Civil Society and the NGOs: defining the nature of the challenge

Civil Society and the NGOs: defining the nature of the challenge

Why civil society groups should be trusted to play a significant role in the process of democratization

Danish INGO looks at arguments for supporting NGO and civil society groups. Reflects critically on the strengths as well as the weaknesses and challenges confronting civil society in the South in particular, based on the experiences of MS in its programme countries in Africa, Asia and Central America. Aimsto to contribute to a realistic understanding of civil society in the South in general, and the role of Danish NGOs in the South in particular.

Argues that

    By giving a voice to people [women in particular] who are otherwise deprived of access to public institutions and decision-making fora, people-based organisations and groups can deepen and extend the reach of current democratic reforms.
  • Civil society organisations can add vital local richness and diversity to what otherwise risk becoming one-sided processes flawed by excessive reliance on models developed in the North.
  • People’s organisations within civil society need to be given adequate space and conditions to develop. National governments, international organi-sations and donors need to guarantee the right to self-organisation and freedom of expression.
  • There is a need for legislative and con-stitutional arrangements to create enabling environments for civic action and organization, and the acceptance at international level of the Right to Development as a fundamental human right.

But it is important to recognize the need for a balanced relationship between the state and civil society organisations and groups. Civil society must not be seen as a magic bullet which on its own can ensure the right to development, observance of human rights, democratic elections, etc. One cannot live without the other! And civil society can never be a substitute for the state. It is therefore important to remember that

  • Civil society organisations need to recognise the role of the state in bringing about an enabling environment for people’s associations to develop and grow.
  • Civil society organisations need to engage themselves in constant interaction with the state. In certain situations this means confronting state agents with demands for more accountability and transparency, sometimes challenging basic aspects of state legitimacy.
  • There should be an ethical code applicable to all development stake-holders – government, donors, NGOs and other civil society organisa-tions. This will lead to a national culture of openness, accountability and equity in resource distribution.

Democratization at local and national levels cannot be seperated from what is taking place at the global level. Globalization in its competitive form has had a major negative impact on peoples’ livelihoods. It has not promoted democracy in the South:

  • Therefore, the perspective of "coopeative" globalization must be pursued at all levels - from the local to the national and further on to the global agendas. Combining activist roles of an informed citizenry with the presence of capable, accountable and responsive states and international organisations is the major challenge faced by civil society organisations.
  • Democracy must be strengthened in all international negotiations and organisations by increasing parliamentary influence and ensuring participation and insight for NGO’s.
  • Individual citizen’s understanding of global political necessity is increased by greater amounts of information and openness in all international negotiations and organisations.
  • Governments must be challenged to establish decentralised structures that ensure that the poor and marginalized majority of the population, and women in particular, have influence on and access to the social, economic and political resources.
  • The weakest groups should be supported in their struggle for access to resources and in their efforts to organise themselves and participate in national and local political processes.


  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.