Working with civil society in fragile states

Working with civil society in fragile states

How can civil society in fragile states be effectively supported?

It is little surprise that policymaker and research focus is now squarely on the issue of fragile states. For one in three of their respective populations are undernourished; the foundations necessary for growth and development are weak or absent; whilst, in some states, perpetual internal insecurity gives rise to worrying international security risks. Furthermore, this all equates to the ever-increasing likelihood of missing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

As fragile states are recognised as those lacking the capacity or political will to provide basic services working with incumbent civil society and civil society organisations (CSOs) is therefore essential. Indeed, there are many issues that may arise from an NGO or donor perspective when considering working with civil society in fragile states. This briefing paper aims to distil the core questions which the fragile states literature and experiences in fragile states present, with the aim of structuring space for discussion of these issues in NGO practice and exploring directions for further research.

The authors consider:

  • the tension between meeting basic needs and providing services in the short-term, and contributing to long-term capacity development
  • the need for advocacy in the face of basic service provision
  • two track dilemma: the danger of working solely with CSOs and neglecting the state’s internal systems
  • high costs and high risks: operations and security
  • the prevalent environment of mistrust in fragile states
  • the importance of umbrella and network organisations

The paper offers a number of conclusions, including:

  • networks are not guaranteed to work better solely by having increased resources and in many cases are not the magic solution sought. While the benefits of an effective network could be great, it is important that the network be organic with participatory members, which is often not the case
  • NGOs must work in and strive to ameliorate the environment of mistrust through building trust and social cohesion at a community level
  • underlying all fragile states discussion must be a thorough and continuous contextual analysis, as cases of fragility vary greatly and are individually extremely dynamic. NGOs goals and strategies need to be flexible in order to correspond with this dynamic nature
  • there is clearly a need for civil society to innovate and pursue alternative solutions in fragile states where traditional methods do not seem to be working
  • the challenge for civil society is to engage more effectively in policy dialogue on fragile stages, building on their programmatic experience of working directly with poor communities

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