Community-based organizations play a fundamental role in strengthening democratic values in Europe: from fighting social inequalities, through defending civil liberties, to protecting the environment. They are natural allies of European institutions defending values such as human rights, dignity, solidarity, equality and the rule of law. At present, in times of multiple crises affecting both the climate and social integrity, they become more important than ever before. The involvement of civil society organizations begins and happens primarily at the local level. Unfortunately, in many countries, civic space has been shrinking and civil society is under pressure. We believe that to effectively defend democracy, civil society should become a protected European value and a resource in and of itself.
Together with our international Environmental Partnership Association, we implement projects aimed at strengthening civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, especially in the context of activating local communities for sustainable development.
We recommend reading the publication on “Sustaining Civil Society: Lessons from Five Pooled Funds in Eastern Europe” (autorzy Barry Gaberman, Merrill Sovner I William Moody, Nowy Jork, 2019).
After 1990, US and European foundations and government agencies invested in a series of Partnerships and Trusts to support civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Balkans and the Black Sea regions. Analyzing the long-term impact of these investments is crucial, especially as many politicians across these regions increase their anti-civil society rhetoric. Three long-time US foundation staff look back at the legacy and impact of this funding and derive a series of lessons for practitioners seeking to understand how best to sustain civil societies for the long term.