protecting human rights and development that benefits everyone requires considerable courage, knowledge and skills. In a growing number of countries, people are threatened or prosecuted for opinions or activities that are not in keeping with the agenda of the ruling authorities, and they are excluded from decision-making processes that affect them. Active and strategic support to civil society organisations is therefore more important than ever.

One example of a programme supported by the Netherlands is Empowering People in Fragile Contexts, a strategic partnership that contributes to a balanced representation of women and men in peace negotiations. Another strategic partnership, Towards a Worldwide Influencing Network, mobilises civil society organisations all over the world to join forces in the fight against poverty. This has given rise to a movement of brave individuals drawing attention to inequality through art, music and politics.

Results

Indicator

Number of civil society organisations worldwide supported by the Netherlands

Progress

On track

10.372

By funding 25 consortia through the Dialogue & Dissent grant, the Netherlands supports various civil society organisations.. These organisations range from international networks and larger NGOs like Oxfam Novib and Action Aid to local environmental groups, trade unions and smaller organisations representing marginalised groups. The consortia focus on a variety of issues, such as press freedom, peace and security and fair trade. They sometimes join forces to pursue overarching goals, like promoting freedom of expression and democracy.

Indicator

Number of civil society organisations with demonstrably enhanced lobbying and advocacy capacity

Progress

On track

6.069

One of the main objectives of Dialogue and Dissent was to strengthen the political role of civil society organisations. This meant equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to stand up for their rights, maintain contact with their grassroots, conduct research, work with authorities and business, participate in consultations, or take a more confrontational approach involving demonstrations or campaigning.

Women’s participation in Afghan peace talks

Women’s participation in Afghan peace talks

Women in Afghanistan have a right to equal participation in peace processes between the US and the Taliban and in the future Afghan peace talks. These talks will determine the future of Afghanistan and are a matter of concern to everyone. However, women’s voices are barely heard. Cordaid and the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) support women in their efforts to claim a place at the negotiating table, as part of the Empowering People in Fragile Contexts partnership. They lobbied the UN and the Security Council to give women a key role in the country’s development. Subsequently, the US Senate instructed its government to give Afghan women a structural role in the talks. Cordaid and AWN are now supporting the women’s delegation as they participate in the peace talks, ensuring that the voices of women from a range of backgrounds are heard now and in the future.

A movement of empowered citizens in the fight against poverty

A movement of empowered citizens in the fight against poverty

Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu has grown to be a prominent spokesperson in the global debate on inequality. As the founder of Daughters of Mumbi, she strengthens the position of women’s rights activists. Every year, when world leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum, Njoki organises the Usawa Festival in Dandora, a slum in Nairobi (usawa is Swahili for inequality). The festival, featuring music, theatre and debates on inequality, inspires many others. Njoki also coordinates the African branch of the Fight Inequality Alliance (FIA), an alliance of 200 civil society organisations in 26 countries. As coordinator, Njoki highlights the relationship between inequality and education, prosperity, gender equality and climate at international conferences. The Towards a Worldwide Influencing Network programme extends the reach of leading activists like Njoki Njehu and others, as they fight for a world in which equality is the norm.

On the road to change

Lobby and Advocacy initiatives

In recent years civil society organisations supported by the Netherlands have successfully made their voices heard in many different ways. They have brought inequality and human rights violations to the attention of authorities and the general public, using for example studies, meetings and news items.. They have engaged in dialogue with authorities, companies and traditional and religious leaders to help these actors live up to their responsibilities. In cases where dialogue does not produce results, civil society organisations have also adopted more confrontational strategies to influence decision-making, such as demonstrations or public campaigns.

Open result area

In 2018/2019 more than 7,377 initiatives were undertaken with the aim of getting issues of inclusion and sustainability on the agenda. On at least 5,460 occasions civil society organisations managed to enter into dialogue with politicians, the private sector or their own community in order to influence the political agenda.

