In recent years, despite studies that show democracy significantly increases development, a global “democratic recession” has led to a resurgence of authoritarianism as well as shrinking civil society. International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy indices and the 2020 CSO Sustainability Index for Asia find that Asia performs well below the global level on civil liberties, experiences low CSO engagement and support, and civil society participation in the region is below the world average. In the face of institutional barriers, civil society groups can only mobilize for systemic change when there are greater levels of democratic consciousness and a stronger demand for meaningful political participation – along with widespread availability of democratic education. However, the democratic freedom for CSOs has ebbed and flowed over time depending on social and political atmosphere, and the positioning of CSOs with the incumbent leaders, among other variables. Asian countries – home to the world’s largest, youngest, and most economically dynamic democracies – are experiencing especially pronounced dangers from democratic backsliding. Asian democracies face particularly complex challenges, which have only been worsened by the global Covid-19 pandemic with widespread lockdowns, restrictions on freedom of speech and movement, increased censorship, and expanding policing authorities. Covid-related restrictions also hampered CSO advocacy efforts by limiting access to policymakers and other stakeholders. A strong civil society creates transparency, accountability and identifies opportunities to fix systemic problems and calls for much-needed social reforms.
The Rockefeller Foundation sees an opportunity to help connect, support, and empower leaders and organizations across Asia in their efforts to solve for these critical challenges. Our hope is to create a platform for networking, capacity-building, and funding within the Asia region–with a focus on helping existing actors operationalize–that also distills and shares lessons of global relevance.
THE OPPORTUNITY: We are seeking external organizations from a range of disciplines who are working to promote solutions to the curtailing of freedoms and civil liberties across the Asia region, and who are looking to host a convening to drive concrete next steps.
Asian civil society has a wide range of social actors including: labor unions, social movements, some of which grew out of the legacy of anti-colonial movements and some which are more recent, like the new environmental movements, the gay rights movement etc., professional associations of lawyers, architects, journalists, students, and others, NGOs, transnational civil society, media, and political parties.
These organizations are invited to apply for Bellagio Center convenings which will take place during 2023. Specifically, we are seeking organizations seeking to convene on topics related to the following:
- Strengthening the policy environment around civil society and democratic governance to support accountability and transparency, and safeguard against inequality and corruption
- Developing a robust Digital Public Infrastructure to counter digital authoritarianism, promote citizen participation, improve citizen-centric services, and affirm democratic values.
- Incentivizing cooperation between the public, private, and social impact sectors to invest broadly in health and human capital
- Championing gender equality within civil society and democratic recession