One of the first initiatives of ICSS was a global consultation process that led to the establishment of the Free Space Process (FSP). This initiative started in 2006, at a time when there was no collaboration between any of the global HIV, civil society and key and vulnerable population (KVP) networks. In fact, many of them were in competition with each other for funding, and therefore forced to profile and position themselves against one another.

FSP was created to provide a safe space where networks could meet, learn from each other’s work and start developing a shared agenda, and it seeks a global HIV response that sustainably and comprehensively engages diverse segments of the communities as essential drivers of the response. Over the past 10 years, the FSP has brought together the leadership of the (now 11) global HIV civil society and KVP communities’ networks to facilitate linking and learning, shared strategizing and (increasingly) enhanced collaboration and division of labour.

There is no other neutral space other than FSP where the HIV and key and vulnerable population networks can meet to share and strategize and, maybe most importantly, to reflect on the political and financial challenges in the HIV response; to determine common positions and joint action (all with the aim of becoming better at global advocacy, for example, around the UNGASS); and in serving their members and affiliates at regional and country level.

Key achievements:

  • The FSP has initiated conversations on funding challenges with donors and led the process that resulted in the establishment of the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund (RCNF). Since its creation, this fund has developed into a key-funding stream for HIV civil society and KVP global and regional networks and also provides a unique space for donors and networks to meet and strategize on responding to the challenges of HIV. FSP continues to be a crucial platform and sounding board for RCNF, as was recently confirmed by the RCNF International Steering Committee.
  • FSP initiated and supported (including financially) the establishment of the Civil Society Post-2015 Working Group, through a collaboration between ICSS, the Stop AIDS Alliance and ICASO, This process brought civil society and KVP representatives together to advise on civil society engagement in preparing for the Post-2015 process that led to the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The FSP partnership subsequently initiated and supported the establishment of the UN Stakeholders Task Force that coordinated engagement in the preparatory process as well as during the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in June 2016.
  • On multiple occasions, the FSP partnership reached out to the leadership of UNAIDS or the Global Fund (Board or senior management level) to advocate for full acknowledgement and inclusion of KVPs in programme design and implementation. FSP successfully advocated for the establishment of the Community, Rights and Gender unit at the Global Fund Secretariat, and the funding of technical assistance for civil society and key populations through the so-called ‘Special Initiatives’.
  • At the International AIDS Conference in Durban (July 2016), FSP and GFAN jointly hosted a press conference and launched a report on the key role of the Global Fund for KVPs and vice versa. Both activities highlighted the fact that KVPs and their networks are essential partners for the Global Fund and UNAIDS if they are to achieve their strategic goals to end AIDS (and TB and malaria).