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Vuka!: Building an international coalition to coordinate and enable civil society’s response to closing space

Report Date | October 2019
Type | Coalition response
Region | Global
Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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Vuka! is a broad coalition of approximately 160 international, regional and national civil society organisations, working to incubate new forms of resistance and organisation.

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Its Secretariat is housed within CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) and maintains a 19-member Steering Group.

With its large membership, multiple action teams and multi-country focus, Vuka! is something of a ‘meta-coalition’. With its Country Coordination Calls, Vuka! manages country-level responses to closing space.

Opening civic space
Coordinated action to respond to an opening rather than a narrowing of civic space, have proved more difficult to carry out. Among ICSOs, there is rarely a coordinated response to ‘opening space’. Civil society is skilled and experienced at fighting restrictions, but when there is sudden access to resources and space, what should support from ICSOs look like? It’s proven more challenging to determine what actions can be agreed upon on ’opening’ country calls.

Tension between depth and breadth
Coalitions often struggle with a natural tension between depth and breadth. Should the network dedicate their time to fewer countries and do deeper work there, or respond to a larger number of countries what would benefit from increased coordination?

Trust
When asking people to dedicate time to information sharing and collective discussion, you must first build trust and prove the value of engaging. Part of that is about not dominating the conversation, and making rather than taking space. Those stewarding or coordinating a coalition shouldn’t be in competition with members. The secure platform developed for Vuka! has been invaluable in helping to create that trust.

Coordinator role is key
Someone needs to be able to synthesise the information shared in order to properly identify potential next steps.

Resources and mechanisms
The collating of information and identifying of solutions needs to be backed up by resources and mechanisms to enable those ideas to reach fruition.

  • Because of the diversity of Vuka’s membership, allies with different expertise and networks can push information out to different stakeholders. The advocacy statements and campaigns have greater reach because members disseminate the information to their constituents and key influencers.
  • In closed settings, avenues for dissent are restricted and opportunities to engage with international or regional bodies are limited. So, including the UN or other Commissions on the calls to enable their engagement with national organisations has proved very helpful.
  • As well as the initiatives that have been formally spun out to other Vuka! action teams, many organic, bi-lateral connections and projects have been initiated thanks to these calls. The calls have acted as a platform for bridge-building between civil society actors who otherwise might not have worked together.
  • The secure, tailor-made platform that is used alongside the calls has allowed members to feel more confident in candidly sharing sensitive information about their strategies and activities, meaning that international civil society responses in national contexts can be mapped and analysed, in order to find gaps or opportunities for joint action.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | Coalition response     Region | Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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