This year, 2016, INTRAC will be 25 years: 25 years of dedicated service to many civil society organisations around the world, and the people who work in them and for them. Over this period INTRAC has contributed significantly to the thinking and challenge of those who set the parameters for the work of those who come together motivated for the common good beyond power and profit. This story continues.
Yet the world is also changing rapidly around us. The needs, space and expectations towards civil society today are often different from how they were before. There were many global challenges that communities, individuals and civil societies needed to respond to in the past, but new ones have emerged and shifted attention of other private and public international actors in relation to their contribution and involvement in governance. Civil society is however not just adapting in the sense of getting accustomed and adjusted to new realities. More people than ever are becoming activists for a better future, supporting others who are marginalised and excluded, and organising and building communities defined by shared issues and interests. We are seeing people doing this in innovative ways that challenge those with power. This is civil society at its best.
INTRAC’s new strategy 2020 engages with the changes and challenges facing civil society today and tomorrow with a double focus on organisations and the sustainability of their cause and models of resourcing, and on the role of individuals: those who support civil society as capacity builders and organisational developers as well as those who as part of movements and organisations seek to hone their effectiveness, skills and proficiency as agents of change in society. Many organisations and activists in civil society however work in very taxing circumstances. There is no consensus on the role of civil society in governance and wider development amongst many powerful actors and the political space for civil society is shrinking in many countries.
Over the next five years INTRAC’s attention will therefore be on supporting civil society in places where there is persistent poverty and disenfranchisement, and where space for civic action is threatened by tensions between state, the private sector and civil society. INTRAC’s strong emerging programme of work in the Middle East and North Africa, our commitment to Central Asia, as well as the engagement in wider governance programmes especially in the Africa region speak to this focus. At the same time we will continue to work worldwide, learning and sharing good practice together with a wide range of people and organisations, and translating joint findings about civil society needs, practice and ways to support it for uptake by funders and policy makers.
Making INTRAC fit for the future has been a shared and certainly my main internal concern over the past 2 ½ years. It has been a privilege to lead this process as part of the founder transition since 2013, supporting the organisation, staff and associates as the team initiates key new projects as part of the direction we have jointly developed.
Now however, it is time for me to say goodbye and thank you. Having played my role of salt, challenger and pilot in this period of change for the organisation I look back on many fulfilling experiences and relationships that have developed over the past few years. The new strategy, grounded in an in-depth analysis of challenges, opportunities and needs for change, sets the organisation up well for the period ahead. INTRAC’s experience shows that the cause of civil society is often served as much by individuals as by organisations, moving often fluidly between roles, places and ways of working. It is one of the great features of resilience in the cause of change that our sector has to offer. In that vein I look forward to remaining involved in international civil society work and am sure that paths will cross again for many of us.
Michael Hammer is INTRAC outgoing Executive Director. From 7 May 2016 he can be reached at michael@ROCsalt.org.