Syria Program1

Syria Program

DC has provided research, critical analysis and programming in support of the Syrian opposition, starting with previously programming prior to revolutionary activities, identification of key activists and local stakeholders, the birth of direct programs to create the foundation of a democratic future, to critical support to ensure opposition survival in the face of state-sponsored brutality and emergence of extremist groups like ISIS and JAN.

Program Snapshot


Capacity built of activists who emerged from Damascus Spring and became opposition and civil society leaders

Failure to take demands for reform seriously and corruption/nepotism set stage for Arab Spring. Independent media affects impact.

Nationwide survey finds causes societal angst and critically fractured support for regime leading to breakdown in government control.

Assad fall seems likely as protestors become increasingly organized.

Programs to support Syria’s emerging leaders/initiatives. DC negotiations with SOC to build capacity begins. Start guidance is to prepare for transition.

President announces red-line as response to increased regime brutality. SOC accepts then rejects direct support from USG.

No USG military activity but uptick in support for national opposition structures. Authorities begin to be pushed out of significant areas.

Programs support the creation of national opposition structures (SOC/ACU) and birth of local councils in newly liberated areas.

ISIS and JAN dramatically grow and fill in political and physical gaps. Extremist recruitment among antigovernment areas increase.

Capacity building projects to national network of CSOs in order to strengthen their voices in political process and counter violent extremism.


Surge in Russian activity.

Decreased operational space inside Syria has limited the space for CSOs and local councils to continue to operate.

Civil society activity and retrenchment of moderate opposition forces. Organized opposition more limited activity

DC's Approach-Trust-Based Partnership

In four years of program implementation, DC reached over 2 million beneficiaries through an approach guided by principles and capacity building model that fostered partnerships based on mutual trust. Support was given to allied actors that provide critical services and serve in sensitive community leadership roles; and CSOs that advance democratic values and operate competitively in dynamic environment.

  • A team that intimately understands local dynamics in order to allow for programmatic flexibility and practical, demand-driven design that ensures relevance and viability, given the political and security situation.
  • Sustainable growth through coverage of core operational support.
  • Shared ownership through collaborative approach to setting programmatic objectives and activities.
  • Capacity building mentorship throughout project life-cycle, from civil society organization and council identification, needs assessment, concept development, to approval, implementation, M&E, and close-out.

Program Activities

  • Financial support to civil society organizations and local/provincial councils
  • Emergency financial support to activists
  • Direct Assistance:
    • Capacity Building
    • Equipment
    • Civil society organizations network
    • Logistical support

Selection Criteria 

  • Active in opposition groups or anti-extremist activities
  • Financial distress as a result of their activism
  • Displaced residents (IDPs and refugee)
  • Seriously injured by regime or ISIS attacks
  • Volunteers who are not paid from any sour


  • Emergency support: $1,695,453
  • Beneficiaries: ~500 families
  • Transactions: 3357
  • Stipends for professional services (teachers): ~1,000

In total, activities reached over 2 million beneficiaries

July 2012 - September 2016

Map of Activities

Activities Beneficiaries.
Number of Civil Society Organizations 48
Number of Councils: 19
Number of Opposition Authorities 4
Number of Training Events ~ 311
Number of Trainees: ~1,717
Number of Advocacy Campaigns by Civil Society Organizations: ~341
Number of People Benefiting Services Delivered Through USG Assistance ~2,018,490
Number of Activists Directly Benefiting from USG Assistance ~766
Number of Families Benefiting from Emergency Financial Support 500

DC provided emergency financial support to over 500 activists and their families

Approximately 30,000 Beneficiaries

Support to Leading Activists

In an attempt to strengthen national opposition entities, DC provided technical support and capacity building assistance to the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) and the Syrian Opposition Council (SOC) in order to establish them as an alternative to the Assad regime. DC began to facilitate assistance to the SOC in the weeks following its establishment.

Financial Support

After the fall of Raqqa to ISIS, the Raqqa City Local Council (RCLC) came under tremendous pressure and many of its leaders had their lives threatened. DC facilitated the move out of Raqqa to Turkey and provided six months of financial support to RCLC affiliated staff.

Emergency Program

Deir ez Zor Local Council was supported by DC’s emergency program after ISIS took control of the area. The man pictured is the former head of the Council who- after the 6 month period of support- found a job in Turkey as a teacher at an elementary school.

Organizational Development & Capacity Building

Organizational Development & Capacity Building

Rezan Zeitouneh, a DC local partner since 2007, and one of the most well known activists in Syria. Supported through emergency assistance, organizational development, capacity building, mentoring, from start of demonstrations to her capture by extremists. One of the most influential moderate, nonviolent actors in Syria. With DC help started LCCs, then follow on organizations. Given the international Women of Courage Award.

