2016 CSO Sustainability Index for Asia


The Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) was first developed by USAID in 1997 for the emerging democracies of the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region, and expanded its coverage to include sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and Asia in 2014. This year’s reports cover 2016 trends in a total of 69 countries. 

CSOSI serves as an important resource regarding civil society trends across regions (comparatively) and over time (longitudinally). It is used by local civil society organizations (CSOs) to undertake assessment and analysis of the CSO sector in their countries, both to increase their capacity, as well as to engage in policy dialogue with their governments and the private sector. The CSOSI is also useful for governments, donors, academics, and practitioners to understand trends and key aspects of CSO sustainability in Middle East and North African countries.


The CSOSI measures the sustainability of each country’s CSO sector based on the CSOSI’s seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. This seven-point scoring scale mirrors those used by Freedom House in its publications “Nations in Transit” and “Freedom in the World.”

The CSOSI’s implementing partners in each country lead the process of organizing and convening a diverse and representative panel of CSO experts. Country panels discuss the seven dimensions for the year being assessed and reach consensus on the scores corresponding to each dimension. The scores are organized into three basic categories representing the level of development of the civil society sector: Sustainability Impeded; Sustainability Evolving; and Sustainability Enhanced. All scores and narratives are then reviewed by a Washington, D.C.-based editorial committee, assisted by regional civil society experts.


The 2016 CSO Sustainability Index for Asia evaluates the strength and viability of the CSO sectors in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. In 2016, CSOs in many of these countries worked in difficult conditions, including a new administration in the Philippines that has been accused of numerous human rights violations, the paralyzing loss of the world’s longest-reigning monarch in Thailand, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Bangladesh’s history, increased religious fundamentalism in Indonesia, and oppression of human rights defenders in Cambodia. Nevertheless, CSOs made vital contributions to national development, social welfare, disaster recovery, and rights protection, including reducing poverty in Nepal and Bangladesh, blocking repressive bills in Sri Lanka, and improving preparedness for natural disasters in the Philippines.

Overall sustainability levels for all seven countries remained within Sustainability Evolving — the middle category of development — in 2016, but developments over the past year show individual countries on different trajectories. Bangladesh and Cambodia reported deterioration in CSOs’ overall sustainability, largely due to heightened restrictions on the sector. In Bangladesh, the new Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act (FDRA) reinforced restrictions on access to foreign resources and presented new barriers to freedom of expression. In Cambodia, the government began to enforce the restrictive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) and increasingly detained and harassed human rights activists. On the other hand, Nepal reported an improvement in overall sustainability in 2016 as organizations benefited from continued support from corporate entities, foreign donors, and international CSOs for earthquake relief efforts, which in turn improved their organizational capacities, as well as the sector’s public image.

Last updated: February 27, 2018

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