Supporting a powerful civil society

Our goal is that civil society can work openly and safely, make their voices heard and influence decision-making on ecosystem challenges and matters of environmental justice and human rights. A strong civil society is indispensable to a healthy society. It checks the power of both state and corporate actors, holds decision-makers accountable, and defends the rights of those marginalised from positions of influence. A strong and independent civil society can advocate for fair and ecologically responsible policies as well as challenge structural inequalities in decision-making. It can also use accountability mechanisms to seek redress for the negative consequences of such inequitable decision-making, and instead promote, implement and upscale transformative practices.

Both ENDS has long-standing experience in jointly influencing decision-making. For example, in Indonesia, the Philippines and Brazil, we work with fisheries communities and organisations representing city dwellers. We help them influence decision-making processes over large-scale land reclamation and urban and port development projects in Jakarta Bay, Manilla Bay and Suape, which all directly impact on their environment and livelihoods.

To be active, there must be safe, enabling and inclusive civic space for organisations to operate freely and independently. Together with our partners, we engage with governments and Dutch embassies to protect and promote civic space. Where civic space is shrinking, we collaborate with civil society actors to create alternative podiums for their messages and safe ways to amplify their voices. We ensure that response mechanisms are in place in cases of security risks and safety threats.

To be effective, civil society needs access to and influence over decision-making processes. Starting from the spheres of influence of our partners and our own organisation, we coordinate our actions to maximize the presence and agency of civil society at national and international fora and in decision-making processes. By connecting a diversity of civic actors from the grassroots to the global level, we maximize the influence of our collective action.

To be successful, civil society actors need capacities, resources, networks and opportunities. Both ENDS gives special attention to women’s rights, indigenous people and youth-led organisations and movements, and their 9 priorities. Our support includes facilitating access to financial resources and expertise, networking and alliance building. Together, we create spaces to profile leadership by women, indigenous peoples, youth and other civic actors, focusing on those who live and work in countries most affected by global inequalities. For this purpose, for instance, we helped establish a small grants facility in eight countries. Small grants are a targeted mechanism to build the capacity of local organisations to fight for control over land, for clean water, or a healthy living environment. We see the effectiveness of such small grants, which, if in the right hands, has proven to provide the flexible funding needed to achieve remarkable impacts. Women’s groups from Central America for example filed the first-ever official complaint challenging an international financial institution over its gender policy. Women’s groups that are part of a global movement denouncing the impacts of large-scale mining are campaigning for their right to say ‘No!’ to mining companies that pollute their air, land and water. They demand that such companies are held to account and respect their rights. Many small-scale women-led initiatives together are becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Our work on this subject