Case Studies

Case Study: Institutional Capacity – Transparency, Organizational Development, Project Selection & Negotiations

In addition to providing core funding to the ACU and to SOC, DC support helped establish a project evaluation process for the ACU and assisted SOC to prepare for negotiations in Geneva.

Streamlining Project Selection Process

DC created a system for project evaluation and distribution to donor for the ACU at a time when the organization had negligible capacity. Facilitated receipt of over 200 proposal from local councils and CSOs in liberated areas each month.

Preparing Negotiators for Geneva

DC mentored participants and facilitated knowledge transfer and negotiations training on critical areas in preparation of Geneva peace talks, such as Transitional Justice, Ceasefires, Constitutional Process, Humanitarian Access, Multi-party Systems, National Dialogue, post-Conflict elections. Facilitated participation, logistics, and modalities for participants.

Case Study - Provincial/Local Councils: Governance in Liberated Areas

Prioritizing projects based on strategic importance, population density, legitimacy of partners, project feasibility, and need, DC sought to increase the legitimacy of 19 provincial/local councils (PCs/LCs) by restoring critical services in newly liberated areas.

Provincial/Local Councils - Governance in Librated Areas


1- Strategic Importance: Prioritized newly liberated areas or locations important to consolidate hold.

2- Population Density: Number of residents in particular location, including IDPs.

3- Legitimacy of Partners: Reputation, track record, local acceptance.

4- Feasibility: Ability to procure items and transfer payments.

5- Need: Proposed project prioritizes most critical humanitarian needs.

Case Study - Civil Society Organizations Offer an Alternative to The Regime and Extremism

​DC incubated and supported the growth of a wide variety of new and nascent initiatives, many remain active today, present civil society demands with the leading decision makers, and have been featured as models in local and international media.

Determined Activism for Democratic Values

DC helped a group of weekly demonstrators turn into a credible organization that delivered critical services to approx. 60,000 residents, despite various attempts of suppression by the regime and JAN, including two assassination attempts.

Promoting Gender

DC helped establish four women centers in Idlib and Ghouta that provide vocational training and psychosocial support for women. Participants of the centers have become leading activists in their community, including leading protests against JAN in Idlib.

Restoring Local

​DC support to Free Syrian Lawyers’ Association (FSLA) established a civil registry program that work in coordination with local councils to restore registration of land, marriage, and death in over 48 locations in six provinces.

Advocates of Humanitarian Principles

Core funding for this group of doctors, expanded programs from $1.5M to $10M and enabled them to become the leading advocates on war crimes committed by the regime and Russia on their health facilities, including most recently on their Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Exposing ISIS Brutality

DC formalized and sustained an underground activist network that reached millions and has become the leading voice highlighting ISIS brutality. Profiles of RBSS have occurred in the WashPo, FP, BCC, NBC, CNN and others.

Protecting Secularism

DC formalized and sustained an underground activist network that reached millions and has become the leading voice highlighting ISIS brutality. Profiles of RBSS have occurred in the WashPo, FP, BCC, NBC, CNN and others.

Supporting Reconstruction Efforts

DC support facilitated the growth both with donors and inside Syria with local councils. A network of engineers who provide technical assistance to reconstruction efforts.

Delivering Critical

Working in cooperation with 14 councils, DC support for URSO helped restore waste management services to 400,000 residents in Damascus suburbs.

Case Study - Establishment of Local Councils Fill Governance Gaps & Protect Against Extremism

Filling Gaps in Newly Liberated Areas

DC provided technical and financial support to create many local councils – from elections to operations, e.g. helped facilitate establishment of Raqqa City Local Council. Follow on support enabled projects to restore electricity to 100,000 residents, telecommunications, and waste management to a district in the city that had been suffering from public health - increased legitimacy.

Coordinating Life Saving Aid to the Besieged

DC worked with the Aleppo City Council to operate 22 wells in the eastern part of the city to ensure 33,850 beneficiaries would continue to have access to clean water despite the siege.

Ensuring Education is Not Influence by Extremism

In total, almost 60,000 students at 124 schools benefited from DC’s education programs with 8 local/provincial councils in which nearly 300 teachers’ salaries were paid. Often, like in the case of Duma Local Council, parents would choose LCs secular schools over those run by extremist groups.

Safeguarding Against Armed Group Expansion

Saraqeb Local Council (SLC) reached 50,000 beneficiaries with crucial assistance to provide parts of the city with a service, namely a sewage network. This work made them legitimate actors on the ground with popular support which has served as bulwark against attempts by JAN to expand its influence into governance provision.