One example is the work of the Citizen Agency Consortium. This partnership managed to make information held by authorities and companies on matters like budgets, infrastructural projects and healthcare accessible to the public. Access to information allowed indigenous groups in the Philippines to claim the financial support from a mining company to which they were entitled. In addition, the Health System Advocacy Partnership helped strengthen the ability of youth in Uganda to express their views and make recommendations to local politicians. Their efforts were successful. At their recommendation, funds were released for services where youth can obtain information on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Results

Indicator

Number of lobbying and advocacy initiatives

Progress

On track

7.377

Lobbying and advocacy initiatives come in many shapes and sizes: from an international public campaign to a meeting in a local community, a statement at a United Nations meeting or a street demonstration. All of these methods can help influence public and political opinion, which ultimately generates social transformation.

Indicator

Number of occasions for people's voices to be heard

Progress

On track

5.460

The number of times that civil society organisations have placed issues on the agenda, influenced the debate and/or joined decision-making processes is an important indicator of sustainable change. Whether it be political decision-making, decisions of companies or the practices of local leaders, it is important to involve the people concerned and listen to what they have to say. This is the only way to achieve sustainable solutions that reflect the interests of all involved.

Youth in Uganda raise their voices

Youth in Uganda raise their voices

Over 70% of the population of Uganda is under the age of 30. It is vital that young people are able to make free and informed choices about their bodies and their lives. Unfortunately, however, this is not possible in many countries. The Health System Advocacy strategic partnership helps people and local civil society organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa to fight for sexual and reproductive health and rights. One member of this partnership, the Ugandan organisation Kabale Women in Development (KWID), organises dialogues between youth and local authorities. As a result, youth now have a permanent say in decision-making in the Kabale district, and a youth council has been established. At the recommendation of youth, the district has allocated funding for separate services for youth where they can obtain information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as the right to contraception. The district also plans to coach members of the youth council, to equip youth to take decisions on matters that affect their lives.

Access to information as a tool to hold authorities to account

Access to information as a tool to hold authorities to account

Indigenous groups, with their ancient knowledge of culture and the natural world, have a key role to play in the world. Yet their land rights and human rights often fall victim to plans for infrastructural and mining projects. ‘We have are entitled to have a voice in how our land is used,’ says Sylvestera, leader of the Tagbanuas community. A mining company has launched operations on their land in the Philippines. According to Philippine law 1% of the profit of mining companies must go to the community. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this law and the budget is often difficult to understand. The Open Up Contracting programme is therefore working to make information held by authorities and companies accessible. A local organisation, Bantay Kita, helped Sylvestera and her community gather information on the mining contract and budget. This enabled them to claim their right to have 1% of the budget and invest it in healthcare facilities, education and roads.

Improved laws and behaviour

Legislation, policies and norms for more inclusive and sustainable development

Social change aimed at inclusive and sustainable societies is a long-term process. Thanks to Dutch support, civil society organisations are able to play an important role in this, which has yielded results in various areas. For example, governments have improved their laws or implemented existing laws as a result of advice or pressure from civil society organisations. The same applies to the behaviour and policies of companies, regarding the exploitation of workers for example. Norms and values in communities about for instance gender equality have been changing too.

Open result area

Protecting the climate and achieving women’s rights, fair trade and freedom of expression and association requires frameworks. Frameworks that commit rights and rules to paper and ensure they are put into practice. Civil society organisations play a key role in this as watchdogs and advisors to authorities and business. With their accumulated knowledge on lobbying techniques and rights, information on human rights violations or activities that affect the climate, and recommendations for improvements, they can hold authorities to account for their actions and legislation. In 2018/2019 civil society organisations helped influence 1,481 laws, policies and standards to ensure they foster more inclusive and sustainable development. Civil society organisations also supported proper implementation of 1,539 laws, policies and norms.

In Jordan, for example, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) is campaigning to block a legislative amendment that would severely restrict people’s internet freedom. Elsewhere, Partnership for Rights, Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality (PRIDE) successfully made recommendations to the Pakistani government to improve the human rights situation of transgender people.

Results

Indicator

Number of laws, policies and standards influenced by civil society organisations for inclusive and sustainable development

Progress

On track

1.481

In some cases, advocacy has led to new, more inclusive standards being incorporated into legislation, policies and norms. In other cases, harmful laws, regulations and norms have been blocked or improved to better address the rights and concerns of stakeholders. Influencing laws, policies and norms is generally a long-term process involving many different organisations and individuals.

Indicator

Number of laws, policies and standards implemented for sustainable and inclusive development

Progress

On track

1.539

Good laws, policies and standards are important, but they can only be effective if they are actually implemented. Civil society organisations play an essential role in this respect by holding authorities, companies and communities accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities and commitments.

