Despite the world wide economic downturn in recent years which has seen many countries and donors cut their aid budgets money for projects promoting free expression and to combat censorship has increased.
A research study initiated by the Center for Media Assistance and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange says contrary to common perceptions more money is now being put into promoting free speech than ever before.
The reports key findings are:
1. Overall donor funding for free expression work has increased–not decreased–over the past three to five years. Of the 20 donors who responded to the question about level of funding during this period, only 15 percent reported that their support for freedom of expression had declined, while 45 percent stated that freedom of expression funding had increased at their institutions and 40 percent reported that it had held constant.
2. Under current conditions, it is impossible to conclusively measure the amount of free expression funding. Donors themselves have a hard time extracting specific annual dollar amounts for free expression funding because it is housed in so many different programmatic areas and operating under so many different definitions. This situation is expected to improve as more donors digitize and tag their grant databases.
3. Changes in the political landscape of individual countries have a major impact on whether, how, how much, and what kind of freedom of expression activity is funded. These variables can include not just the broad ideology of the ruling party, but also such elements as trade policy and national security concerns.
4. Many donors are experiencing economic pressures as a result of the 2008 global financial downturn. In various cases, this pressure has led them to cut back programs, reduce funding, revise partnerships with grantees, and redefine geographic focus.
5. The community of free expression funders is evolving: new ones are emerging, while some long- time supporters are leaving the field altogether or shifting their priorities.
6. Internal and structural reorganizations are taking place across the board, in both government and private funding organizations. These changes bewilder NGOs and program officers alike. Over the transition period, it can become especially difficult for potential grantees and program officers to connect and communicate. Many of these changes involve staff reductions, so there are fewer officers to process grants, and they are additionally stretched when aid budgets grow.
7. The field of freedom of expression has been broadening with the addition of emerging Internet freedom organizations. The field has been complicated by mission overlap between established freedom of expression groups and emerging groups focused on technology and human rights.
CIMA and IFEX hope that this report will offer some fresh perspectives and information on the shifting landscape to continue the conversation between free expression groups and donors in the pursuit of their common ideals.