Civil Society Resiliency in the Middle East and North Africa

In October 2021, PartnersGlobal launched ResiliencyPlus in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. ResiliencyPlus is one of PartnersGlobal’s signature methodologies for transformative organizational development in times of change and uncertainty and is especially relevant for civil society experiencing the impacts of closing civic space.

The virtual three-day workshop brought together twenty civil society leaders within the Partners Network – a coalition of some of the world’s leading peacebuilding and democracy organizations – including PartnersJordan, PartnersYemen, PartnersLebanon, and PartnersIraq. The purpose of the workshop was to introduce the ResiliencyPlus Framework and process to our network members and begin to sow the seeds of a future cadre of Regional Resiliency Coaches and Facilitators. Institutionalizing the methodology through local leadership helps to build understanding about the ways in which organizational resiliency manifests in the MENA region and how best to adapt the framework and process to respond effectively to regional dynamics.

“The workshop showed us how important it is to understand the internal factors the organization faces,” noted Fahd Saif, Deputy Executive Director of PartnersYemen. “In Yemen,” he continued, “we are definitely in need as individuals and as organizations for such analysis to serve our community better.” The participants from Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon agreed with him. 

The ResiliencyPlus methodology analyzes an organization’s internal vulnerabilities and external threats that must be mitigated and managed adaptively to remain viable in the face of shrinking civic space. It then explores an organization’s level of resiliency as it relates to seven key factors related to internal and external dynamics – adaptive capacity, contextual awareness, communications, staff commitment and capacity, legitimacy, entrepreneurial mindset, and connectedness.

Closing Civic Space in MENA

The MENA region faces various levels of closing civic space which impacts civil society in different ways. Some countries in the region that have well-established, long-standing civil society organizations are experiencing excessive responses by security forces against recent anti-government protests organized by civic actors and activists demanding accountability and justice. Other countries are witnessing a rise in the detention of journalists and human rights defenders, as clampdowns on freedom of speech increase. And for others that rate among the region’s most closed civic space environments, civil society is faced with navigating complex civic space dynamics in addition to the destabilizing elements of protracted conflict.

Throughout the workshop, network member participants reflected on the similarities and differences at the individual, organizational and sectoral levels of resiliency. Not surprisingly, the Resiliency factors resonated in both shared and nuanced ways, depending on the country context. For PartnersIraq, a relatively new member of the Partners Network, public image and legitimacy were front and center. For PartnersJordan – the oldest MENA Centers in the network – financial stability, preparedness, and contingency planning were the most pressing needs. All participants agreed that the ResiliencyPlus framework and process was necessary for their organization and throughout the region to better prepare for, adapt, and respond to changing civic space dynamics.

Going Forward

At PartnersGlobal, we are committed to authentic partnership and locally-led change. This workshop was the first step in a journey the PartnersGlobal team will take with the regional centers of the Partners Network. Our vision for 2022 is to invest in a Regional Resiliency Coaching Team by selecting a specialized group of seasoned facilitators/trainers and civil society experts to lead the charge and become certified Resiliency coaches – thus localizing the methodology in the MENA context and guaranteeing that there will be an ever-deepening capacity to undertake ResiliencyPlus long after our inaugural initiative is complete. 

PartnersGlobal is currently implementing ResiliencyPlus in East Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, East and West Africa, and Latin America. Adding the MENA region to existing efforts is paramount, as individuals, organizations, and the civil society sector around the world face increasing government restrictions that impact their ability to work freely and independently.