RELEVANCE OF CIVIL SOCIETY FOR GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT
In the globalization context, ‘governance’ is not just confined to either State or market. Instead, these two actors are collaborating with each other to provide goods and services. With the reappearance of a vibrant civil society, this process has now become multiple-actor-centric with NGOs, CBOs, and Self-help groups acting as responsible stakeholders with the State and market in the process of governance and development. The two ways of governance – Keynesian Welfare State and Neoliberalism have not produced the desired results, points out Anthony Giddens (2001), as he observes “A fundamental theme of third-way politics is rediscovering an activist role for government, restoring and refurbishing public institutions. Reforming the State is far from easy in practice, but the aim should be to make government and State agencies transparent, customer-oriented, and quick on their feet”.
Reform of government and the State is the priority. The State should not dominate either markets or civil society, only regulate both. The core role of the civil society has to be realized. Without a developed civil society there cannot be an effective market system or well-functioning government (ibid.). Let us now look at the various endeavors in the area of civil society and see how these can be tapped to facilitate development and governance.
There is an urgent need for the government, civil society, and private sector to work as partners in crucial areas of participatory development. Without a civil society to nourish engaged citizens, it has been observed, that politicians turn into ‘professionals’, out of touch with their constituencies; while citizens are reduced to mere antagonists or turn into ungrateful clients of government services that they readily consume without being willing to pay for (Barber, op.cit.).
Market-state endeavors have overwhelmed the economy in the recent past with many public sector enterprises divesting and opening up to private entrepreneurs. There have been successful ventures between the State and civil society, especially in the areas of Information Technology and resource management. It has to be seen how the market can fruitfully associate with the State as well as civil society in the future. The convergence between NGOs and informal profit-oriented enterprises, as has been observed, offers some promise for building a different model of society. Since profits generated within this new ‘non-profit-for profit’ nexus are invested in public as well as private goods and services (Fisher, op.cit.).
In recent decades, Scholte (2000), has brought a general retreat from centralized governance with trends toward devolution, regionalization, and globalization. Governance has shifted from a uni-dimensionality of Statism to a multidimensionality of local, national, regional, and global layers of regulation. Although large-scale globalization has not dissolved nation-states, this form of collective identity is slowly losing its previous position of primacy. In the late 20th century, world politics was also being deeply shaped by sub-state solidarities like ethnonations and by non-territorial, transborder communities based on class, gender, race, and religion.
There is a strong emphasis on community not as a social or geographical construct, but as a virtual space of shared cultural and moral affinities that express the ethics of self-governance. As per the Human Development Report (1999), the focus is on the fair, rights-based, practical shaping of daily institutional practices in each sphere of individual life. Informal community initiatives are now being organized all over South Asia, with or without government help, and they have often succeeded in serving those vulnerable sections of society that governments find quite difficult to reach. By opening spaces for civic engagement, Civil Society Organizations, households, businesses, and the media can contribute to governance processes for human development in general and an improvement in the lives of local communities in particular. The emergence of the self-instituted civil society as an independent social partner alongside formal political and economic structures has the potential for thoroughly modifying governance systems.
In July 2002, the World Civil Society Forum met in Geneva to discuss issues that would help in strengthening international cooperation between civil society and international organizations (Callahan, 2002, op.cit.). The implications of this type of global civil society are not so clear but encouraging nevertheless. Some ponderable could be: (i) Will huge networks and coalitions of citizen activists come to rival international governmental organizations (IGOs) in the next century as leading vehicles of transnational cooperation, (ii) Will new democratic processes arise at the worldwide level that can offset the clout of global capital, and (iii) Will national public policy debates increasingly be influenced by social and economic norms that hold sway globally (Callahan, 1999).
NGOs and social movements must keep in mind that their influence on the process of global governance will remain quite limited unless they succeed in effectively channeling their national governments’ actions as well as influencing the allocation of resources mobilized by governments and multilateral institutions. The new trends in globalization cannot be a remedy for all ills. Socio-economic development has to be indigenous, contextual, and innovative. Especially, in developing countries, where community plays a pertinent role in the production of goods and services; more so, at the micro-level, the solution lies in what has been called ‘glocalization’. There is a need for more research in the areas of community building, democracy and citizenship, the role of global civil society, and collaborative networking among NGOs. It has been pointed out that Village Councils in which women and Dalits have a central place will be a genuine indigenous institutional innovation. They can give a new lease of life to democracy in India (Beteille, 2002).
