How are civil society organizations navigating the shifting donor landscape and priorities? Are CSOs embracing innovation in their operations and programming to enhance systems strengthening? How are organizations operating in restricted environments building resilience and pushing back against the threats to their ability to organize freely? These, and many more, dominated the conversations at the 3rd edition of the Organizational Development Summit (O.D. Summit) held in Abuja on June 25 and 26. Initiated by the USAID’s SCALE Project and supported by Spaces for Change|S4C through the Ford Foundation, the OD Summit 2024 focused on Driving Change and Innovation for Resilience and Performance, with the goal of equipping civil society leaders with the knowledge, tools, and strategies necessary to foster innovation and promote shared learning.

The civil society sector in Nigeria faces numerous contemporary challenges, including shrinking donor funding, heightened resource competition, technological disruption alongside restrictive government regulations all of which undermine the capacity of non-governmental organizations to transform, adapt, and shape their future. Over the two days, about 200 representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) and business membership organizations (BMOs) from across Nigeria converged both virtually and in-person to discuss these contemporary challenges and explore solutions to them.

Challenges facing CSOs aren’t just external. Certain internal problems also pose threats to organizational sustainability such as high staff turnover, founder dependency, over-reliance on donor funding, and inadequate succession planning. The opening remarks by distinguished guests, comprising federal lawmakers, heads of agencies, business and civil society leaders, as well as the discussions during the various panel, plenary and breakout-sessions, explored these external and internal threats in greater depth.

One of the panel sessions, Innovation in Systems Strengthening, featured the beneficiaries of the Ford Foundation-supported Civic Space Resource Hub (CSR-Hub) for West Africa. Launched in May 2022, the CSR-Hub is implemented by S4C and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) with support from the Ford Foundation’s Weaving Resilience Movement. Since 2022, the CSR-Hub has delivered comprehensive capacity-building, research support and technical assistance to over 500 CSOs in Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. Structured around five strategic pillars—civic space protection, governance and regulatory compliance, digital security and protection, resource mobilization and financial resilience, and research and knowledge-building—the Hub supports civic actors confronting threats to their operating environment to build, mitigate and overcome.

The testimonials from beneficiaries highlighted how capacity-building clinics delivered across the Hub’s five pillars have enhanced organizational resilience through governance upgrades, regulatory compliance, policy development and civic space protection. Initiatives like S4C’s Civic Space Outlook Video have provided early warning signals of impending threats and counter strategies for pushing back. Some beneficiaries have improved their research capabilities, repositioning their organization to attract funding and achieve their organizational objectives.

The OD Summit 2024 provided an unparalleled platform to CSOs, especially the startups to gain new ideas, expand their networks and access information about opportunities for impact-development and fundraising. To enhance access to these opportunities, sustaining meaningful collaboration and synergies between CSOs and BMOs is imperative.  The relevance of the Summit speaks for itself, which is evident in the number of participants that attended both in-person and virtually. The closing sessions showcased innovative tools and digital solutions for capacity strengthening, offering participants practical strategies for enhancing their impact.

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