Think of all the organisations working to make our lives better. They include faith communities, youth groups, trade unions and charities. They are an essential part of life. These organizations are often referred to as “civil society”. 

Now imagine living in a country where civil society is small and closely controlled by the government, where it is not well organized, lacks resources and expertise. A country where, instead of speaking out on behalf of those in need, civil society is fearful and cautious of those in power. A country where people are reluctant to challenge or even collaborate with authority. Everything that civil society does for you in the UK would be denied to you in this country. You would lack the freedom and rights that you take for granted. 

But what if an organization, committed to making peace a reality where people don’t have the freedom to exercise their rights, had a vision of how things could change?  

The country is Laos, the organization is Cord and the vision is a project called CONNECT. 

CONNECT has four stages 

  1. Build up civil society so that it is strong and well respected. 
  2. Enable civil society to work together with confidence.
  3. Build trust between the government and civil society
  4. Demonstrate the effectiveness of this work so that it can continue into the future.  

CONNECT has been running for four years and builds on the work Cord began in 2012 with Lao civil society. We’ve been hosting workshops and meetings so that groups can share their experience, best practice and different ways of working. We’ve been training them to engage with their communities more effectively. We’ve helped them to set up research projects so that they can understand what the local needs are and how they can best respond. We’ve been helping them to plan for joint action with one another and government departments. 

This has led to all kinds of amazing projects being established in five provinces. Civil society groups take the lead. They bring together smaller informal groups and local Government. In four years we’ve worked with 72 organisations who have done some amazing work. This has included an extensive programme to improve the nutrition and education of children. 

CONNECT draws to an end this summer and in the final months of the project we’re evaluating how things have gone. We’re holding reflection sessions with the partners as well as conducting an external evaluation. We want to find out what impact has been made in terms of civil society capacity, networking, and relationships with authorities. We’re keen to know which parts of the project will be sustainable, and the impacts that will keep bearing fruit after the project ends. This is an essential process which helps us to learn and plan for what comes next.