- In the period between 2017 and 2018, the controlling powers in Syria have been shifting dramatically. The government of Syria (GoS) reclaimed vast territories back from opposition forces. Simultaneously Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the US-international coalition in north east Syria expelled Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from the region. Turkey and its allied opposition armed groups concluded two military operations to take control of northern parts of the country, specifically Aleppo northern countryside along the borders with Turkey. In the northwest, the establishment and expansion of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) jihadist alliance of armed forces have led to a shift in the political and governance structures in the area. These developments have changed the control map of Syria drastically compared to the situation in 2016, with direct and indirect effects on the humanitarian, social, political and civic levels. Syrian civil society organizations operating in and outside Syria were affected by these changes.This report sheds light into the status of Syrian CSOs in different areas of control based on the new geo-political lines formed as a result of the military developments. This report is based on data collated through a mapping of civil society organizations with active offices in Syria or neighboring countries conducted between August and November 2018. In total 514 CSOs were mapped during this exercise. While Syrian CSOs have been growing in number in certain areas, other regions witnessed a set-back in civic actions due to displacement or changes in the available space to operate. It is clear from our data that despite the higher tendency amongst CSOs towards professionalization and institutionalization in terms of seeking registration or expanding organizational structures, Syrian CSOs remain to a greater extent small in size and reactionary in their scope of work. A detailed look into the quantitative data produced through this mapping exercise shows that most of Syrian CSOs still operate with small teams as 77% of them have less than 50 staff members, and depending on short-term finances and emergency-triggered responses. Moreover, despite intensive efforts in fields of capacity building and civil society support, Syrian CSOs in general still lack needed capacities and qualifications to carry out interventions with optimal efficiency and effectiveness.
Summary and Recommendations
- Internal development: Syrian CSOs are highly recommended to prioritize internal development in accordance with principles of good governance. More specifically, Syrian CSOs are encourages to seek opportunities and resources to define and develop their missions, strategies, organizational structure and scope of work to enhance their adaptability to contextual changes and intervention capacity.
- Capacity building: Syrian CSOs are encouraged to invest in systematic capacity building programs on the individual and organizational level. This might include training for staff in their respective field of work as well as training in the CSO’s field of work, accompanied with general trainings on organizational structures and management, development of customized policies and procedures for various departments,
- Increase level of fundraising efforts, self-sufficiency policies: Syrian CSOs are recommended to increase efforts on fundraising that consider sustainable funding approaches such as self-sufficiency policies, income-generating programs and funding source diversification.
- Seek operational and core funds: CSO’s are encouraged to revisit their budgeting policies to account for internal needs and expenses. Syrian CSOs are recommended also to put more efforts into seeking operational and core funds where possible alongside project-based funds, that are directed to the internal development and sustainability for the CSO.
- Increase media and outreach efforts: CSOs are encouraged to put emphasis into their communication, outreach and media efforts to facilitate connection to their beneficiaries, local communities, local and national governance entities as well as other local and international CSOs and NGOs
- Enhance women participation and involvement: Syrian CSOs are also encouraged to adapt measures and develop internal policies and procedures to ensure gender sensitive planning and projects design and to facilitate women’s participation in decision making on the leadership levels.
- Advocacy and alliances: Syrian CSOs are encouraged to seek collaboration and coordination with their peers to foster knowledge and experience sharing and transfer. Advocacy and lobbying efforts should then be directed towards joint works and forging of alliances to ensure greater benefit of available resources and higher impact of actions.
- Direct funds according to needs: we call upon international donors and NGO to prioritize local needs of Syrian civil society and local communities, and to refrain from adapting pre-set strategies and one-for-all approaches in their interventions.
- Support internal development of CSOs: international donors and INGOs are encouraged to consider capacity building support to CSOs in terms of technical support such as training, coaching and support for internal development. Donors and INGOs are also recommended to allocate funds for internal development of Syrian CSOs in the form or core fund and similar financial-support mechanisms, whether as an integral part of project-based funding or as stand-alone support.
- Support for advocacy and political efforts of civil society: International stakeholders are recommended to recognize and give more space to the voice of the Syrian civil society on the international political level, and ensuring that local CSOs are represented and that their voice is delivered to policy makers.
- Support networking and communication amongst CSOs and with international actors: international stakeholders are encouraged to take measures to ensure effective communication with local and regional civil society actors, to ensure that funds are directed efficiently and that local voices are accounted for and taken into consideration in designing intervention strategies and projects.
- Support CBOs/initiatives in GoS, DSA and Turkish-controlled areas: international stakeholders are encouraged to expand their support to local initiatives and grassroots civil society actions especially in areas where minimum support is provided such as GoS-controlled areas, post-ISIL areas and Turkish control areas.
- Measures against NGOization of civil society: international donors and stakeholders should as well allow the space for Syrian CSOs to reclaim the role of traditional civil society, and adapt measures against NGOization of civil society in Syria. These might include more support to social and political-driven projects rather than service provision projects.
- Long term strategic support: international donors and INGOs are recommended to prioritize long-term strategic support for Syrian CSOs and to refrain from short-term projects when possible.
- Further research: International donors are encouraged to fund and support more data-driven research on the dynamics of Syrian civil society and on thematic areas of relevance such as public perception of CSOs, relations to other stakeholders including governance entities and private sector, economics and financials of Syrian CSOs among other.