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In­ter­na­tional Democ­racy Day: Space for Civil So­ci­ety Democ­racy Day this year is be­ing com­mem­o­rated in­ter­na­tion­ally on 15 Septem­ber. This year, the United Na­tions has cho­sen the theme “Space for Civil So­ci­ety” to mark the con­tri­bu­tions of civil so­ci­ety.

The UN states that glob­ally, the role of civil so­ci­ety has never been more im­por­tant than this year. As the world pre­pares to im­ple­ment a new de­vel­op­ment agenda, agreed to by all the world’s gov­ern­ments, the space for civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists and or­gan­i­sa­tions in a num­ber of coun­tries in ev­ery con­ti­nent is shrink­ing — or even clos­ing — as some gov­ern­ments have adopted re­stric­tions that limit the abil­ity of NGOs to work or to re­ceive fund­ing.

This year’s democ­racy day theme is a re­minder to gov­ern­ments ev­ery­where that the hall­mark of suc­cess­ful and sta­ble democ­ra­cies is the pres­ence of a strong and freely op­er­at­ing civil so­ci­ety whereby gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety work to­gether for com­mon goals and, at the same time, civil so­ci­ety helps keep gov­ern­ment ac­count­able.

Here in Bhutan, the CSOs are join­ing the Univer­sity and UN sys­tem in com­mem­o­rat­ing the day at the Samtse Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion.

In the mean­time, the CSOs are tak­ing stock of their own po­si­tion in Bhutan in light of the find­ings of a ca­pac­ity build­ing needs as­sess­ment study. A se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions were held with CSOs for the study.

A re­port on the find­ings of the study is in­cluded here:

A ca­pac­ity build­ing needs as­sess­ment for civil so­ci­ety or­gan­is­tions (CSOs) in Bhutan found that there is “pas­sion­ate lead­er­ship”, di­ver­sity and mo­ti­va­tion among the CSOs. How­ever, the study pointed out the need for part­ner­ship, net­work­ing and plan­ning.

The study not only an­a­lysed in­sti­tu­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges for the CSOs, but also made a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions for the growth and de­vel­op­ment of civil so­ci­ety in Bhutan.

The study found that the CSOs be­lieve in their work. They de­scribed them­selves as “need driven” with “com­mit­ted lead­er­ship” and as hav­ing the abil­ity to “do more with less” to com­ple­ment the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in pro­vid­ing ser­vices and reach­ing the un­reached.

The study rec­om­mends amend­ment of the Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions Act of Bhutan 2007 (CSO Act 2007). The study also rec­om­mends a strong part­ner­ship among the CSOs and with other in­sti­tu­tions. The study terms it as “co-opetion” (co­op­er­a­tion+com­pe­ti­tion), un­der­ling the need for co­op­er­a­tion even as the CSOs com­pete. As part of co-opetion, the study says a few lead­ers in civil so­ci­ety need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the over­all growth of the CSOs.

CSOs’ en­gage­ment with academia, the study says, would help con­vert the CSOs’ ac­tiv­i­ties into knowl­edge.

There is “poor vis­i­bil­ity of im­pact CSOs make” and no “sys­tem­atic strat­egy of us­ing a sup­port­ive media to build brand vis­i­bil­ity”, the study points out.

Bhutan to­day has 47 reg­is­tered CSOs, 35 Public Ben­e­fit Or­gan­i­sa­tions (PBOs) and 12 Mu­tual Ben­e­fit Or­gan­i­sa­tions (MBOs). PBOs aim to ben­e­fit a sec­tion of so­ci­ety or so­ci­ety as a whole while MBOs seek to pro­tect and ad­vance the in­ter­ests of their mem­bers and sup­port­ers. CSOs were first for­mally reg­is­tered in Bhutan in 2008 af­ter the en­act­ment of the CSO Act 2007 by Par­lia­ment.

The ma­jor con­cerns for the CSOs, the study points out, in­clude re­source con­straints, poor recog­ni­tion by the gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety, poor net­work­ing within civil so­ci­ety, re­stricted and lim­ited space, and a lack of in­de­pen­dent Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions Au­thor­ity.

When 26 re­spon­dents were asked to de­scribe their growth us­ing a metaphor of a plant, seven de­scribed them­selves as be­ing in the early growth stage, 11 as be­ing in the bud­ding stage and eight de­scribed them­selves as hav­ing reached the flow­er­ing stage. Ga­gan Sethi, the con­sul­tant who con­ducted the as­sess­ment, de­scribed the growth of CSOs “from a tree to a for­est to an ecosys­tem”, un­der­lin­ing the prin­ci­ples of in­ter-de­pen­dency, di­ver­sity, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and mu­tu­al­ity, among oth­ers. He said civil so­ci­ety should be a di­verse ecosys­tem.

Mr Sethi de­scribed the civil so­ci­ety in Bhutan as di­verse and healthy in a pre­sen­ta­tion of the find­ings to a group of civil so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives on 4 Septem­ber. How­ever, the study found the Bhutanese civil so­ci­ety to be “ex­tremely Thim­phu-cen­tric”. “Re­mote ar­eas rep­re­sent­ing civil so­ci­ety for­ma­tion is still weak,” it says, adding that there is “no nur­tur­ing and in­cu­bat­ing strate­gies for the growth of CSOs in re­mote ar­eas”.

The study rec­om­mends that in the long-term, civil so­ci­ety in Bhutan needs to build a sharper iden­tity and move from pro­ject­based ac­tiv­i­ties to longterm think­ing about its im­pact and out­comes. The study also un­der­lined the need for clear cat­e­gories within civil so­ci­ety, which is to cat­e­gorise the CSOs ac­cord­ing to the work they do such as care­giv­ing, gov­er­nance and en­vi­ron­ment, and liveli­hood and em­pow­er­ment.

At the pre­sen­ta­tion of the find­ings of the study in Thim­phu, Meenakshi Rai (PhD), RE­NEW’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity out­reach, said that the study was the first step to­wards find­ing a guid­ing prin­ci­ple for the CSOs in Bhutan. Tashi Nam­gay, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bhutan Kid­ney Foun­da­tion, said that for the growth of civil so­ci­ety in Bhutan, the CSOs should come to­gether as of­ten as pos­si­ble and CSO meet­ings should be ad­e­quately rep­re­sented.

The needs as­sess­ment study was funded by Hel­ve­tas-Bhutan and fa­cil­i­tated by the Bhutan Cen­tre for Media and

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