MR. TILLEMANN: Good morning. I’m Tomicah Tillemann, and I serve as the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society in Emerging Democracies. Today, it is my privilege to welcome you to the 2012 Summit of our Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. This event brings together civil society representatives from more than 40 countries who have gathered here in Washington and thousands more who are participating via the internet and at embassy viewing parties around the world.
This summit is taking place at a moment of profound change. The world is witnessing a fundamental renegotiation of the relationships that have historically defined interactions between citizens and governments. Civil society has been at the forefront of that change, and this dialogue represents our recognition of the rapidly expanding role that you and your organizations play in shaping our world. This dialogue now involves more than 50 bureaus and offices at the State Department and USAID. We’ll hear more about that in a moment, but it is providing a platform for translating your ideas into foreign policy. And our work on this initiative is a concrete manifestation of our commitment to elevating civil society as a full partner in our diplomacy alongside other governments.
Now, we know that the work of civil society is never easy. And in too many places it is truly dangerous. But amid this multitude of challenges and opportunities, we are fortunate to have women and men leading the State Department who understand the value and the potential of civil society as a force for progress in our country and around the world. And we are particularly fortunate that two of those women are with us today for this global town hall.
We are glad to welcome our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been working with and for civil society since her first job out of law school, and our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine, who recently joined our State Department family after serving with great success in many civil society organizations and who will moderate this town hall.
Our sole speaker this morning will be Secretary Clinton, and her vision is the catalyst that brings us together today. Six months before a Tunisian vegetable seller remade the political landscape of an entire region, she spelled out the centrality of civil society in our foreign policy at a keynote address to the community of democracies. During the cold autumn that preceded the Arab Spring, she created an office on her staff that was dedicated to engaging civil society. And long before TIME magazine named the protester as the person of the year, she understood what you could accomplish.
She has been supporting civil society since before it was hip. She has been fearless, focused, and farsighted in her efforts. And frankly, as the most admired woman in the world, she needs no introduction. (Laughter.) Our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very, very much, and thank you, Tomicah. Tomicah has done an absolutely superb job in taking this idea of a strategic dialogue with civil society and putting real flesh on the bones. And this second summit is certainly evidence of that.
So it is a pleasure to welcome you here to the State Department. A lot has happened since we launched this initiative with the summit last year. When we met for the first time in last February, the revolutions that Tomicah referenced had begun to unfold across the Middle East and North Africa. Citizens were demanding their rights and their voices which, for too long, had been denied. And amid the tumult, civil society groups everywhere sprang up to push for democracy and change. Now some emerged from those quiet places where they had been operating for years. Others formed overnight as a great result of social media connections.
But in any event, it was brave men and women, including many of you in this room, who came together to plan for a new future, and you spoke eloquently about the need for civil society. Well, your work and the work of millions of others around the world has never been more important. We are seeing people stepping up to fill the space between government and the economy.
In 1998, I gave a speech at Davos about a firm foundation for any society being like a three-legged stool where you had to have a responsive, effective, accountable government, and you had to have a dynamic, job-creating, free market economic sector. And then you had to have a strong civil society. If one of the legs got too long or too short, the balance would be thrown off. And to make the case for civil society, it’s really quite simple, because government cannot and should not control any individual’s life, tell you what to do, what not to do. The economy has to be in the hands of those who are the entrepreneurs and the creative innovators. But it’s in civil society where we live our lives. That’s where our families are formed; that’s where our faith is practiced; that’s where we become who we are, through voluntary activities, through standing up for our common humanity.
And so as we see the explosion of civil society groups around the world, we want to support you. I think that in the United States, civil society does the work that touches on every part of our life. It really reflects what Alexis de Tocqueville called the habits of the heart that America has been forming and practicing from our very founding, because we early on understood that there had to be a role for government and a role for the economy, but everything else was a role for us – individuals charting our own course, making our own contributions.
