US engages with civil society and philanthropy

Laura Abrahams Schulz

Around the world, civil society and the foundations that support it are essential partners in crafting development solutions, responding to humanitarian crises, advancing human rights and democratic values, and helping to build resilient societies and institutions to counter violent extremism.

Despite these important roles and the growing ways through which citizens are finding voice, civil society’s rights in many countries are in danger, and in some cases its mere existence under threat. An increasing number of governments inhibit the free operation of civil society and impede civil society organizations’ ability to receive funding from legitimate sources.

In September 2013 President Obama launched Stand with Civil Society – a call to action to support, defend and sustain civil society amid a rising tide of restrictions globally, in coordination with our other foreign policy and national security priorities.

Working in partnership with other governments, the philanthropic community, and multilateral initiatives, we are focused on:

  • Modelling positive engagement between governments and civil society and creating a supportive environment for civil society in accordance with international norms.
  • Innovating our assistance tools and programmes.
  • Coordinating multilateral and diplomatic pressure to push back against undue restrictions on civil society.

US activities to support civil society were deepened under a 2014 presidential memorandum. We have expanded consultations with foundations and US civil society – key partners in advancing and sustaining Stand with Civil Society, including on how to mitigate growing foreign funding restrictions, navigate partner vetting, and push back against unduly restrictive laws. We value civil society and foundation partners who work in-country, and bring insightful perspectives that help us understand and navigate the local context for civil society support, operating constraints and mitigation opportunities.

12 the white house credit_Stephen D. Melkisethian

The White House, Washington DC. Credit: Stephen D. Melkisethian


The US is working with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to support laws that combat terrorist financing while working to protect the legitimate activities of non-profit organizations from being disrupted. For example, the US has worked closely with the FATF for several years to increase engagement with NGOs.

In March 2015, the FATF hosted a formal consultation with the NGO sector and incorporated its feedback into the best practices paper for implementation of measures to protect the sector from terrorist abuse. The US will continue to support regular FATF engagement with the non-profit sector through annual consultations, for example, and meetings with NGOs and foundations during FATF anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance country assessments.

We are also working to bolster our efforts to engage countries when potential issues and tensions arise related to draft NGO laws and regulation.

Stand also involves new approaches to strengthen and connect civil society. The Civil Society Innovation Initiative, a partnership between the US, Sweden and private philanthropic partners, is supporting the creation of regional hubs that will encourage civil society cooperation, innovation, research and learning. This initiative, premised on co-creation with civil society as opposed to a top-down donor effort, is one example of our commitment to amplify the role of local civil society and smaller NGOs, and to ensure that their voice and priorities are informing and shaping our support.

‘We are also working to bolster our efforts to engage countries when potential issues and tensions arise related to draft NGO laws and regulation.’

Central to the sustainability of Stand with Civil Society is the ability to learn from and share best practices, including:

  • Safeguarding space for civil society is a long‑term effort.
  • Early action to support peaceful civil society during post-conflict and political transitions is critical, as is cultivating relationships with civil society champions in government and legislature.
  • Supporting civil society’s own efforts at self-regulation, transparency and accountability is important and challenges those attempting to delegitimize the sector.

We will continue to focus on institutionalizing Stand with Civil Society, by both strengthening our internal capacity and expanding our partnerships.

Essential to our efforts will be ongoing engagement with and feedback from civil society stakeholders, such as philanthropy organizations.

Laura Abrahams Schulz is director for global engagement at the National Security Council, the White House. Email

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