Can crowdfunding bypass civil society crackdowns?


With heightened restrictions on foreign funding, reporting on the Russian government’s repression requires creative social media projects, argues Grigory Okhotin, one of the founding members of OVD-Info in Russia. Given the political environment in Russia, gathering donations from private citizens might seem like an impossible endeavor. Nevertheless, crowdfunding in Russia for human rights issues is a rapidly growing field, and it has become quite popular for citizens to support various initiatives, he writes for Open Democracy:

We started our online campaign with Facebook videos, Twitter posts, and a “donate” button on our website linked to a landing page explaining what we do. We have also engaged with celebrities and well-known activists that are relevant to our Russia-based audience, such as journalists, singers, and human rights experts. The aim of these campaigns was not just to raise funds, but also to disseminate information on what is happening to people to speak out, and why it is so important to keep this government accountable. Our primary audience is composed of journalists and human rights activists, who then take our information and disseminate it to their constituents. Our crowdfunding campaign raised $2 million rubles in 2016 (approximately $35,000 US), and we now have an 11-person team with 50% of our budget coming from small, personal donations.

Nancy Herzog, Senior Director of Grants Administration at the National Endowment for Democracy, addressed the shrinking space for civil society at this week’s PEAK Grantmaking Conference.

Russia’s crackdown is just one example of what UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai (right) called “the most comprehensive rollback of civic freedoms since the end of the Cold War,” when he testified before yesterday’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the subject of “Closing civic space and the threat to the future of global democracy.”

Bolster Democracy and Governance, Apply Movement Mindset

To effectively address the challenge of closing civic space, the funding levels at State, USAID, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) focused on human rights, democracy, and governance should be increased, or at least maintained, the U.S.I.P.’s Maria J. Stephan said yesterday in testimony before the Lantos Commission:

This is necessary to support research on effective responses to closing civic space and to help diverse civic actors – activists, bloggers, investigative journalists, labor and trade unions, professional associations, youth and women’s groups and formal NGOs – push back against government pushback. These civic actors’ work in documentation, advocacy, organizing and mobilization are critical components of an effective pushback.


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