And we turn to you to help us support civil society around the world. Now this initiative is a striking example of how government and civil society, often supported by the private sector, can work together. And under Tomicah’s leadership, we’ve spent the past year consulting with civil society groups through the Strategic Dialogue and our working groups, asking you for ideas about what we in government can do more effectively, looking for more opportunities to collaborate.
Now I don’t want to give the impression – because it would be a false one – that cooperation between civil society and government is always easy, even if this dialogue sometimes makes it look that way. Most of you will not be shocked to hear that civil society and government, even in my own country, do not always agree. We have found ways to disagree without being disagreeable. But I started my career working in civil society. I did a lot to take on my own government starting in the 1970s. The first issue I worked on was to try to help change the laws about how we treated people with disabilities. And I worked for a group that went door to door in certain parts of America asking families, “Do you have a child who’s not in school, and if so, why?” And we found blind children and deaf children and children in wheelchairs and children who had been kicked out of school with no alternative. And I was a very small part of a really large effort to require that American public schools find a place for every one of our children.
And so I know that you have to sometimes stand up to your own governments. You have to sometimes help your government do things that, in the absence of the pressure you are bringing, they either could not or would not do themselves. So we understand that the space that civil society operates in, in many places around the world, is dangerous; that many of you in this room and those who are following this on the internet really do put yourselves on the line. And we want to be your partners.
Now we know too that in the face of an upsurging civil society, some governments have responded by cracking down harder than ever. Recent headlines from too many countries paint a picture of civil society under threat. But each time a reporter is silenced, or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation. A stool cannot balance on one leg or even two. The system will not be sustainable.
So the United States is pushing back against this trend. We’ve provided political and financial support for embattled civil society groups around the world. Just two weeks ago, our Democracy and Human Rights Working Group met with bloggers and reporters from across the region in Tunis to hear about challenges to freedom of expression. And we are trying to lead by example. We hope that by holding meetings like this one, we can demonstrate that civil society should be viewed not a threat, but an asset.
I’m very proud to announce today that the State Department is acting on every one of the eight policy recommendations that have been generated by civil society through this dialogue so far. Now, I won’t go through all of them for you – I hope that you’ll have a briefing on all of those; we’re putting the details online for everyone to see – but let me just make a few highlight comments.
First, we are expanding the reach and deepening our commitment to this dialogue by setting up embassy working groups. Our posts will help us tap the ideas and opinions of local civil society groups, and then we will channel their input back to Washington to inform our policies. We’ve already received commitments from 10 posts stretching from Brazil to Bangladesh, from the Czech Republic to Cameroon. I know many of these posts are watching live via the internet right now, and I want to extend a special word of thanks to them.
Second, our Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy has focused on how we can strengthen our engagement with the large section of civil society comprised of faith-based organizations. Our posts in every region of the globe work with faith-based organizations and religious communities to bolster democracies, protect human rights, and respond to the humanitarian need of citizens. So these groups are our natural allies on a multitude of issues, including advancing religious freedom, and we want to work with them wherever possible. These recommendations will support our officers in the field who are engaging with religious communities to make sure they have the appropriate training to carry out their efforts.
Third, our Labor Working Group has examined opportunities to facilitate discussions among governments, businesses, and labor groups to make sure all points of view are represented at the international level and in multilateral institutions. Labor groups are another well-organized and important category of civil society, and we want to help them connect with one another and pursue shared approaches as we defend and advance workers’ rights.
And finally, bringing us back to the great changes throughout the Middle East and North Africa, our Women’s Empowerment Working Group is building awareness for women’s rights in countries undergoing political transition. And we will work closely with civil society groups and governments in the region to help make women’s rights part of new constitutions, protected and practiced, and understood as critical to the development of democratic, successful societies.
Now, our new policy recommendations do not end here. Later this afternoon, the dialogue will hear new ideas developed by our Working Groups on Governance and Accountability to improve transparency and combat corruption. And we will continue engaging with you to identify new ideas and opportunities. This summer, we will also be adding a new Global Philanthropy Working Group to our dialogue, chaired by Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine. This group will expand our cooperation with leading foundations and develop partnerships to support civil society.
