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Reclaiming and Defending Civil Society Space: INGOs in Asia

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In the process of developing Oxfam’s regional strategy for Asia, Mercado examined the rise of conservatism, intolerance and authoritarian regimes that use state power to close down civil society spaces. These key trends shape the future of Asia and consequently, inform Oxfam’s strategy. A deeper analysis and understanding of this context will strengthen international NGOs working in Asia to become more effective in the field.

Lilian Mercado has served as the Asia Regional Director for the past two years. She has worked with Oxfam in a variety of positions over the last 19 years, rising through the ranks from being a campaign officer to Country Director, to Deputy Regional Director, to global Deputy Director for Advocacy and Campaigns Ms. Mercado has been a long-time activist for human rights, democracy and justice in addition to a career as an investigative journalist that campaigned for the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Her activism began in 1982 during the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. A fresh university graduate, Lilian found a job in government that she then gave up to join the political movement to fight for human rights, democracy and justice. She headed the public information and education arm of the largest political alliance at that time, helped mobilize masses of people to protest in the streets, and contributed to the building of coalitions. In 1986, we won and the dictatorship fell. In 1988, in a tragic turn of events, Ms. Mercado was falsely accused of being a spy by the Communist Party of the Philippines of which she was then a member. Lilian was held captive and tortured for five months, only to be released after the party realized their accusations had no basis. She left the party soon after. These years of political activism indelibly shaped her career path, and the lessons on civic engagement and participation continued to influence not only her choices of organizations to work with but also what to work on.

For more information, contact Shauna Soljour at

Co-sponsored by the Moynihan Institute, Transnational NGO Initiative, and the South Asia Center.

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