What’s the latest on the NGO Policy in Cyprus?

This week, Maria Tsiarta from the UNDP ACT office catches us up to speed with the latest developments from the NGO Law Initiative, who have been working hard to update the law related to civil society in Cyprus. The efforts of the NGO Law Initiative are supported by UNDP ACT.

Yiannakis policy paper
Commissioner Yiannakis talks about the NGO Initiative.

On Tuesday, the 9th of December, I participated in an event organized by the NGO Initiative. Present at the event was Jeremy McBride, the expert of INGO Conference of the Council of Europe whom the Initiative has been cooperating with for the past year. He presented the outline of a policy paper on how Cypriot civil society can be strengthened. Next, Yiannis Yiannakis, the Commissioner for Volunteerism and NGOs, commended the efforts of the NGO Initiative, stressing that the policy paper currently being drafted will lay the foundation for a stronger cooperation between the civil service and civil society. As he explained that ‘the government acknowledges and supports civil society in Cyprus,’ I had a moment to reflect on how far the Initiative has come in their work.

Jeremy and Yiannakis policy paper
In discussion for a new policy with NGOs, October 2014.

Where we are now is indeed the result of tireless efforts put forth by the NGO Initiative since 2007. They have been working together non-stop to advocate for the modernization of the legal framework in the Republic of Cyprus. With the support of the Commissioner, the government has put forward several drafts of the law to replace the 70’s law on Associations, Clubs and Foundations and a new law that will grant Public Benefit status to organizations, replacing the Charities law. Through consultation and cooperation between the government and the NGO Initiative that is supported by the Council of Europe and European Center for non-for-profit law (ECNL), we’re now closer than ever to a legal and regulatory framework that corresponds to the current needs of Cypriot civil society.

This year, the long process has led to the common decision by the Commissioner and the NGO Initiative to develop a comprehensive strategy and vision on how civil society and the government can work together to create an enabling environment for civil society in the island. The policy paper that will be presented in the spring of 2015 will be a product of joint work and consultation that has started back in September 2014, taking on board the opinions and suggestions of civil society organizations, parliamentarians and government officials.

The challenge of the coming months that all parties are committed to is realizing the ideas that will derive from this paper, in their continued efforts to work together. The new laws will be the capstone to this effort.

You can follow the latest updates of the NGO Initiative via their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ngo.initiative.cyprus.


Innovation: How is UNDP in Cyprus building up?

Here at UNDP ACT, we decided to start a blog to create a space in which we can reflect on some of the work we are doing in Cyprus. This week, Christopher Louise, Programme Manager of the UNDP-Action for Cooperation and Trust, shares with us some of his thoughts on the current work and future road map for UNDP ACT.

Why has UNDP-ACT decided to build up?

Earlier this year, Nilgun Arif, from my office, was lucky enough to attend the inaugural iteration of Build Peace at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, USA. She spent two full days among 250 peacebuilders, activists, social innovators, and academics discussing how technology can be used to build peace in the 21st century. Her experience left a profound impression, and on her return we set about harnessing this energy. UNDP-ACT had just launched its Crossroads for Civic Engagement programme, which seeks to connect Cypriot peace innovation knowledge with Arab and European peace builders. Convinced that Cyprus’ geographical position at the crossroads between the Arab and European regions would offer something special, we soon secured an agreement to host Build Peace 2015 on the island.

That’s right, this April we’ll be sitting together, 250-strong, in the world’s last divided capital, where UNDP-ACT and Build Up will welcome the world of peace technologists and practitioners to Nicosia to discuss how the use of technology can build alternative infrastructures for peace.

Where Build Peace 2014 explored how technology can enhance the impact of a broad range of peacebuilding, social cohesion, and peace advocacy initiatives; this year we will ask the ‘so what?’ question.

Participants look at the big issue: how do these technology tools make a difference to the rarefied table of the political elites which negotiate a peace deal. Build Up’s Jen Welch put it like this in her recent blog post:

Build Peace 2015 will begin to examine issues of ‘depth’ – how the use of technology is resulting in the creation of alternative infrastructures for peace.

In Cyprus, I hope to draw inspiration from the many creative thinkers and practitioners who have been applying this question to the peace negotiations. I am convinced that innovation can bring grounded legitimacy to the island’s search for a political settlement, and other peace processes can learn from our experiences. This is why I am eager to showcase three initiatives in particular, which I believe sets Cyprus apart in its innovative peacebuilding efforts:

1) Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index (SCORE)

This new peace measurement tool, first deployed in 2013 and repeated in 2014, pinpoints the societal connections, which if leveraged correctly, carry the most likely positive outcomes, while also identifying areas where the impact of project and policy interventions will be less significant.

The innovation of SCORE not only provides new ways of understanding conflict which push towards predictive outcomes, but it can act as a diagnostic tool to support innovations in bringing legitimacy to the peace negotiations. This includes the more traditional instrument of…good, old-fashioned dialogue!

Picture 2_Eide and CDF2) Open Dialogue Forum

For the past 12 months, we at UNDP-ACT have been working to nurture an open space for politicians, business leaders, heads of trade unions and NGOs to design a forum, which can act as a feedback loop to the formal negotiations and provide recommendations to the leaders. This is a first in Cyprus, and whereas today the formal peace talks have stalled, the Cyprus Dialogue Forum provides an effective venue where politicians and other civic actors from both communities meet to continue the discourse on the island’s future.

3) Mahallae

Picture 1_MahallaeUNDP-ACT’s flagship peace innovation platform, Mahallae has been using the power of technology to democratize the playing field for civic participation in reconciliation and conflict resolution. This “digital neighbourhood” for civic engagement was developed by Cypriot civil society and innovators from the Euro-Mediterranean region, directly designed to effect social change using the smart technologies in our daily lives.

Spinning the axle

In Cyprus we have found that innovation which has a strong (but not exclusive) focus on technology can be the axle grease that lubricates the values required to legitimise the peacemaking project. As Build Peace organizer Helena Puig Larrauri describes it: “this is “innovating from the ground up”, speaking directly to the “empowerment, behavioural change and impact” features which characterise tech for peace approaches.

The strategic connections between SCORE, the Cyprus Dialogue Forum and the Mahallae platform do well to set the scene for Build Peace 2015. Together these innovations, underpinned by the human courage to make change happen in the face of daunting odds, can bring legitimacy to a peace process struggling to gain momentum. It is this optimism that I’ve seen time and time again on this island, that we will be bringing as well.

I hope Build Peace 2015 looks beyond questions of empowerment and behavioural change, and participants set their eyes firmly on the question of bringing grounded legitimacy to peacemaking – as we have seen in Cyprus this is where the demand for innovation truly resides.

By Christopher Louise, Programme Manager, UNDP-Action for Cooperation and Trust, Cyprus, December 2014