Civil Society — Vital Partners in Development

Faustine Wabwire, Bread for the World Institute

Civil society around the world has played a critical role in achieving progress on key development outcomes. Civil society is defined as “the wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious or philanthropic considerations.”

Civil society has enabled dialogue and exchange of information between marginalized communities and government. Evidence shows that improved delivery of services depends on the ability of citizens to engage with the government and advocate for themselves. Deepened civil society engagement has the potential to inform evidence-based policymaking in key sectors, such as agriculture, health, gender equality, and education, among others.

Donors have not focused enough on strengthening the capacity of civil society in developing countries. Capacity building takes time and requires patience, particularly in challenging post-conflict environments. Strengthening the capacity of civil society on important issues affecting development outcomes, such as analysis of government budgets, makes it possible for citizens in developing countries to hold their governments accountable.

In 2011, President Obama, in partnership with seven other heads of state, launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the U.N. General Assembly. OGP’s 70 participating countries represent one-third of the world’s population. As a result of the OGP, more governments are opening up their budgets to public scrutiny.

In January 2017, the United States will have a new administration. It should build on the work the Obama administration has done in forging meaningful relationships between civil society and governments in developing countries.

Photo credit: Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

Faustine Wabwire is the senior foreign assistance policy analyst in Bread for the World Institute.