Now, conversations and actions like these have ripple effects, and we have had some positive responses from governments over the last year who are reaching out and developing their own mechanisms for engaging with their own civil society. Some of the representatives from those governments are here today, and we greatly appreciate your presence, and we also stand ready to offer any assistance we can.
So thank you for being here. Thank you for what you do. Please know that are enthusiastic about the future of civil society and we want to use this dialogue, as we have for the past year, to be a vehicle for the exchange of ideas, for the promotion of new approaches, and for an accounting, because we want to do what works and quit doing what doesn’t work. So we want to be very clear that we’re going to be holding ourselves accountable and going to be looking to civil society to be held accountable as well.
So I’m looking forward to taking some questions about our dialogue and having this exchange with you and then hearing more about the work that each and every one of you are doing. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Well, thank you, Madam Secretary, for the opportunity to moderate this very inspiring and loud program. I do want to welcome all of you, and particularly those who are here on ECA-funded civil society programs, the IVLP folks, the Humphrey fellows, if you’re out there somewhere. We particularly welcome you here today.
In just a few moments, we’ll be taking some questions from the audience, so as you do have a question, if you would signal us and we will get a microphone to you. But in the meantime, I’m going to begin, Madam Secretary, by picking up on this very inspired and moving thought: Each time a reporter is silenced or an activist is threatened, it doesn’t strengthen a government, it weakens a nation. So how do we explain this rise of challenges and crackdowns on civil society? And are these isolated events, or is there a trend here that we’re going to see in the years outward?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think – this is loud. (Laughter.) I hope it can be turned down. I think that the world is going through an extraordinary historic change. More people are living under governments of their own choosing and more people have the opportunity to do so than ever before in human history. But it’s also true that old habits die hard. There are all kinds of cultural, political, economic, even religious, ethnic, racial – all kinds of mindsets that are difficult to change in a short period of time.
I am very optimistic about the future, but I am also very realistic that the pathway to that future of greater democracy, freedom, human rights, human dignity is going to be a hard road for many millions and millions of people around the world. And therefore, we have to continue making the case for respect and tolerance and openness that is at the root of any true sustainable democracy while recognizing that many leaders, both old and new, are going to find such a transition very personally threatening, threatening to their group, threatening to their assumptions about power and order. And we have to continue to make the case.
So I am humbled by the courage of so many people around the world right now – dissidents, activists, political actors – who are contributing to this historic tide that is building. But I also realize that it’s not going to happen overnight, and therefore, we have to be smart about how we help you move forward on this agenda for civil society, democracy, and human rights.
So I really think, Tara, that we have to, also in the United States, remind ourselves of our own long journey. We’re living in a time of instant communication and 24-hour news, but we did not recognize every American’s human rights, we did not have fully representative one-person, one-vote democracy, when we started out. We had to fight a civil war. We had to amend our Constitution. So we have to be, I think, always advancing what we believe are universal human values, best realized within the context of representative democracy but with enough humility to understand that different peoples, different countries have different histories, different cultures, different mindsets.
So what we want to do is support real change, not just score political points or get on the evening news. At the end of the day, we want our help and support for civil society and political change to actually have advanced the cause of freedom and human dignity and human rights and democracy, and not to be used as an excuse or a rationale for clamping down even more. So navigating through all of that is especially difficult if you’re in such a country, but it’s also difficult for us who are trying to help those of you who are on the frontlines.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Let me go to the audience here first, and then we’ll go overseas. I notice the first hand is in the second row, three seats in. And if you would not mind identifying yourself and also asking folks to keep questions relatively short so that we can work our way around the room. Please.