An alternative paradigm that treats citizens as equal partners in development with due regard to goals of equity and social justice is therefore needed. The retention of high levels of autonomy and self-organization will be important if these agencies are not to be flooded by distorting State power. Established traditions of participative planning and community development can be complemented by experience in direct democracy (Ferlie and Fitzgerald, 2002). With the recent formation of the Confederation of NGOs in rural India, several hundreds of NGOs working in remote areas can now express their ideas, suggestions, and grievances on institutionalized lines. The Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) is playing the role of facilitator in this regard with emphasis on transparency, expeditious disposal, flexible and innovative approach towards projects for the poor in rural areas through NGOs. These NGOs will have representation at the district, state, and national levels. In a number of countries, we can witness strong political efforts to reaffirm the position of the citizen in relationship to public administration such as Citizens’ Charters in Britain, the Charter for Rights and Freedom in Canada, and a new Chapter in the Constitution on Human Rights in Sweden. These are important efforts in the areas of participatory governance.
In a sincere bid to open up new democratic terrain, it has been rightly pointed out that the core justificatory principle is that major arenas of social, economic, and political power (power over people’s lives and power that shapes the life of society itself) should be harnessed to a doctrine of democratic responsibility. This is a responsibility that acknowledges a framework of obligations and accountability, recognizes a range of legitimate stakeholders, and seeks ways in which these stakeholders can have an effective voice. An approach of this kind will not serve the purpose if attempts to construct iron walls between ‘public’ and ‘private’ centers of power are made instead want to apply the doctrine of responsibility should be applied to both (Barber, op.cit.).
This new thinking should not be seen as a shift in power from the State to civil society, but rather as the natural evolution of the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. Couched in positive terms, governments are learning to govern better through heeding the popular voice, and citizens are learning to be better citizens through exposure to the regular rules and disciplined practices of associations of civil society. The private sector has a large stake in the expansion of civil society because civil order fosters economic growth. The synergies arising out of the emerging relations between the State, private sector, and civil society must thus be put to practical use (Rahman, et al, op.cit). This is a relevant but difficult goal to achieve. Civil society organizations are necessary in the present context to ensure effective, responsive, and efficient governance based on viable State-society and Society-market partnerships. However there are many constraints and challenges that it must face to deliver the desired results.
Civil society plays a crucial and multifaceted role in governance and development, contributing to the functioning of democratic societies, social progress, and the well-being of communities. Here are key aspects highlighting the relevance of civil society in the realms of governance and development:
1. Democratic Governance:
Accountability and Transparency:
Civil society acts as a watchdog, holding governments accountable for their actions and promoting transparency. Through advocacy, monitoring, and reporting, civil society helps prevent corruption and ensures that government institutions operate in the public interest.
Civil society facilitates citizen engagement in governance processes. By providing platforms for civic participation, such as town hall meetings, public forums, and consultations, civil society enhances the democratic legitimacy of decision-making.
2. Policy Advocacy and Formulation:
Civil society organizations (CSOs) bring diverse perspectives and expertise to policy discussions. They advocate for policies that address social, economic, and environmental challenges, acting as intermediaries between citizens and policymakers.
Research and Analysis:
Civil society engages in research and analysis, providing evidence-based insights that inform policy formulation. This helps ensure that policies are grounded in a deep understanding of societal needs and dynamics.
3. Human Rights and Social Justice:
Advocacy for Rights:
Civil society is often at the forefront of advocating for human rights, social justice, and equality. CSOs work to protect marginalized groups, challenge discriminatory practices, and promote inclusivity in governance and development initiatives.
Legal and Judicial Advocacy:
Civil society may engage in legal advocacy, using the judicial system to challenge unjust laws, promote the rule of law, and seek justice for individuals and communities.
4. Service Delivery and Community Development:
Civil society contributes to community development by empowering local communities. Through capacity-building initiatives, education, and grassroots projects, CSOs enhance the skills and resilience of communities.
In some cases, civil society organizations provide essential services in areas where government resources may be limited. This includes healthcare, education, and social services.
5. Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding:
Mediation and Dialogue:
Civil society often plays a role in mediating conflicts and facilitating dialogue between different groups. By promoting understanding and reconciliation, CSOs contribute to building and maintaining peace in societies affected by conflict.
6. Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship:
Civil society is a source of innovation in addressing societal challenges. Social enterprises, often associated with civil society, develop creative solutions that combine market-driven approaches with a focus on social impact.
Civil society encourages community-led development models, where communities actively participate in designing and implementing development projects that meet their specific needs.
7. Global Advocacy and Solidarity:
Civil society engages in advocacy on global issues, such as climate change, human rights, and global health. Transnational networks amplify voices and advocate for international cooperation and solidarity.
The relevance of civil society for governance and development lies in its ability to foster inclusive, accountable, and participatory processes. By bridging the gap between citizens and institutions, civil society contributes to the creation of societies that prioritize justice, equality, and the well-being of all individuals.