The transformation

The conversations we held with previous applicants helped us understand what we needed to change, and where to start. This is what we changed in the CSF:

Redesigned application process

We redesigned the CSF’s application process to make it more inclusive, accessible and straightforward. To achieve this, the redesign followed two main guiding principles: 1) respect the time and resources invested by applicants, and 2) honour the relationships with our grantee-members.

The redesigned application process takes into consideration the power relations at play, limited financial and non-financial resources available to grassroots organisations, groups and movements, and has taken steps to start moving away from processes that propagate the culture of competition.

These are the specific improvements made to the application process:

Created more specific, balanced and clearer eligibility criteria and requirements

Consulted members highlighted that submitting grant proposals is very challenging because the eligibility criteria and application requirements were excessive, unreasonable, ambiguous and unclear. This makes them spend too much time and resources applying for grants and, what is worse, for grants that are not suited for them.

We changed the CSF eligibility criteria and the application requirements to make them more specific, moderate, comprehensible and clear. Our goal was to find a happy medium that respects the time and resources invested by applicants and aligns with our internal policies, systems and limited funding possibilities.

Together with the Member Advisory Group (MAG) we decided to further delimit the CSF eligibility criteria to focus on a very specific pool of civil society groups closely aligned with the mission of the Fund. These are the eligibility criteria of the fourth funding cycle, which will be updated every new cycle:

1) Applicants must be from countries rated closed or repressed in the CIVICUS Monitor.

2) They must be part of constituent-led groups.

3) Applicants must face difficulties in accessing funds because of government bans, bureaucratic and/or donor requirements, and be at serious risk of having to cease their activities due to a lack of resources.

And we defined only three application requirements:

1) Applicants should not have received a previous award from the CIVICUS Solidarity Fund.

2) Activities associated with the grant can be completed within 12 months.

3) Funding requests should be between US$1,000 and US$10,000.


Simplified the application form

Excessively long and jargon-filled application forms are a huge burden for organisations, especially smaller ones, looking for resources. To improve the CSF accessibility it was important to reduce this burden on the organisations we want to support. Donors who genuinely want to support small and less formal grassroots groups, organisations and movements must be willing to take on most of the burden of the application and follow-up processes (e.g. reporting).

To simplify the CSF application form and related documentation, we were guided by two questions: do we need to know this information? And can we find this information elsewhere?

While we cannot deny the importance of asking certain questions as part of a selection process, we significantly reduced the number of questions and amount of information required. Three things were key to doing this:

1) We took the time to research the general contexts and realities of the applicants and gathered more information about them during the interviews with shortlisted candidates. While this made the selection process longer, it has allowed the MAG to start building a relationship with grantees long before their selection.

2) Trust. We have learned that trusting the applicants’ answers and lived experiences without asking for more information and proof of their work made our processesless burdensome for them.

3) We encouraged applicants to provide feedback from their communities.

Instead of asking applicants to gather and submit general information, we asked for and valued information about how their communities are involved in their work (e.g. identifying the problems and proposed solutions). This enabled applicants to focus on consulting with their communities and enhanced the quality of the applications received.

Another crucial aspect of simplifying the application form was getting rid of jargon as far as possible, making the questions accessible and easy to understand to potential applicants.

Why do you need to know the full composition of our decision-making body? You are a fund focused on constituent-led groups, you explained what you understand by this term, you asked extensively if we are constituent-led. Why not trusting us when we say that we are?” – Previous CSF applicant.

Provided support and guidance during the application process

We followed our members' advice and requests on providing information sessions and tools that would help applicants understand the application process and form. During our last funding cycle, applicants had access to the following resources (all of them provided in English, French and Spanish):

1) An eligibility quiz to be taken before having access to the application form. This allowed interested applicants to check their eligibility before investing time and resources in submitting an application.

2) A glossary with definitions of potentially tricky words, terms and expressions found in documents related to the CSF application process.

3) Instructional videos.

4) Stories, lessons learned and recommendations from past CSF grantee- members. A direct help line for applicants to solve questions about the process.