QUESTION: Hello, I am Shatha Al-Harazi, a political human rights journalist from Yemen. I am so honored to be here today with you and so inspired by your speech. I have only one question. You just spoke about universal human values. When it comes to that, that just reminds me that – of a friend of mine who just told me to tell you face-to-face that Yemenis are not less important than American, and if you want to work hand to hand and counter terrorism, you have to work with the civil society. You have to strengthen the civil society. And we thank you here for the great work that NDI and the USAID are doing, but still the drone strikes are disrupting everything and it’s getting our civilian killed. So I’m just asking you here, is there any consideration or any plans on working with civil society on counterterrorism? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we certainly intend to and are working with civil society on counterterrorism, because one of the long-term solutions to terrorism is building up civil society, giving people the feeling of empowerment: their voices are heard; they don’t need to turn to violence because they can participate fully and equally in a political process.
We also are committed to working with civil society to counter violent extremism; to counter the messages of extremists who promote violence; who are not respectful of human rights or even human life, but instead are intent upon undermining the political order and, in effect, capturing it to promote a certain ideological or religious point of view.
So we do have to do more with civil society. There is absolutely total agreement on that. And in a conflict situation, as we see in many places around the country, we do try to do both. We try to support the government or the political system against the threat from violent extremism while trying to work to enhance civil society as a way of diminishing either the attractiveness or the reach of extremism.
So it’s not either/or in our view. It’s primarily on the political-civil society front, but I’m not going to sit here and mislead you. There are also people who are trying to kill Americans, kill Europeans, and kill Yemenis; who are not going to listen to reason; who don’t want to participate in a political process; who have no interest in sitting around a table and hearing your view because, with all due respect, you’re a woman. And so they cannot be given the opportunity to kill their way to power, so we will support governments who are trying to prevent that from happening while we also try to build up civil society, help move a country like Yemen on a path to true democracy with representative government.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: We’re going to go from Yemen to Morocco. I believe we have a video –
PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Okay, I think we’re first going to go to the real Morocco, which is a video question we have via YouTube. And if we could queue up the first overseas question for the Secretary and play our first video.
QUESTION: My name is Manelle Ilitir and I’m from Morocco. Unemployment is the most pressing issue in our MENA region. Expectations are high, and youth are demanding action now. The complexity of the (inaudible) of this urgency only creates more tension. So my question to you, Secretary Clinton, is: How can civil society drive a social dialogue among the concerned stakeholders where there is public, private, academia, NGO; a social dialogue that is result-oriented, that reinforces their collaboration, amplifies what already exists, and delivers the jobs needed in the immediate future? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much. And I think that young woman’s question is one of the most common I’m asked around the world, because 60 percent of the world’s population is under 30; the highest percentage of the unemployed are under 30. Young people are very worried about what kind of futures they will have across the world. But in particular, when those worries collide with the rising expectations produced by political reform and even revolution, it’s a volatile mix.
So I think there are several things. First of all, governments have to have good policies. That is obvious. And it is more difficult in the 21st century for a lot of reasons which you say are complicated. I agree. But civil society can be a great catalyst and partner with government and with the private sector on job creation. What do I mean by that? Civil society can help with the acquisition of job skills and training for certain kinds of jobs that are available in the marketplace. Now, we have this problem in our own country. We have lots of jobs available in lots of industries without enough people either willing or able to take those jobs. So doing job training, doing outreach, helping prepare young people for the jobs that are there.
Secondly, we have formed a partnership called the Partnership for a New Beginning that is in North Africa and the Middle East. And when I was just in Morocco, I met with the leaders of this effort who are leaders of corporations, small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and we are working with them to try to increase their economic reach so that they can offer more jobs. What can they do to improve their exports? What can they do with our help to break down barriers so that they can get into new markets? Now one of the things that would particularly help in the Maghreb, if you look at from Morocco through Egypt, those countries trade less with each other than any contiguous countries in the world. You have the border between Morocco and Algeria closed. You have continuing difficulties with other countries in terms of trade agreements, open borders – the kind of free flow of commerce that does create jobs. And so the more that can be done to integrate the economies of the Maghreb, the more I believe you will have greater opportunities for young people.
