Civil society space

In many parts of the world, NGOs face more and more legal requirements and other restrictions on their activities. Legislation on counter-terrorism measures, restrictions on NGO operations, and access to populations are impacting their day to day operations. How do NGOs perceive this shrinking space? How does it impact the ability of NGOs to operate, especially in conflict and complex emergency contexts? What are some of the measures taken by NGOs and other partners to respond to the current trends?


Future of Civil Society Organisations (May 2020)

A group of leaders of civil society networks and platforms (ICVA, Bond, CIVICUS, CONCORD Europe, Forus International, ICSC, Climate Action Network, InterAction, NEAR, VANI)  share their observations and thoughts, identifying possible directions that civil society organisations may want to go. This collaboration is meant to be used as a conversation starter bringing in more diversity of perspectives over the coming months. Find out more!


Partnerships, tools and services:


In order to support ICVA Members on legal assistance, ICVA has signed an MOU with TrustLaw which is the Thomson Reuters Foundation's global pro bono marketplace.


Through ICVA’s partnership with TrustLaw, ICVA members requiring legal assistance can gain access to free / pro bono services connecting lawyers in more than 175 countries, consisting of 950 law firms and corporate legal teams supporting over 4000 NGOs and social enterprises. TrustLaw pro bono services include:

  • Advisory: supports the operational legal needs of organisations, including establishing new legal entities and organisational structuring advice, drafting employment contracts and reviewing commercial agreements
  • Research: assists on larger comparative research programmes that focus on social or policy issues e.g. human trafficking, modern slavery, women’s rights


All TrustLaw publications can be found on their website under Tools & Resources.


As an ICVA Member, NGOs can become a fast track member and access free legal assistance. For more information, please contact Nishanie Jayamaha, ICVA's Learning and Programme Coordinator



Access a collection of civic space resources developed by the Civic Space Initiative (CSI) partners which aims to support individuals and civil society organizations working on civic space issues around the globe. The CSI is a collaborative effort funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to protect and expand civic space in a time of increasing restrictions. The CSI is implemented by Article 19, CIVICUS, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, and the World Movement for Democracy.


Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing Standards and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Standards and Procedures: A Toolkit for Non-Profit Organizations developed by the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) in collaboration with European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) and with the support of the Global Non-Profit Oragnisation Coalliation on FATF, including the Human Security Collective, the European Foundation Centre, the Charity and Security Network, and the Green Acre Group.  


Probono Legal Resources for Refugees -  Legal information support for refugees on legal processes in various countries by ICVA Member Amera International. 


Advocacy in Restricted Spaces: A Toolkit for Civil Society  by Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund The Advocacy in Restricted Spaces toolkit is a practical resource that emphasizes that advocacy is possible even in highly restrictive contexts. The toolkit is intended for use by grassroots, national, and regional organizations that want to engage in advocacy in restrictive environments. It includes concrete examples and new perspectives on mobilizing around opportunities for change. While many advocacy resources are oriented toward groups operating in functioning democracies where basic freedoms are respected, this toolkit provides real-world examples of how civil society can be effective even under significant duress.


ICVA Scoping study:

An independent research carried out for ICVA in 2018 provides a collective perspective of civil space needs and defines the potential of ICVA in strengthening and supporting a more inclusive and diverse civil society. The study identifies a wide variety of civil society needs, which include: accessibility and translation of documentation, support to national organisations and to NGO fora, advocacy support, research and data on the closure of civil society space, capacity building, among others. 

To read the scoping study on civil society space in humanitarian action: download the executive summary or the full report.

Webinar: How do NGOs navigate shrinking civil society space?

On 20 June, the ICVA/PHAP webinar on "How do NGOs navigate shrinking civil society space", allowed us to hear from NGOs and different actors’ on current challenges and trends regarding civil society space. The webinar provided an opportunity to have a broader discussion on how to connect and collaborate with other actors already working on shrinking space, possible counterstrategies, and ways forward.

This webinar aimed at answering the following questions:

  • What measures are being put in place to restrict the operations of NGOs and how are humanitarian NGOs affected?
  • What are NGOs and other actors doing to navigate shrinking and changing space for civil society? 
  • How can NGOs improve their engagement with other actors and partners and connect and collaborate?

Watch the recording below and/or listen to the podcast:


This webinar is part of the “Navigating Change” Learning Stream which includes webinars, briefing papers, and other resources on how NGOs are managing changing global, regional, and national contexts for humanitarian response.


Recommended resources






      David Moore
      Vice President - Legal Affairs 
      International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)




        Emma O'Leary
        Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor
        Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)





          Pius Ojara 
          South Sudan NGO Forum









          Thomas Nikolaj Hansen
          Senior Policy Advisor, Team Leader for Civil Society Team,
          Department for Humanitarian Action, Migration and Civil Society
          Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark





         Angharad Laing
         Executive Director, PHAP





         Nishanie Jayamaha
         Learning and Programme Coordinator, ICVA