Civil society promotes human rights and sustainable development 

One of the key objectives of Finnish development policy is to strengthen civil societies in developing countries and to support civil society actors’ work towards achieving development goals.  Sustainable development, democracy and the fulfilment of human rights are not possible without a strong, diverse and independent civil society. 

Finland supports civil society organisations, associations and foundations that promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the eradication of extreme poverty, and the reduction of inequalities. 

Civil society plays a key role in development  

A free and strong civil society is a prerequisite for achieving the SDGs. However, it cannot be taken for granted. 

According to several international reports, civic space has narrowed in recent years globally. Human rights defenders, who visibly advocate the realization of human rights and on this basis present criticism towards those in power in their own countries, are at greatest risk. Promoting free communication and freedom of speech is important for ensuring an enabling environment for civil society. 

It is therefore particularly important to strengthen civil societies in developing countries in the current situation, where a growing number of countries are restricting the space of civil society.  Civil society actors, including associations, communities, networks and foundations, play a central role in promoting safe, peaceful and inclusive societies. They can significantly enhance people's awareness of their rights and support equal participation in public discussion and opportunities to exercise influence in political decision-making.  This strengthens democracy in societies. Civil society actors also have an important role in promoting the rights of those who are in a vulnerable position and in making their voices heard.

Finland’s aim is to strengthen civil societies in developing countries and to support civil society actors in their work to help achieve Finland's development policy objectives. The Guidelines for Civil Society in Development Policy (2017) and the Programme of Prime Minister Marin’s Government (2019)(Link to another website.) guide this work. In all activities funded from the Ministry's development cooperation appropriations, attention must be given to practices that strengthen civil societies. Such activities must not impair the enabling environment for civil society.

Finland promotes measures that strengthen civil societies and protect the civic space also in international contexts. This involves the advancing these issues for example in the EU, international financial institutions and the UN system.

Finnish CSOs’ development cooperation produces results  

More than a hundred Finnish civil society organisations (CSOs) and foundations - with diverse experience and activities ranging from grassroots level to international fora - are engaged in development cooperation in Finland and in different parts of the world. Together with their local partners they implement various projects and programmes in developing countries. CSOs and foundations are active also in Finland, offering opportunities to take part in development cooperation and to obtain information about global development issues. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs supports approximately 80–90 organisations engaged in development for the varied activities of diverse civil society actors. Read more about different forms of support and funding decisions on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs at Guidelines and financial support related to development cooperation

Finnish organisations and foundations have both special thematic expertise and long-term experience of development cooperation and civil societies in developing countries. They work in many sectors in different parts of the world and advance the rights of various population groups. They bring added value to the implementation of Finland's development policy by concentrating on their own strengths and by being present in locations where other actors do not necessarily work, such as local grassroots level communities and in countries where Finland does not have other presence. 

Finnish CSOs have established long-term partnerships with various civil society actors in developing countries, which play an important part in the development of their own communities and societies. Civil society actors cooperate for instance with local authorities, businesses and the media. They support people’s capacity and right to pursue changes to detected problems and to defend the freedoms of speech, expression and assembly. Activities that strengthen equal opportunities for participation in society  can contribute to political and legislative reforms, good governance and responsible business conduct.

CSOs’ development cooperation also focuses on fulfilling the basic needs and advancing the rights of the poorest segments of society, including related to social development, education, health and livelihoods, as well as on rural development. CSOs play an important role in the provision of humanitarian assistance. In emergencies, they are often among the first ones on site, before the arrival of international actors. Civil society actors have a key role also in strengthening communities’ resilience and in preparing for, preventing and resolving conflicts and crises.

In Finland, CSOs strengthen knowledge and skills related to the sustainable development goals, human rights and the pursued global changes. They operate in different parts of Finland, and their extensive networks of volunteers offer diverse options for participation for different population groups, including children, youth, older people, immigrants and persons with disabilities.

Finnish CSOs’ and foundations’ work in Africa

In its Africa Strategy, published in spring 2021, Finland emphasises the importance of relations beyond government, such as civil societies, diaspora, companies, research institutes and youth. 

