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Building a Vibrant Civil Society

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Practice Advice on Socioeconomic and Political Context

Building a Vibrant Civil Society (UNDP)

Summary Advice: UNDP has set out a number of lessons learned for helping to encourage the growth of a vibrant civil society.

Main Points: Sustainable human development relies on participatory processes to ensure that people’s needs and desires can be met. A vibrant civil society is a critical precondition for more equitable, democratic, pluralistic, and humane governance. Appropriately channelled forms of participation can be a source of tremendous energy and innovation for the forging of more just societies, but dangers exist where that channelling is inadequate or unstable. According to UNDP, if the desire to participate is not nurtured in an appropriate national framework, it can result in social disintegration or ethnic violence. Participation means people have access to the decision-making processes and power structures which control economic, social, political and cultural resources and processes. Increased participation assures the maximisation of human capabilities and thus can increase levels of social and economic development.

The following is a list of UNDP’s lessons learned in strengthening civil society:

  • For civil society to be an effective agent of development, it must be able to establish dialogues on key policy issues with the government. However, identifying civil society organizations willing and able to support actions and undertake discussions with the government can be difficult since many feel powerless, ineffective and lack financial and human resources.
  • Fostering trust and long-term partnerships is essential for initiating constructive dialogue and dealing with the numerous constraints to effective dialogue (e.g. the resistance by institutions and governments to change their traditional processes, approaches and relationships).
  • Increasing the self sufficiency of civil society organizations helps reduce their reliance on governments and increases partnerships between the government and the society on policy- and decision-making.
  • Building advocacy helps promote horizontal networking, consensus-building, and dialogue among government, the private sector, and civil society organizations.
  • Strengthening civil society organizations requires both income-generating and capacity-building components so as to provide them with the ability to sustain their long-term advocacy role.
  • Supporting civil society organizations can catalyse the dissemination of new technology and methodological approaches for poverty alleviation and sustainable human development.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of civil society organizations and their active participation in the planning and implementation of development projects and programs enhances the likelihood of the success, maintenance, and sustainability of such activities.
  • Activities which help develop partnerships, build social cohesion, resolve conflicts, increase people’s awareness of their rights and responsibilities, and nurture participation in development and governance are also essential to achieving sustainable human development.

Source: UNDP (1997). Management Development and Governance Division, "UNDP AND GOVERNANCE: Experiences and Lessons Learned" Lessons-Learned Series No. 1 at (accessed 01 November 2012).

Page Created By: Ruby Dagher. The content presented on this page is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases. This material does not necessarily reflect the official view of the publishing organization.

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