Then I think civil society can take a strong stand against corruption, because corruption is a job killer. Corruption is a cancer that eats away at economic opportunity. So civil society needs to be loudly and clearly speaking out against, acting against corruption, and using social media – posting anonymous pictures of people taking bribes, posting anonymous stories of officials who stand in the way of the creation of your small business. So take that stand against corruption. We will work with you. We will help you on that.
And then look at the ways that technology can create more jobs and do an examination of what are the barriers within your government to the creation of businesses and jobs. Because there is a ranking that is done by an independent organization that ranks every country in the world in the ease of doing business. How easy is it if I show up tomorrow in Morocco or Tunisia or Jordan or Yemen and I say, “I want to start a business, and I think if I’m successful I could employ 10, 20, 30 people. How long does it take?” Sometimes it takes more than a year. How discouraging is that to people who want to get started and want to get going with their own energy to create something? Sometimes you have to pay many bribes. Sometimes you have to get all kinds of licenses that have nothing to do with actually starting your business, but it’s just to keep somebody in the government employed. If the government employment takes up too much of the sector of employment in a society, it squeezes out the opportunity for business to flourish to create jobs in the market.
So these are some of the things that civil society can do in cooperation with both government and business, and we’re working on all of those through this Department to be of support to you.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: I know there was a gentleman had his hand up first, right on the edge there. And we will, again, try to move as quickly as we can here and overseas.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much. It’s an honor to be here. I just want to ask you a question. We have teams – my name is Marc Gopin. I’m from CRDC George Mason University, and I have teams that work in some countries that are adversaries of the United States like Syria and others that are allies. And I want to ask your advice about how we can do what we do better in terms of civil society, conflict management, and social transition that will help you balance the challenge of working with allies that you need to keep as allies, but at the same time are hurting our people. So how can we do what we do more effectively in a way that will help American policy provide positive pressure that’s constructive and that what we do is constructive and helpful to what you’re trying to do?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think you’re putting your finger on a difficult issue because, if I heard you right, you do conflict mediation, resolution, in countries with which we have both good and not so good relations. And even sometimes in the ones we have good relations, very often they don’t have the best track records in how they support civil society and treat their own people, which we are well aware of.
Look, I think there are a couple of things. Why do countries change? Why do leaders change? Why do they decide one day that they are going to go in a different direction? There’s a certain level of mystery to this, but a large part of the answer is because they become convinced they’re on the wrong track. We’re watching with great interest the opening in Burma over the last months. And there’s been a lot written about why did these former generals who had been part of a very oppressive regime for a very long time – the prisons were filled with political prisoners; Aung San Suu Kyi was a prisoner in her own home – why did they decide this is the wrong direction? I don’t know that there’s any specific answer, but I’ll tell you some of the answers that have been suggested, which I think are more general.
First, there were leaders in other countries who had gone through the process who reached out and began in a very respectful way to talk about what democracy could mean to the future of Burma. It’s been in the public record, but one was the president of Indonesia, a former general during a very difficult time of dictatorship, who took off his uniform, ran for office. Now Indonesia, the largest Muslim population in the world, is a thriving democracy where women and men are equal participants. And so President Yudhoyono began to reach out the generals in Burma through ASEAN, through other organizations, to say, “Let me tell you about my experience. Not like, ‘you must go do this’ but let me tell you what we did in Indonesia.” The generals began to travel, and they began to see that their country was not as developed. It didn’t have as much prosperity. It didn’t have jobs for young people like other countries nearby. Thailand had been under military rule; now it was booming. It was next door.
So these personal experiences and the outreach of other leaders or people who can relate to those in power in oppressive countries, coming from similar backgrounds, having similar experiences – never underestimate the power of personal relationships and personal experiences. We talk about geopolitical strategy, and sometimes it seems way up in the sky, but I’ve often found it’s the personal connection.
