The constant work of building peaceful, inclusive societies is one of the most challenging aims for civil society organizations. It’s often thankless work in increasingly challenging environments. Even before the pandemic, many experts described widespread “democratic backsliding” around the world – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America. On some continents like Africa, there are now fewer democracies than 20 years ago, now replaced by autocratic regimes. Other powers, like Russia and China, are actively working to undermine democracy, while leaders in some well-established democracies, like former U.S. President Trump and India’s President Modi, have adopted authoritarian-like rhetoric. Since the pandemic, some governments have used the pandemic to drastically expand their powers.

Policymakers often prefer to adopt approaches that are more visible and appear to initiate change faster – such as supporting foreign leaders that align with democratic values and pouring billions of dollars into short-term interventions. Of course, national leadership plays an important role in good governance and peaceful societies, but local community groups, activists and individuals are often the ones moving the needle day-by-day toward Sustainable Development Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Local groups not only understand the present and historical context in which they live, but they also know what their communities need most urgently, are trusted by community members, and are the first to respond to events. However, these civil society groups often lack funding, capacity, political support, and recognition.

That’s why Partners Asia focuses all of their work on supporting local leaders who serve the needs of “invisible populations” along the Thailand-Myanmar border, including refugees, migrants, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQI individuals. Through grants and leadership support, they are investing in grassroots civil society that promotes migrant and ethnic minority education, gender equality, community development, women’s financial inclusion, leadership, and cross-border cooperation. For example, they trained one local partner, Fortune, on research techniques for their mobile phone app. Fortune’s app helps refugees and migrant workers in rural Thailand navigate the path to citizenship so that they can have access to health care, education, justice, worker’s rights, and freedom of movement – basic human rights.

Read the full article about creating healthy societies by Joanne Lu at Global Washington.