Civil society organisations (CSOs) are important actors within civil society and democratic processes. They provide checks and balances, hold governments accountable, and raise unheard voices by advocating on a wide range of topics, including protection and promotion of human rights, poverty alleviation, improving infrastructure, creating opportunities to bring citizens’ participation and equity in decision-making. Yet, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, 9 out of 10 people in the world live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted.
Globally, while dealing with sustained attacks on human rights and a global democracy crisis, the civil society sector also faces internal challenges such as power imbalances and somewhat insufficient connection from the people they work for. In some cases, there is a lack of implemented accountability mechanisms or processes that guarantee equality, inclusion, and diversity, alongside insufficient participation of local communities whose lives have been impacted by CSOs’ decisions in all aspects of CSO’s work.
Improving the external environment to enable civil society development in shrinking civic space requires improvement “from within”. In the Western Balkans, the importance of accountability and transparency of CSOs’ work and its impact on creating a more enabling environment for civil society requires further exploration. Due to lack of resources and lack of internal mechanisms and capacities, most CSOs apply very few feedback and general accountability mechanisms. Even when this is done, those are mostly tied towards the donors rather than their direct beneficiaries and partners. To increase the trust of their constituencies, the citizens, donors, and policymakers and build more robust support for defending the civic space, CSOs need to improve their standards of more transparent and accountable ways of work.
The current context and the different demands from stakeholders for CSOs to be more accountable are a call to reconsider how CSOs understand and practice accountability and its implications on resilience, trust, and impact.
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