Navigating the Shrinking Space for Civil Society: Insights from NGO Academy Members Breakfast

In an era where civil society faces unprecedented challenges, the NGO Academy Members Breakfast held online on December 7th brought together 18 participants from various countries to discuss and strategize around the theme of “Navigating the shrinking space for civil society.” The insightful discussion shed light on the evolving landscape with special focus on Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, and Croatia, where the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) is facing increasing constraints. After the panel discussion, attendees continued the exchange in small groups, creating connections with peers and discussing developments and perceptions in their local contexts.

Challenges Faced by Civil Society:

The Hungarian context revealed that the state is becoming an increasingly unpredictable partner. Available public funding for CSOs has decreased tremendously over the last years. Legal proceedings against CSOs under the “Law of transparency” have created additional obstacles. The introduction of this legislation has made the operating environment for CSOs more challenging.
Similar developments were noted in Slovakia, albeit in the early stages. CSOs have been more and more regarded as opponents by public institutions. Participants highlighted instances where decisions from authorities led to a deliberate shrinking of space for civil society initiatives. The distinction between “good” and “bad” organizations further complicates the landscape.
Participants from Serbia report that the public authorities aim to increase their control on media outlets, with tendencies towards censorship of critical opinions towards public entities. CSOs are facing pressure and pushbacks in a relatively unstable political environment. Moreover, the political instability of the country, with parliamentary elections taking place in 2020, 2022 and 2023, also proves challenging for civil society organisations.

Padlet created by attendees during the Members Breakfast

Strategies explored:

1. Early Warning Systems

A Slovakian participant emphasized the need for early warning systems, questioning when it is appropriate to raise alarm bells. The consensus was that immediate reactions, even to seemingly minor changes, are essential to safeguard the space for civil society.

2. Diversifying Income Streams

One participant proposed international funding sources as well as a sales strategy through social businesses, acknowledging its risks but highlighting its potential to provide alternative income streams for CSOs. This could be a resilient approach, especially when facing more unpredictable state partners.

3. Funding Independence

Another participant shared insights into the challenges of fundraising from ministries and public sources. They stated that public funding can come with implicit conditions and expectations of some form of compensation. The suggestion was to prioritize fundraising from international donors and maintain policy independence.

4. Consistency and Dialogue

The importance of consistency in actions and reporting, coupled with engaging in dialogue with various stakeholders, emerged as a key strategy. Participants stressed the need for active engagement with citizens to build support and understanding for their cause among the wider public.

5. Solidarity and Networking

The participants unanimously highlighted the importance of solidarity among civil society organisations. They emphasized the need for networking, being present on social media, investing in professional communication and supporting each other in challenging times.

6. Addressing Contributing Factors

Recognizing major factors contributing to the shrinking space for civil society — increasingly unpredictable public partners, constrained media, funding challenges, fear of political associations, and a growing tendency towards demonization of CSOs — participants proposed strategies such as building strong networks, promoting small wins, finding alternative funding sources, and creating stakeholder alliances.


As the challenges faced by civil society continue to evolve, the insights from the NGO Academy Members Breakfast serve as a beacon for organizations navigating this complex terrain. By fostering international collaboration, embracing diverse funding strategies, and staying vigilant against encroachments on civil space, CSOs can collectively weather the storms and continue their crucial work in fostering positive change.