To view the original article with infographics visit: https://blog.keshif.me/trends-in-civil-society-organization-sector-a-visual-perspective-on-data-d3b7d184817

Excerpts posted here with the permission of the author – Ashwed Patil from Keshif.me

How do we assess and evaluate how well a country’s civil society sector is performing? What factors are strongly affecting the progression or regression of a country’s civil society? Using Keshif’s interactive data dashboard for the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) data, we searched for answers in the journey of civil society environments across seventy countries and five regions.

It’s not just the government and businesses that define the fabric of our neighborhood, city, or country. Civil society organizations (CSOs) — including non-profits, community organizations, faith-based organizations, labor unions, charity groups, youth movements, indigenous groups, and professional associations — contribute significantly to our society in critical areas by providing educational, health, food, social and legal services, giving voice to the vulnerable, assisting during disasters and conflicts, advocating for public rights and citizen engagement, working against corruption and holding institutions accountable, and enhancing transparency and good governance.

An active and independent civil society is essential for sustainable development. Given their broad impact into creating a vibrant civil society, CSOs are frequently called the ‘third pillar’ of a democracy. To play an essential role in a healthy democracy, active and independent CSOs require sustainable environments that foster their operations and growth. However, this environment is dynamic across countries, with progress and regression intermixed across countries and thematics. Several societies are also experiencing a ‘shrinking civic space’ — environments where public institutions curb freedom of association and expression through repressive laws, suppressing political opposition and dissenting opinions and crackdowns on independent media
For reliable analysis of the CSO sector, we turn to the Civil Society Organizations Sustainability Index (CSOSI), which provides annual assessment data on seven dimensions of the state of civil society for many studied countries since 2001, when it was conceived by the USAID. In each study, a panel of experts coming from diverse CSO sectors assess the sustainability across key dimensions, coming up with a numeric score, and a sustainability category. This annual source of data has become a key metric to track the strength and viability of the CSO sector globally. (You can learn more about the CSOSI methodology and how the indicators are scored at USAID’s CSOSI website). Also Visit CSO Sustainability Index Dashboard

Recent Global Trends
Around the world, civil society organizations are operating in environments ranging from extremely challenging to highly sustainable.
Overall, countries in Europe and Eurasia have fared well in terms of CSO sustainability with a majority of them having high scores overall, followed by Asia where most of the assessed countries have shown willingness to improve their civic spaces. However, CSO sectors in Africa and the Middle East continue to struggle with hostility and restricted opportunities, with few exceptions such as South Africa and Kenya.

CSO sectors across the world continue to struggle with financial viability. However, advocacy scores across the world have been strongest of all CSOSI dimension.
With financial viability appearing as the weakest dimension in almost every country, many CSOs are facing barriers with access to funding opportunities and strong financial systems. A global look reveals that most of the countries had impeding financial viability sustainability in 2017. Among the study, only three countries (or just 4% of the countries assessed) were considered to offer enhanced sustainability for financial viability. However, even with strong financial challenges, CSOs across the world continued on their mission to advocate for greater accountability and influence public policy. We can observe the strong advocacy sustainability of CSOs globally, even in fragile and conflict-ridden countries such as Iraq and Mali.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s Big Problem: Scarcity of Financial Resources
While financial viability scores for CSO sustainability remain low across the world, the problem of dwindling funding for CSOs is particularly severe for Sub-Saharan Africa. From 2010 to 2017, financial viability was the weakest dimension in all the 31 studied countries in the region, often by a wide margin.
Based on the trends over time, nearly all the countries in this region have experienced a net deterioration in the CSO sector’s financial viability from 2009 to 2017. In 2017, 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had impeded sustainability in their financial viability for CSOs. Even South Africa which traditionally has been the best-performing country in the region for CSO sustainability, the financial viability score dropped by 0.4 points between 2010 and 2017. Ethiopia saw the biggest drop in its funding, with its score deteriorating from 5.9 in 2010 to 6.5 in 2017. In contrast, only 5 countries (The Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone) reported a modest improvement in their CSO funding scenario, but these improvements were not enough to boost their overall CSO sustainability.

Financial Viability has been deteriorating in Sub-Saharan Africa, while Service Provision in most of Sub-Saharan Africa has remained high or mostly stable throughout the last few years. An interesting observation to notice is that service provision doesn’t seem to be affected by the decrease in financial viability across these years. Typical, civil society organizations often struggle with provision of goods and services due to dwindling financial resources but the overall service provision scores in Sub-Saharan Africa have remained strong even in countries with impeding sustainability such as Cote D’Ivoire and Madagascar.

A Declining Legal Environment in Central and Eastern Europe
While Central and Eastern Europe countries have traditionally shown high sustainability, CSOs operating in several countries have seen increasing impediments from 2008 to 2017, especially concerning their legal environments.
Even countries with highly sustainable CSO sectors such as Poland and Bulgaria have seen continuous declines in their scores in the last few years. Ukraine and Moldova stand as exceptions where CSOs saw modest improvements in legal provision of services, registration, funding, and operations.

Central and Eastern Europe’s legal environment for CSOs has been declining, with Russia and Azerbaijan demonstrating major downward shifts after 2013.
Additionally, we noticed that there was a correlation between legal environment and public image — countries where CSO sectors faced legal challenges and shrinking operating spaces also saw a decline in their public image. It is known that the 2015 refugee crisis and economic uncertainties brought a wave of nationalism and xenophobia in Europe. As legal restrictions for pro-migration CSOs, NGOs receiving foreign funding and organizations critical of governments increased, the accompanying negative rhetoric by pro-government media discrediting their work and sometimes portraying them as a threat to national security significantly affected their public image.

We observed that CSO sectors across the world have seen vastly different developments, with some countries and regions showing remarkable achievements in their CSO sustainability but a number of other countries facing alarming situations. Despite numerous adversities they face, particularly with financing, CSOs across the world have striven to meet the urgent and often challenging needs of the populations they serve. Greater government scrutiny and oppressive constraints loom behind civil society organizations as they continue to be resilient, advocate for development and influence policy decisions.

To see and explore the CSOSI data in depth, visit https://csosi.org