Bangladesh civil society organisations’ strength declines for 5 straight years

Bangladesh's position in CSOSIScreengrab of a pdf page of the report

Bangladesh has slipped in the Sustainability Index of Civil Society Organisations (CSOSI) for five straight years in 2020, reaching a score of 4.0 from 3.5 in 2015, reports UNB.

Lower numbers indicate more robust civil society organisation (CSO) sustainability.

Bangladesh’s name was first included under this indexing in 2014. The country got the highest score in 2014 and 2015, 3.5, and lost 0.5 points in the following five years.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) developed the index and has been producing the reports since 1997.

In 2020, a total of 73 countries of Africa, Asia, Europe and Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean were covered in the global index.

An expert panel suggests the scores for each country based on publicly available information and data. A US-based editorial committee finalises the score and produces the report.

The CSOSI measures civil society sectors’ strength and overall viability based on seven dimensions: legal environment, organisational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image.

It uses a seven-point scale from 1 to 7. The levels of sustainability are organised into three broad clusters as sustainability enhanced (1.0 to 3.0), sustainability evolving (3.1 to 5.0), and sustainability impeded (5.1 to 7.0).

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and other elements led to negative growth in six out of the seven dimensions in Bangladesh in 2020, according to the global report on the CSOSI, launched at an international virtual event Thursday.

Bangladesh’s CSO legal environment declined slightly to 4.9 in 2020, from 4.8 in 2019.

The situation and restrictions evolved from Covid-19, and like the previous years, the lengthy registration and renewal processes, bureaucratic hassles, government surveillance, the Digital Security Act (DSA) which criminalises expressions, attempts to monitor TV channels, and lack of clear guidelines in the Foreign Donations Regulations Act resulted in a negative development in this dimension, the report said.

The organisational capacity dimension of civil society organisations remained unchanged in 2020 and stayed at 3.3.

Despite the closure of offices and activities for the pandemic, large civil society organisations continued to operate online. New methods were developed using sophisticated information technology. However, small and new CSOs continued to struggle in implementing their regular activities.

In 2020, the civil society organisation sector had also declined in the dimension of financial viability, being reduced to 4.6 from 4.5. Funding fell for the CSOs as many government and foreign allocations shifted from traditional sectors to Covid-19 response, relief, and Rohingya crisis.

Civil society organisations registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) faced a 17 per cent reduction in committed foreign grants. Many CSOs participated in the government’s Covid response programmes and received funding for related project areas.

Bangladesh's position in CSO Sustainability Index Explorer
Screengrab of a webpage of

A 2020 survey cited in the report claimed that 90 per cent of district-level CSOs were in a financial crisis.

Advocacy of local, national and international CSOs declined to 3.9 from 3.8 due to several reasons, including Covid restrictions. Opportunities for participation and advocacy in the government’s decision-making process also shrunk.

Service provision score also declined from 3.3 to 3.4 as CSOs’ activities were curtailed in 2020 due to suspension or shifting of government and foreign funds to Covid-19 response and relief projects and Covid restrictions.

Many local CSOs were remained closed for most part of the year. Some large CSOs working in the health sector worked directly with the government to tackle the pandemic. The overall education service including those led by CSOs was severely hampered in 2020.

The sectoral infrastructure dimension also declined, from 3.6 to 3.7. The training activities of the CSOs were very limited due to the lack of infrastructural facilities in pandemic situations. As the closure of the spaces for training, workshops and conferences, CSOs operated on virtual platforms.

The public image of CSOs was negatively impacted as they could not immediately respond to emergency needs. In 2019, the score was 3.9, which has dropped to 4.0 this year.

While the government acknowledges the contribution of CSOs in the social development sectors, including education, health and poverty alleviation, the organisations working on sensitive topics usually face multiple challenges.

CSO sector includes self-governing formal and informal organisations, usually non-profit nature, such as non-governmental organisations, social movements, community-based organisations and faith-based organisations, trade unions, women’s groups, youth groups, research institutes and think tanks, professional associations, cultural institutions, social enterprises, and informal movements, networks, and campaigns.

The exact number of CSOs operating in Bangladesh is not publicly available.

However, more than 88,000 organisations are registered with government authorities, such as the Department of Social Services and the NGOAB.