Building Sustainable Civil Society Organizations from Within

11.16.2017, 2:30PM to 4:00PM

It is widely recognized that civil society plays an important role in improving the economy, health, and security around the world. Yet, only four of the 70 countries included in USAID’s Civil Society Organization (CSO) Sustainability Index have civil society sectors that were deemed financially sustainable.

Donors have traditionally focused civil society support on short-term objectives, with concerns for sustainability addressed only at a project’s end.  Rarely is CSO sustainability part of the initial design.  Can development partners strengthen local organizations to be financially independent and mission-driven, especially in a time of shrinking donor funding?

Fortunately, some CSOs have succeeded in breaking the donor dependency cycle. Using a range of examples from village polytechnics in Kenya to healthcare associations in Afghanistan and rural utility providers in the Philippines, we will examine how they did it and how we can use these lessons to influence how development projects should be designed and how they should engage local CSOs differently.

The panel discussion featured two experts on building sustainable civil society organizations, and an expert from USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.



  • Richard C. O’Sullivan, Principal, Change Management Solutions
  • Shannon N. Green, Senior Fellow, Human Rights Initiative, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)
  • Maryanne Yerkes, Senior Civil Society and Youth Advisor, Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, USAID
  • Lars Benson, Regional Director, Africa, Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) (discussion moderator)


Speaker Bios:

  • Richard C. O’Sullivan, is the founder and principal of Change Management Solutions, a consultancy founded to help CSOs identify, understand, and harness the forces of economic, political, and social change. Mr. O’Sullivan specializes helping CSOs in developing markets to become independent and self-sustaining agents of change. He has worked in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Eastern Europe, the Former Soviet Republics, and Central Asia. He is a recognized thought leader in the dynamics of civil society. Prior to founding Change Management Solutions, he served as the assistant director of the world-renowned Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins before leaving to become the Senior Competitiveness Advisor, responsible for developing self-sustaining industry associations for a USAID project in Kosovo and. O’Sullivan also founded and, for seven years, chaired SID-Washington’s Civil Society Workgroup and as a member of the International Council of the American Society for Association Executives. His work on civil society has been published in The Economist, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. O’Sullivan holds an M.A. in Economics from George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) with a specialization in developmental economics and a B.A. in Foreign Affairs from Assumption College (Worcester, MA).
  • Shannon N. Green is director and senior fellow of the Human Rights Initiative at CSIS. She brings deep experience in human rights, civil society strengthening, and international development, with 15 years in the U.S. government, academia, and the nonprofit sector. At CSIS, Ms. Green’s research is focused on addressing threats to democratic institutions and norms, especially the challenge of closing space around civil society; enhancing justice and accountability in conflict and post-conflict environments; and improving security forces’ respect for human rights. Ms. Green also writes about countering violent extremism (CVE) through a human rights-based approach and managed CSIS’s Commission on Countering Violent Extremism, co-chaired by Tony Blair and Leon Panetta. Prior to joining CSIS, Ms. Green was the Senior Director for Global Engagement on the National Security Council. In that role, she developed and coordinated policies and initiatives to deepen and broaden U.S. engagement with critical populations overseas, including spearheading the President’s Stand with Civil Society Agenda and young leader initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. She also led efforts to discredit and delegitimize ISIS and counter its propaganda. From 2008 to 2013, Ms. Green worked at the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she developed policies, strategies, and programs to advance political reform and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. She contributed to USAID’s response to the Arab Spring, initiating new programs to support civil society and enhance the transparency and credibility of elections and other political processes across the region. From 2004 to 2008, she served in USAID’s Asia and Near East Bureau, where she was responsible for managing strategic planning, performance reporting, and budget formulation processes and pioneering new development approaches in fragile, conflict, and post-conflict environments. Prior to joining the government, she worked at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the Environmental Change and Security Project and for nongovernmental organizations combating HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Ms. Green received her B.A. in political science and history from the University of Georgia and her M.A. in international peace and conflict resolution from American University.
  • Maryanne Yerkes, has over twenty years of experience working in international development, with an emphasis on democracy, human rights and governance (DRG), and peacebuilding. She currently serves as a senior Civil Society and Youth Advisor in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, and is a Youth Point of Contact within the Bureau on Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Her areas of expertise include civil society strengthening/capacity development; civic education; youth engagement; cross-sectoral programming; and peacebuilding. In addition to her work with the Center, she has served on long-term details as the DRG liaison with State Department’s Foreign Assistance Office (F); Acting Agency Youth Coordinator based in the Policy, Planning and Learning Bureau; and Acting DRG Office Director for USAID/Colombia. She has also served on numerous occasions as the DRG Center’s Acting Civil Society and Media Division lead. She has worked on a number of high-level initiatives, including the establishment of the Civilian Response Corps and the Agency’s Implementation and Procurement Reform effort (Local Solutions). Prior to joining USAID, she worked with several non-governmental organizations and research institutes focused on peace building and development, including the United States Institute of Peace, the Balkan Action Council, and Pax Christi International. She holds an M.A in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University and a B.A. in International Studies and French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Lars Benson, is Regional Director for Africa at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in Washington, DC. He works closely with partners representing the private sector, civil society, and government to implement policy and regulatory reforms, enhance anti-corruption initiatives, engage in public-private dialogue, and improve democratic governance across the continent. Prior to joining CIPE, Benson served as the country director assisting small and medium enterprises to provide services and products to the oil industry in Angola. He also led an economic development and private enterprise program in Azerbaijan and worked on numerous World Bank, USAID, and State Department projects in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In the private sector, Benson served as a regional sales manager for a U.S. manufacturer of electronic repair equipment and was responsible for sales and marketing in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. He also spent a number of years working for U.S. Broadcast News organizations and served as the NBC News office manager in Kuwait. He has an MBA from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University.



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