Ester Sigillò


Ester Sigillò



Ester Sigillò is a PhD candidate in Political Science. Her main research interests concern International Relations and civil society activism in the Arab world, with a specific focus on civil society promotion and its and impact on Tunisia.

Once completed her bachelor in International Studies, Ester Sigillò received a Master degree with honours in International Relations at the University of Florence. Her master thesis, the three Mediterraneans, concerns a geopolitical comparative analysis on three regions of the world characterized by different political and economic processes of integration: the Caribbean, the South China sea and the Euro-African Mediterranean. Ester also completed a Master degree in External Relations of the European Union at the College of Europe (Bruges campus) with a thesis on European Union policy of democracy promotion in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

During her university career Ester worked as assistant of Director at the UNESCO Club of Florence and as MEP assistant in Strasbourg. Moreover from 2011 to 2012 Ester also worked in Brussels as Project Manager assistant in the field of EU Commission’s Development Cooperation (DG DEVCO) and Education (DG Education and Culture).

Research interests: International Relations in the Middle East and North Africa, Democratization in the Arab World, EU external relations in the Mediterranean, Civil Society Activism in the Arab World.


Supervisor: Professor Donatella della Porta


Research Project

Funding civil society in transition. External influence of Western and Arab donors in Tunisia.

This research focuses on the interplay between international actors and civil society actors in Tunisia. The wave of Arab uprisings has drawn renewed attention to the notion of Arab civil society. Indeed, as local actors mostly banned under authoritarian regimes started to mushroom, international donors reacted by further increasing their rhetoric and practice of financial assistance in order to adapt to the new socio-political environment.

Assuming Tunisia as a “chessboard” for international actors to spread their influence in the region, Arab donors, in particular Gulf countries, are potential competitors of Western donors in influencing civil societies and in broader terms, socio-political development of Tunisia. The scope of this study is to analyse the implications produced at local level by the respective influence of Western and Arab donors through an impact analysis of policies of civil society assistance. Thus, the underlining assumption is that there are different policies of civil society promotion, depending on different typologies of donors at stake. Donors, indeed, are vehicles of conceptions of “assistance” and “civil society” that vary on the basis of their different culture. Following these considerations this research investigates whether the use of a certain conception of civil society (i.e. approach of different donors to civil society promotion) might vary the impact of donors’ policies toward Tunisian civil society actors. In other words, how do donors’ different ideas on civil society impact upon the outcome of civil society assistance?

Donors strategies of civil society promotion based on different conceptions of civil society need specific types of civil society actors as their counterparts. Indeed, donors’ idea of civil society promotion is empirically evident in the selection of a certain typology of targets. Local NGOs are the focus of this research, being the most visible actors of civil society attracting foreign aid. In particular, this study looks at local actors working on the education sector, mostly funded by Arab and Western donors. Finally, once having reconstructed the channels through which aid is disbursed by different foreign donors, the ultimate scope of this research is to look how civil society activism is effectively supported or hampered by different external donors, and how this activism is in turn an expression of normative influence of foreign donors.



Balanskat, A., Bannister D., Hertz B., Sigillò E., Vuorikari R., & Bocconi E. S. (2013), Overview and Analysis of 1:1 Learning Initiatives in Europe, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg: Publications Office.

Papers presented at national and international conferences:

Interests vs. Values. A test of coherence of EU democracy promotion after the Arab Spring, paper presented for the XXVIII SISP Annual Conference, Perugia, 11-13 September 2014.

Challenges to EU Neighbourhood policy in the Mediterranean. The impact on non-state actors and the role of Islamic donors, paper presented at GIGA – German Institute of Global and Area Studies, DVPW Comparative Political Science Section Conference, Hamburg 25-27 February 2015.