I remember going to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, and there were many, many very important people there. And after he was inaugurated, we went back to the president’s home for an inaugural lunch, and he stood up and he said, “I want you to meet three – the three most important people to me who are here today.” They were three former jailers of his on Robben Island; three hard-bitten white men who had overseen his imprisonment, but who had treated him with dignity and respect. And I remember asking him in one of the conversations I was privileged to have with him, “How did you come out not embittered, wanting revenge, wanting to do to them what they had done to you?” And he said, “Well, I knew if I walked out embittered, I’d still be in prison.” He said, “But I also knew from those years in prison there were people who saw me as a human being, and I, therefore, had to see them as human beings.”
Now I tell you those stories because a lot of time conflict mediation or resolution is very formalistic. People are engaged in dialogue. But what happens that’s most important is, I think, outside the dialogue, where they talk about their families, their interests, when they decide that that person of another religion, of another race, of another tribe is also a human being. So I think you’ve got to try to engage leaders and countries that are oppressive in those kinds of personal ways. It doesn’t always work. There are some really hard cases in the world. We know that. But it might help in the person who comes after, or it might help in the guy standing on the sidelines who said, “We can do this better.” And – but just persist. You never know what’s going to make an impression.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Let’s go quickly to another part of the world, Brazil, and let’s hear from our Brazilian civil society leader and include them in the conversation here. So we’ll queue up Brazil, we’ll come back here, and keep moving along as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: My name is Marlon Reis. I am a state judge in Brazil. I take part on the Brazilian movement against electoral corruption. My movement was responsible for conquest of the (in Portuguese), the law of clean slate. I would like to ask: How could we improve our relationship, the partnership between U.S. Government and social movements on fighting against corruption? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Let me suggest we’re going to run a couple of these, just to give you a chance to wrap them together. If we could go to Afghanistan very quickly, because I know some of these civil society leaders worked very hard to be heard here, and I’d like to have a few of them and we’ll wrap them together.
QUESTION: (In foreign language.)
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: So I happen to have a translation of the question for those who couldn’t follow it, but it does address the gender issues in Afghanistan, and I think the rule of law questions on the Brazil. So if you want to take on both of those, and then we’ll probably have time for one more here and one more there.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with respect to the Brazilian question on corruption, I just want to reiterate what I said. The more civil society can be a force against corruption, the more likely the reforms you’re seeking, whether it’s in the economy, in the environment, in any area of human rights or dignity, are more likely to have a chance to succeed. And taking on corruption should be the job of governments, but very often governments need civil society to push them and pull them into doing even more.
Regarding the question about women in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of NATO-ISAF troops over the next two years, this is a great concern to the United States. It is to me personally. There has been an enormous amount of great progress made in Afghanistan. This young woman is an example of that, running a radio station, something that would’ve been absolutely unheard of, punishable under the Taliban. And we have made it our priority to do everything we can to help support civil society, the rule of law, women’s empowerment, and the enforcement of the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, which clearly lay out the rights of men and women to be treated equally under the laws. I mean, that is not too much to ask for. And that is what every person, man and woman, is entitled to.
So we will continue working with civil society and the government, making it clear that that has to be a redline, and do all we can to support the brave women of Afghanistan who are out there every single day saying, “I have a right to go to school,” “I have a right to be a practicing doctor,” “I have a right to be a teacher,” “I have a right to open my business.” And we just think that that goes with being a democracy. And women have the same right to make the choices that are right for them and their families, as any man does. So we have to keep making that absolutely clear. (Applause.)
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: So we’re in the last few moments. The Secretary has to leave. What I’m going to suggest is a very quick question here, a very short question from Kazakhstan, and we will wrap up. The Secretary has to leave. I will stay behind and help answer some of the questions or pass them along to her.
So very quickly here, Kazakhstan, and we will close.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Hamid from Morocco, the first country that recognized the United States. And I know that you love it. (Laughter.)
