Yemen has witnessed an increase of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in recent years, their rapid growth reflected in their numbers – there are now more than 8,300 registered CSOs in the country, almost a quarter of them springing up since Yemen’s transition got underway in 2011, as well as many informal groups and networks. The vibrancy and dynamism of these CSOs reflects a long tradition of community solidarity in Yemen, where CSOs have the capacity to mobilize youth and volunteers within local communities. This is one of the most untapped resources in Yemen, creating a unique opportunity for the government to build innovative development partnerships and channel citizens’ voices.
Yemeni women have also been strikingly vocal in their demands for more participation in the changes underway in their society. Safa Rawiah heads the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, which focuses on developing leadership roles for skilled young Yemeni men and women:
What role do you think CSOs will play in Yemen's future?
I think that in the future there will be larger numbers of active CSOs with more involvement in strategic decisions concerning the country. This was not the case in the past when the involvement of CSOs was merely symbolic. People recognize this new trend towards being more effective. This projects a clearer picture of the future role of stronger CSOs which can work closely with the government and private sector, and have a measurable impact. CSOs will get better at participating in country development strategies, helping not only in their design and implementation, but also in the monitoring and evaluation of them.
What challenges prevent CSOs from doing their role?
There are many challenges including their weak capacity, the sort of thinking that stereotypes them as charities and excludes them from development, and a tendency towards excluding them from real involvement in key decisions concerning the country.
How do you envisage the future of Yemen?
I dream of a brighter, peaceful future where people’s rights are respected, democracy is practiced, everyone’s life and voice matters, and where people can simply live with dignity. I dream of a developed Yemen which reflects democratic practices present in other countries.
Do you have anything to add?
I hope donors and international partners are serious about the involvement of CSOs as effective actors and development partners, and not only aid recipients.