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Why Do We Need a Debate on Self-Regulation in the Field of Civil Society in Turkey?

What do we need for the existence of an actual civil field today in Turkey?

Society Organizations must do to get through this bottleneck?

These are the most difficult questions of this era. It will be very difficult to find answers and solutions to these questions and will require a lot of time and effort. In STGM it is a part of our mission to engage in the efforts to find answers to these questions. Moving from the fact that the STGM is a center of strengthening for civil society, our approach focuses on the response of the civil society organizations to the question.

We start from the idea that under today's world conditions, the prerequisite for the civil society organizations in Turkey to create change is to be a strong and independent actor. These common norms and standards must be developed for the CSOs and most importantly, by the CSOs. This is important because when the CSOs cannot maintain their independence, their ties with the public administrations or market actors do not make them stronger but in fact, make them weaker. Recent developments in the legal framework around civil society are shaped without contributions from the civil society. In the meantime, the connection between how these organizations generate revenue and what they advocate becomes more and more direct.  

Hence we need to pay attention to the reciprocal relationship on this matter: the resilience and the good governance of the organizations have become more inherently connected than ever. One might argue that this was the same always which is not exactly wrong. But now, this has become a vital equation, a matter of life and death for the civil society. 

Moreover, the civil society sector continues to develop both on a national and global scale: the number of CSOs continues to increase; more and more resources are allocated for them and even a large part of these resources are coming directly from the public sector. As it is reflected in the press at times, public institutions pour vast resources into certain civil society organizations in a direct and nontransparent way which results in the public calling the legitimacy of the entirety of the civil society into question. These supports, which are given under the pretense of participation and effectiveness, are criticized to eliminate any public control over the public resources. For this reason, accountability and transparency of the civil society organizations and ensuring that their works are effective and of high-quality, are still relevant and important aspects today.

So, as can be seen, both of the main problems of the civil society of today, collide into each other on this very basic question: how will we ensure the independence, autonomy, transparency, and accountability of the civil society?  

Naturally, Turkey is not the only country that faces these problems. The cross-national experiences of the civil society sector show that the solutions suggested/developed for this question focus mostly on the self-regulation initiatives of the civil society. 

Unfortunately, these efforts and solutions are not sufficiently recognized by civil society and other relevant actors in Turkey. The only exception is the Report on Good Governance and Self-Regulation for Civil Society Organizations which was published in 2013 by TASCO (Technical Assistance for Civil Society Organizations). This report shares various models developed by civil society organizations in different countries to become more accountable, more transparent, and more effective in their efforts with the civil society organizations in Turkey. However, according to a study by UK-based One World Trust (which is one of the CSO examples examined in the report) currently, there are a total of 343 self-regulation initiatives 34 of which are international and 309 national initiatives. 

For instance, in many Western European Countries, the CSOs have self-imposed norms, standards, and guidelines and code of conduct about how they manage their revenue-generating sources. In some countries like England, Ireland, France, and Spain, there are certification/accreditation and documentation systems in place to certify compliance with these codes of conduct and the quality of the public services rendered by these CSOs. Moreover, open informative platforms for transparently disclosing the activities and financial statuses of the CSOs to the public find widespread acknowledgment, and fortunately, some examples of this practice can be seen in Turkey.  In this respect, the Açık Açık platform must be mentioned as a successful initiative.  

In STGM, as a part of our efforts in strengthening the qualifications, transparency, effectiveness, accountability, and self-governance capacities of the CSOs, we have decided to build upon our efforts towards the dissipation of the discussions opened previously by the TASCO on the self-regulation of the civil society. We have planned a participatory research process which focuses on the discussion on the code of conduct and guidelines amongst the different self-regulation initiatives mentioned above, as the most suitable starting point for today's conditions of Turkey.  In this respect, we have carried out the CSO self-regulation study called "SOZ" with an initiative created through voluntary participation of experienced CSOs which have well-developed organizational, financial, and thematic capacities; and which take part in interactive networks and/or platforms at least in one of the local, national and international levels; which showed active continuity in terms of engagements and efforts and finally which are qualified to represent the fields under question.

Our aim was to allow the CSOs that best suit the conditions of the country to define the basic principles of good governance and to determine by utilizing the internal dynamics of the civil society environment. 

This ongoing study benefitted from the experience and knowledge of the participant CSOs to prepare a set of principles that will positively impact the organizational capacities and activities of the CSOs both on internal and external dimensions. 

In the last quarter of 2020, we will hold workshops in which we will discuss how these principles will be presented and integrated into the organizational development strategies of these organizations.

We only hope that this initiative will pave the way for a Code of Conduct created for civil society and, most importantly, by civil society.


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