Internet freedom in Jordan

Internet freedom in Jordan

In October 2018 the Jordanian government proposed restrictive amendments to their cybercrime which would have made almost any use of the internet to connect with other people a criminal offence. Even sending a private message on social media could be classed as hate speech and provide grounds for an arrest. Activists and opposition leaders feared they would become targets for false accusations. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) conducted an independent study and shared it with civil society organisations, the Jordanian authorities and the international community. As a result, local organisations were able to speak out against the amendment and launch a campaign to raise awareness of its negative implications. ICNL also attended a hearing that drew international attention to the gravity of the proposed amendment. The rapid response proved successful. The government withdrew the proposed amendments in December 2018 and submitted a new version to parliament.

Transgender legislation in Pakistan

Transgender legislation in Pakistan

In May 2018 Pakistan adopted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. This Act protects equal rights for transgender individuals, and is unique both in Pakistan and in the region. The lobbying activities of Partnership for Rights, Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality (PRIDE) helped ensure the Act was passed. PRIDE activists met at the Dutch residence in Islamabad to develop a shared lobby strategy directed at the diplomats from the Equal Rights Coalition. PRIDE made recommendations on the rights of transgender persons during the Universal Periodic Review, a process that takes place once every four years in which governments render account for the human rights situation in their country. Pakistan accepted several of the recommendations, and the Transgender Persons Act was adopted in 2018. Now civil society organisations are informing the public and the police about the legislation, and the consortium is helping to ensure it is actually implemented.

Background information theme strengthening civil society

Background

The results, experiences and lessons learned in the past year show that support for civil society remains as important as ever. Particularly now that civil society has less and less space to operate in many countries. In more than a hundred countries, freedom of association, assembly and expression are subject to severe restrictions, enforced by for example bureaucratic means or through overt violence. New technologies and surveillance methods are also increasingly being used to monitor and intimidate human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators. This affects not only civil society organisations themselves but also the causes they stand for, such as efforts to achieve gender equality, combat corruption or protect the environment.

Protecting and enlarging space where people can speak out requires an approach tailored closely to the local context and based on ownership of local civil society organisations in helping determine how the Netherlands contributes. The Netherlands is one of only a few donors that supports the independent role of civil society and calls for an open civic space for them to operate. This approach is internationally acknowledged as unique and pioneering.

Glimpse into the future

The policy framework for Strengthening Civil Society (2021-2025) was published in November 2019. It focuses on the strong, independent role of civil society organisations and the social contract between the public, the state and the private sector. Working in strategic partnerships and promotion of women’s rights, gender equality and inclusion are cross-cutting themes in the framework. This ensures that a wide range of people, for example those with a disability, LGBTI individuals and religious and ethnic minorities, are actively involved.

The Power of Voices grant instrument is the successor of Dialogue and Dissent. It focuses on strengthening civil society organisations and their contribution to an inclusive and sustainable society. The protection and promotion of civic space is an even greater focus point than in previous policy frameworks.

Power of Voices also underlines the importance of ownership and strengthening the role and influence of organisations in developing countries in designing and implementing programmes. Dutch and international organisations are expected to give local organisations more autonomy, and complement their efforts through innovation and strengthening networks. In this way, the Netherlands hopes to foster more equal relations between organisations from different countries. The likelihood of successful and long-lasting change is also greater if the efforts are driven by local people and organisations themselves.

Additional sources

You can find exactly how the budget was allocated in 2019 and which projects were funded on our budget website.

  1. Visit the website
    Programme budget Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation
  2. Select financial year 2019
Policy Document

Dialogue and Dissent policy framework

Studies

Six studies on the assumptions underlying Dutch policy on civil society organisations. Published by NWO-WOTRO Science for Global Development and Include.

Evaluation

Evaluation of the functioning of strategic partnerships between civil society organisations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Carried out by IOB

Policy document

Policy Framework for Strengthening Civil Society

Report

Civicus annual State of Civil Society report for 2019

Expenditure by channel

Metric

The budget in this figure is for the year 2019 and does not completely correspond with the results on this page, which have been collected between Oct 2018 and Oct 2019. More information on this can be found on the 'About the results report' page.