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Enhancing grassroots organizational resilience in a shrinking civic space

15 April 2024

Grassroots civil society organizations in the MENA region are excluded from high-level policy spaces and lack sufficient skills to influence policy. State crackdowns on human rights defenders are increasing. Public engagement with human rights is low while financial pressure is high. Put simply, they are facing multi-faceted challenges that impede their influence on human rights policies. We call this a shrinking civic space.

In the Middle East and North Africa, while civic space is shrinking, the need for supportive coalitions is only increasing. Local organizations often work in isolation. For many, short periods of available funding limit their focus to providing day-to-day services, in turn limiting their impact to a small number of beneficiaries. All these factors severely curtail their ability to sustain, or even form, the coalitions that would amplify their efforts to influence policies and decision-making processes to achieve lasting change.

To combat this, last month MRG held three-day workshops in Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco and Tunisia, led by seasoned experts in advocacy, policy advising, lobbying and campaigning. We created a space for these organizations and provided them with resources to strengthen cooperation and coordination among them on issues related to human rights, minority rights, democracy and inclusive reform.

During the workshops, organized as part of our Minorities, Accountability and Civic Space (MACS) programme, participants exchanged experiences and knowledge. They shared insights into their respective challenges, successes and strategies for influencing policy. This exchange fostered a deeper understanding of diverse approaches and methodologies, enriching the collective pool of knowledge among attendees.

On the first day, the workshops delved into the impact of laws and policies on local organizations working with minorities and marginalized communities. Participants in each country were introduced to policy-influencing via leveraging local and legal mechanisms. The workshops also empowered the participants to intervene in the policy process and contribute to positive change in their respective countries during such hopeless times in the region.

One participant in Palestine said that the workshop helped them understand minority rights concepts better and how to influence local policies more effectively. Overall, 59 participants were equipped with the strategic tools to engage effectively in policy analysis and advocacy initiatives within restrictive and challenging environments.

Participants represented organizations working with a diversity of minority and marginalized groups including: migrants, LGBTQI+, people with disabilities, stateless individuals, refugees, Amazigh people, Bedouins, and the Dom community. ‘Sharing experiences is beneficial as we saw that the issues we face have the same root causes’, shared one participant from Lebanon.

On the second day, local organizations shared case studies on policy influence, best practices and lessons learnt. Following the presentation on MACS grants for issue-based networks for policy influence, participants mapped out issues, policies, and laws within their countries, with the guidance from the facilitators and MACS partners.

Through discussions, participants recognized the interconnected nature of the social, economic, and political challenges faced by minorities and marginalized communities. They sought opportunities to work together across different sectors and thematic areas. By identifying common goals and shared interests, many participants laid the groundwork for future collaborations that will go beyond the programme.

One participant from Morocco mentioned that the workshop ‘planted the seeds for future collaboration with other CSOs’. Meanwhile in Lebanon, two grantees, one working on statelessness and the other on the Dom community, found common ground between the issues they work on. Both organizations showed interest in collaborating to enhance the rights of the communities they work with.

Organizations coming together to fight for a common goal, or issue-based networks, are urgently needed in the MENA region. Local CSOs need the strength in numbers and shared expertise and resources that a network can offer. Our workshops provided the participating organizations platforms to explore potential partnerships and collaborations on intersectional issues.

Finally, on the third day, practical exercises were conducted to facilitate collaboration, brainstorming, to help participants draft their proposals to apply for the MACS grant to establish issue-based networks. Issues tackled in the proposals included: policy change related to housing rights for minorities; the decriminalization of homosexuality; nationality rights for stateless individuals; and the representation of religious minorities.

The workshops led to three main outcomes. Firstly, they enhanced the understanding of policy processes, empowering them to engage more effectively in advocacy efforts. Secondly, they improved the participants’ ability to navigate challenges by providing practical tools and situational analyses that enhance their resilience, enabling them to respond successfully to shrinking civil space. Thirdly, they kickstarted the development of issue-based networks by allowing the participants to leave with tangible proposals, positioning them to apply for policy influencing grants. We were privileged to witness the collaboration fostered and knowledge shared amongst participants and look forward to following the progress of the new partnerships that emerge.

Breaking the ice and forging connections, participants engage in an energizing activity to kickstart the workshop. Credit: Kenza Yousfi/MRG.

This content is a guest post from one of our partner organizations about their work as part of our ‘Minorities, Accountability and Civic Space’ (MACS) programme. Learn more >

MACS is funded by the European Union.


Sahar Albashir

Lebanon Liaison and Communications Officer

Minority Rights Group