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Civil Society

The concept of civil society encompasses a wide range of organisations. In a broad sense, it includes all non-market and non-state organisations and structures in which people organise to pursue shared objectives and ideals. In the development field, there is a tendency to think primarily in terms of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose missions are explicitly and uniquely developmental in character. However, civil society also includes farmers’ associations, professional associations, community-based organisations, environmental groups, independent research institutes, universities, faith-based organisations, labour unions, and the not-for-profit media, as well as other groups that do not engage in development work. This broad definition is widely accepted in the world of development practitioners.

Civil Siciety Organisation

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) operate at four different levels :

  • First level: Grass-roots organisations/ community- based organisation. They consist of informal groupings or ad-hoc organisations working in the immediate local context.
  • Second level: organisations legally registered with appropriated statues, working for the benefit of the populations or in service delivery, sometimes in collaboration with grass-roots organisations (e.g. NGOs, associations).
  • Third level: geographic or thematic networks: national associations, federations and thematic networks mandated to defend a common interest.
  • Fourth level: this is the highest level of CSO networking. It is made up of platforms or common dialogue fora for umbrella organisations and networks of the third level.

Northern vs. Southern vs. International CSO

Northern and Southern CSOs are distinguished by their place of origin, where Northern CSOs originate from developed countries and Southern CSOs from developing countries. The geographical origin of CSOs may determine and differentiate the type and level of resources available, their foci and modus operandi.

International CSOs may be neither Northern nor Southern since they operate as a global network/partnership, while some keep a strong identity, operational and financial structure as a Northern CSO donor. This theme is extensively developed in WG 2.