Finnish CSOs have a long history of development cooperation in Africa. The programmes and projects focus strongly on East Africa, where the biggest partner countries are Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. 

CSOs maintain close contacts with local civil societies and foster long-term partnerships with local organisations, authorities, companies and other actors in each country. Finnish CSOs working in Africa are collaborating also with one another. Their innovative thinking and agile ways enable addressing new challenges and opportunities. 

In many developing countries, including in countries in Africa, civil society promotes and supports the rights of the poorest and most marginalised population groups. Especially in such fragile countries as Somalia, civil society organisations provide also basic services, for example healthcare services and education, because the public sector is unable to take care of these duties. CSOs are also important providers of humanitarian assistance. In peace and reconciliation processes, it is important to take into account the local civil society, which represents different population groups and interests. CSOs can also promote peace work. 

Rights of women and girls

Civil society plays a strong role in promoting the rights and position of women and girls. CSOs contribute directly to the eradication of poverty and inequality also from the point of view of gender equality. The eradication of poverty and inequality is the most central objective in Finland's development policy.

Organisations promote women's and girls' rights through various means and through advocacy work, depending on the local context and the nature of the needs identified by local partners. Their work involves, for example, promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and preventing and eradicating gender-based violence. CSOs build the capacities of women and offer microcredits and support for setting up businesses. They also defend political, economic and social rights and support women’s networks and women human rights defenders. In addition, CSOs promote women’s participation in peacebuilding and in the prevention of conflicts. 

Because of their local presence and partnerships, CSOs are often in a better position to tackle the root causes of multiple discrimination, with due regard to women’s various situations depending on many interlinked grounds of discrimination, including disability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, place of residence, ethnic background, and refugee or immigration background.

Rights of persons with disabilities

Finnish CSOs and their partners play a significant role in addressing multiple discrimination, placing particular focus on the rights of persons with disabilities. 

CSOs’ approach is based on the principle of full participation of persons with disabilities and organisations of persons with disabilities in the planning and implementation of development cooperation. A large part of Finnish funding allocated to work promoting the rights of persons with disabilities is channelled via the Abilis Foundation and Disability Partnership Finland to development cooperation activities that are planned and implemented by persons with disabilities themselves. Finnish disability organisations work in a goal-oriented manner, aiming to strengthen the disability movement as part of local civil societies. The aim is that persons with disabilities are aware of their own rights and live as equals with other citizens. CSOs are also engaged in comprehensive policy dialogue to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.

Disability organisations collaborate extensively with the CSO sector in Finland. Finnish CSOs’ funding and efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities have diversified and become increasingly versatile, and Finnish CSOs’ development cooperation is increasingly disability inclusive. CSOs focus on supporting the participation of women and girls with disabilities  as well as on promoting the realisation of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Additionally, they promote accessible environments in schools and health facilities, for example, and the availability of  services.  The rights of persons with disabilities have been taken into account also in CSOs’ work in Finland to promote knowledge and skills required for sustainable development.

CSOs’ contribution to efforts to tackle COVID-19

As important partners for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, CSOs engaged in development cooperation are also essential players contributing to Finland’s efforts in the global cooperation to contain COVID-19. Many CSOs have reacted to the pandemic through adjusting their projects and programmes to respond to the COVID-19 situation. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has been flexible towards such changes. By May 2021, more than EUR 5 million of the funding for CSOs’ development cooperation has been reallocated to work related to COVID-19. 

In CSOs’ work against COVID-19, special attention has been placed on communication (including provision of information about the virus, its spread and hygiene training), and related local solutions. Other focal matters have been provision of food aid and protective and hygiene equipment, the rights of women and girls, the needs of the education sector, and especially the overall promotion of the position of groups in vulnerable settings.  CSOs have supported persons with disabilities by disseminating information in an accessible manner and by supporting persons with disabilities to cope in exceptional circumstances. 

In this work, the CSOs make use of the added value that they can bring: local presence, local networking and expertise.

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