So I’m talking about civil society in Morocco, but I think it’s the same in the Maghreb. There is an increasing role in the last 10 years of the role of civil society, yes, but there is some threats, lack of transparency. We know one number saved by the minister of – in Morocco that 90 percent of public aid for civil – for NGOs in Morocco goes to only 10 percent of NGOs. It means that the states control the funding of civil society.
And also the foreign aid for civil society don’t goes to the real NGOs in the ground, which they work close to people. And they don’t know what are the mechanism that you use to help NGOs in the grounds to work with people. And I think it’s something very interesting. You can give a lot of money, but if it don’t goes to the goal that you want to do, it’s a waste of your money. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for that. Let me quickly say that we need your help – that’s why you’re here – to advise us about how to be more effective with the aid that we give to NGOs. Because you’re right, sometimes we are told by governments that we cannot give aid to any NGOs that they don’t approve of, and that puts us in a very difficult position because we don’t want to accept that, but we also don’t want to fail to support even the NGOs that are approved of.
So we have to make a tough decision. Sometimes, governments make it so difficult for us to help, as you say, grassroots NGOs that it becomes impossible. So we can’t find them; we can’t interact with them; we can’t convey support to them. So we need your feedback. What can we do better? And we’ve got a lot of our top officials from the State Department and USAID here, and we need to hear from you about what will work.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: So we’re going to close on a subject we didn’t spend much time on, the internet and technology. We’re going to run a short question on that from Kazakhstan. And then the Secretary, I want to thank in advance for being here, and all of these senior government officials and civil society leaders and promise to stay and collect your questions. So we will do our final video and then we will end the session.
QUESTION: Dear Madam Secretary, my name is Alina Khamatdinova and I am from Kazakhstan. I once participated in your meeting with NGO in 2010 in Astana. With internet development, many possibilities for civic engagement have emerged. Many group of civic activities online are very popular now and their impact is very visible. What do you think about this trend? Is it good or bad? And especially for traditional NGOs who focused on human species, what kind of plans does State Department have for this tendency? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much from Kazakhstan. Well, we think it’s so important to help civil society utilize technology that we have a whole program to do just that. We have been running tech camps around the world where we invite civil society activists to come. In fact, there’ll be one in a few months in Kyrgyzstan, right? So –
SECRETARY CLINTON: When is it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Kazakhstan. It’s going to be in Kazakhstan. So we will have a tech camp where civil society can – representatives can come together to learn everything we can share with you about how to use technology – how to use it to promote the ideas and programs of the NGO you’re part of; how to use it to reach out and enlist more people to support you; how to use it to convey information to the people you serve. We’re doing a lot of work – if you take women’s health, something I’m very interested in, how do you get information to women about how to take better care of their health? If you are interested in small farmers, how do you get more information to them about how to help them be more productive? So we think technology, on balance, is a great gift and opportunity for civil society.
Now, there’s always a downside. That’s human nature. The good often comes with the not-so-good. And so there will be people on the internet who could attack you, who could try to interfere with you, could try to shut you down, both independent, government-sponsored – we’re aware of that. But, on balance, we want you to be as equipped as you can to use technology to promote and protect civil society across the world.
Thank you all very much.
UNDER SECRETARY SONENSHINE: Thank you, Madam Secretary. (Applause.)
Additional Resources on Civil Society
Statements by Secretary Clinton:
- Civil Society: Supporting Democracy in the 21st Century (Translation: عربي)
- Clinton Defends Civil Society, Internet Freedom and Democratic Elections at OSCE Ministerial (Translation: عربي)
- Remarks on the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society
- Remarks at the Launch of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society
- Secretary Clinton Acts on Policy Recommendations Developed by Civil Society
- Civil Society and Democracy Promotion in The Broader Middle East and North Africa
- Initiatives to Strengthen Civil Society and Provide Protection to NGOs Under Siege
- A Promise Kept: Lifeline – The Embattled NGOs Assistance Fund