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Shifting Civil Society Roles and Relationships

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 15 June 2018 1:50 PM SAST
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The roles that different stakeholders play in relation to civil society are blurring. Sources of social capital are changing in an increasingly global, hyperconnected and multistakeholder world. 

Within the complex ecosystem of myriad civil society activities and relationships, some actors, such as faith and religious cultures, as well as social media communities and networks, are starting to play an enhanced role.

Civil society roles include: −

Watchdog: holding institutions to account, promoting transparency and accountability 

Advocate: raising awareness of societal issues and challenges and advocating for change 

Service provider: delivering services to meet societal needs such as education, health, food and security; implementing disaster management, preparedness and emergency response

Expert: bringing unique knowledge and experience to shape policy and strategy, and identifying and building solutions

Capacity builder: providing education, training and other capacity building − Incubator: developing solutions that may require a long gestation or payback period

Representative: giving power to the voice of the marginalized or under-represented

Citizenship champion: encouraging citizen engagement and supporting the rights of citizens

Solidarity supporter: promoting fundamental and universal values

Definer of standards: creating norms that shape market and state activity Recognizing that no one sector can solve the world’s major societal challenges alone, these roles are increasingly carried out through engagement in partnerships and collaborative frameworks across civil society, and with stakeholders from business, government and international organizations. The unique concept of civil society as “the space where we act for the common good” is expanding, as civil society actors frequently play the role of enabler in driving change in collaboration with other stakeholders, as discussed further below.

The leadership and innovation of “enlightened” corporate and public bodies with an expressed commitment to social purpose complements such efforts. A shift in the mobilization of private sector capital towards social and environmental objectives – for example through corporate sustainability or citizenship programmes, new models of philanthropy and social investment instruments – is introducing a set of leaders from the corporate sector committed to driving broad societal change. Business leaders from major multinationals are actively contributing to global governance processes.

Examples of this include the joint initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) to represent a coalition of leading businesses committed to sustainable development in the United Nations RIO+20 process; the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Rio+20 group; the B20 summit and taskforces to provide recommendations to government leaders of the G20; and the appointment of Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman to the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development Agenda. Traditionally-compartmentalized divisions between stakeholder groups are starting to dissolve, and both agenda-setting and the development of new solutions to global challenges are characterized increasingly by a matrix of representatives with overlapping roles and responsibilities.

source: The future role of Civil Society, World Economic Forum 2013

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