The growth of civil society organisations (CSOs) is witnessed in their increasing range and collective power on the international arena. This sourcebook, produced by the Civil Society Organisations Division of the United Nations Development Programme, advocates enhanced co-operation between UNDP and CSOs, leading to mutual benefits for both parties. CSOs can make a positive contribution to programme implementation and ensure UNDP’s relevance at grass-roots level, whilst UNDP can strengthen CSO capacity and the environment in which they operate. Enhanced co-operation should move beyond mere collaboration to the creation of a strategic framework for partnership.
CSOs represent a variety of organisations through which citizens associate with one another. They are comprised not only of NGOs, but also trade unions, community-based organisations and people’s movements. Known as the ‘third sector’, these groups operate alongside and interact with the state and play a valuable role by articulating and defending the rights and interests of citizens.
In light of the rapid expansion of civil society, UNDP needs to critically evaluate the means by which it engages with this sector. Recognising both the possibilities and constraints of co-operation, UNDP can move beyond mere collaboration by creating a strategic framework for partnership with CSOs. UNDP should take action by:
- Developing a policy framework for co-operation with civil society. This encourages CSO participation in the mainstream human development agenda of UNDP.
- Allocating responsibilities and roles to ensure that civil society plays a broader advocacy role at municipal, national and local levels and encourages pluralism by advancing the role of marginalised groups in development.
- Promoting a culture of transparency and information-sharing between UNDP and civil society. The principle of mutual accountability also clarifies rights and responsibilities and helps work towards joint objectives.
- Encouraging dialogue and building trust between donors, government and civil society. UNDP could leverage its contacts with government officials to create a political space for CSOs to express alternative views.
Enhanced collaboration and partnership between UNDP and civil society should be complemented by renewed initiatives to promote the deeper involvement of civil society in policy-making and governance structures. Donors can assist by:
- Supporting traditional CSO activities including: the crucial intermediary role between local groups and national authorities and the societal watchdog functions; and facilitating horizontal linkages between community groups.
- Creating an enabling environment for civil society. This relates to the need for appropriate fiscal and regulatory conditions; adequate forums for voicing concerns; and the inclusion of civil society in the legislative process.
- Developing civil society capacity by encouraging dialogue and the exchange of experiences on a range of topics including financial and technical issues. This differs from ‘capacity building’ which may follow a donor-driven agenda.
- Promoting institutional sustainability to avoid civil society dependence on foreign donors. Local meetings and fund-raising events are possible ways of ensuring a strong local support base and independent sources of finance.
- Encouraging multi-stakeholder partnerships between governments, donors and civil society. This enables civil society to express their views and participate in decision-making.