Civil Society Initiatives

Helping citizens organize and advocate for solutions to community problems, demand changes in policies and raise public awareness.

Why Our Work Matters

Civil society represents the space in which ordinary citizens contribute and participate in their democracy. Through civil society, people find solutions to community problems, demand change in government policies, raise public awareness and increase citizen participation – all critical components of a thriving democracy.

Through our work with civil society groups we are helping citizens participate in elections, address the issues they most care about, and hold their governments accountable. In addition, we are giving a voice to the most vulnerable in society, be it women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT communities, people with disabilities or internally displaced people.

What Our Work Does

The goal of our civil society work is to:

  • Involve citizens in and inform them about elections processes;
  • Engage citizens in the policy-making process at all levels of government;
  • Empower citizens to hold their governments accountable; and
  • Engage marginalized groups in the political process.

Involve and Inform Citizens about Elections
Partnering with civil society groups, we increase participation in the electoral process through get-out-the-vote and voter education campaigns.  Our programs increase voters’ understanding of their rights and strengthen citizen interest in democratic processes. 

In Mali, we work together with local grassroots organizations to provide civic and voter education on citizens’ rights and responsibilities, the roles of members of parliament and the importance of elections.  These efforts have directly reached citizens in each of Mali’s nine regions and tens of thousands of additional Malians have been exposed to important civic and voter education messages as a result of IRI-sponsored print media and radio campaigns.

Engage Citizens in the Policy-Making Process
A key component of our democratic governance work is engaging and empowering citizens to play an active role in government planning and decision-making process at all levels of government.

In Kenya, we have helped establish issue working groups made up of citizens and local officials to address priority issues set by the community.  Members of the Mombasa Job Creation and Waste Management working groups came together to identify standardized trash collection points as well as employment opportunities within the trash collection industry.  The working groups’ efforts led to the clean up one of the largest dumping sites in Mombasa which had been a constant health threat to residents.

Empower Citizens to Hold Governments Accountable
With the core belief that governments are accountable to the citizens they govern, we work with civil society to give citizens the tools and ability to do just that.

In the Colombian cities of Cartagena, Cucuta, Soacha and Valledupar, we helped pioneer efforts to increase transparency and fight corruption through salones de la transparencia.  These offices allow citizens to perform oversight of public resources by providing access to government contracts and budgets as well as local development plans and annual reports.  Citizens can also visit the offices to receive civic education material and file complaints related to the local administration and the use of public resources.

Engage Marginalized Groups in the Political Process
Our work with marginalized groups give a voice to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to participate in the political life of their country – including women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT communities and people with disabilities.

Through the Youth in Politics initiative in Tunisia, we help young activists implement community projects, develop advocacy skills and conduct government watchdog activities.   Young activists participating in our national government accountability network have taken the citizen outreach and government accountability skills taught by IRI to coordinate surveys on priority issues in their communities, weighing this data against each political party’s electoral platform and then publicizing the results. 

Through our Campaign Academy for Successful Elections, youth candidates and first-time campaign managers are running campaigns using strategies informed by IRI public opinion data and youth volunteers are being empowered to play a decisive role in Tunisia’s nascent democracy. 

Our Innovative Approach

Leveraging Traditional and Social Media

A feature of many of our civil society initiatives is the use of traditional and social media as a way to engage the broader community in the political process. Through IRI-sponsored radio talk shows and call-ins, and televised debates, roundtables and town-hall meetings citizens are able to debate issues, and talk directly to and hear from their elected leaders.

We also help civil society groups use social media as a way to engage citizens and government officials, share information, raise awareness and advocate for issues. These online tools help to connect people in different communities and countries so they are able to share best practices and work together to find solutions to common problems.

Using Technology to Enhance Programming

Using information and communication technologies, such as SMS, tablets to gather real-time data from citizens and other online platforms, we help civil society groups find and use low-cost, high-tech tools to carry out their missions. These tools enable groups to share information quickly, gather and report data in real time and monitor government projects in easy to use platforms.

Monitoring and Evaluation Strengthens Our Programs

Monitoring and evaluation plays a pivotal, two-fold role in our civil society work. Through our monitoring and evaluation efforts we measure our programs’ effectiveness while also developing the capacity of civil society partners to assess their own work and the work of their governments – a critical component of civil society’s “watchdog” function.

For this reason, our monitoring and evaluation efforts often use a participatory approach that focuses on mentoring and consultation: we work together with civil society partners to define program goals and criteria for success, and utilize their in-depth, country-specific expertise during data collection and analysis. This not only ensures that our research findings are rigorous, accurate and useful, but that we are also contributing to the growth of evaluative capacity and a culture of accountability among the organizations and activists with whom we work, and the broader civil society sector.

The generous support of individuals and corporations enable IRI staff and volunteers to carry out its mission around the world. With your help, IRI will continue its mission of hope for decades to come.

IRI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are tax deductible

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