5) The application form was available in both online and offline formats.

Recognized people’s time by providing compensation and feedback

CIVICUS members, previous applicants and current grantee-members were a powerful source of information throughout the process of making the CSF application process more accessible and inclusive. While it is a frequent practice to require this input as non-remunerated support, we realised that we had to make these interactions less extractive and honour people's time. We decided to compensate members who helped us by giving:

Stipends: The MAG was initially conceptualised as a volunteer body despite the amount of work it takes to be part of it. During this journey, we started providing stipends to MAG members. This is not only fair to compensate the support they provide, but it has also become an extraordinary way of strengthening relationships, building ownership of the CSF and its processes, and has enabled more diverse members to take up this role which otherwise would remain a "privilege" for those who can afford to donate their time to something like this.

Training: After the conversations we held with past and current grantee-members and previous applicants to reflect on their experience with the application process and how to address their concerns and suggestions, we provided a training session on proposal writing, facilitated by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), as compensation for their time.

Members also highlighted how important it was to acknowledge the time invested by applicants by providing feedback on their applications. As it would be almost impossible for us, considering our capacity, to provide individualised feedback to each applicant, we organised a general feedback session for all ‘unsuccessful’ applicants. The session was led by the MAG and the CSF team to answer frequent questions from applicants and provide suggestions on how to improve their applications for future opportunities.

These new practices have strengthened our relationships with CIVICUS members and built the basis of our community of practice and learning.

Implemented friendlier monitoring, reporting, and learning processes

The conversations we held with applicants and grantee-members also taught us about the importance of creating a community and building partnerships to strengthen internal capacities,amplify voices and brainstorm ways forward. We decided to improve our monitoring, reporting and learning processes in the following ways:

Bi-weekly check-ins

We wanted to use collaborative monitoring methods that determine, together with grantee-members outcomes, their value and how to measure them. We acknowledged that progress is not linear and often the journey is more transformative than any outcome. With these considerations, we now have 45-minute bi-weekly meetings with grantee members. These provide a space for honest communication where we co-create their transformative journey, speak about the drivers for change for their work, and possible ways forward.

These check-ins allow us to monitor progress together, celebrate achievements and support grantee-members in any challenge they face.


The bi-weekly meetings make us feel closer to the CSF grantee-members, learn about their achievements and challenges and collect stories. This has made it unnecessary to request narrative reports, therefore lessening their workload.

These check-ins allow us to monitor progress together, celebrate achievements and support grantee-members in any challenge they face.

Peer-learning and networking: building our community

We created a community of practice and learning that is leveraging the power of solidarity, networking and knowledge sharing. In this space, grantee-members can share among themselvesthe brilliant work they do in their communities, as well as experiences, best practices, stories, learnings, and brainstorm solutions together.

The first step toward building this community was doing a skills assessment to understand the strengths and weaknesses in our community. We then connected grantee-members with relevant peers so that they could brainstorm through multiple channels, including Facebook, WhatsApp and the CIVICUS Online Community.

During this assessment we learned that activists often feel isolated and struggle to connect with the international community. This isolation negatively impacts their security, mental health and ability to find resources. Being part of a community provides a deep sense of solidarity and support! In this community we share their callsto action, accomplishments(either connected to the CSF grant or not), stories and activities with the CSF community and with the CIVICUS alliance. This allows them to build a supportive network, secure more grants and gain confidence.
This community of practice began in 2021, during the third funding cycle of the CSF, and was joined by:

  • Fundación SIMAS, an organisation from Mendonza, Argentina, that, together with the women from the Indigenous community Huarpes, created the first online radio station managed by women in Mendoza.

  • Vijana Corps, an organisation from Mukono, Uganda, that, in their own words, “are empowering the last-mile youth to be seen and heard.”

Working closely together was a transformational journey. We built truly meaningful relationships among ourselves that made us redefine the meaning of “success”: relationships can be more successful than any other work outcome.

Read below about what we learned, celebrated and cried over together as part of this community: