Investing in Civil Society

Investing in Civil Society at UNDP

The success of development depends on both a robust state and an active civil society with healthy levels of civic engagement. Promoting civic engagement is integral to the work of UNDP in all its priority areas of focus – poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), democratic governance, environment and energy, crisis prevention and recovery, combating HIV/ AIDS and promoting women’s empowerment. Specifically, UNDP aims to invest in civil society by supporting conducive legal frameworks, participatory civil society assessments, and civil society organizational development.

Facilitating an Enabling Environment

UNDP takes a comprehensive approach to investing in a strong civil society that complements the development efforts of governments. A critical factor for civil society organizations to work in a country is the legal and regulatory framework allowing and governing their establishment, space and scope to function in public life. A healthy civil society benefits from the rule of law and the realization of civil and political rights. In a number of countries, UNDP advises governments on legal and regulatory frameworks that create an enabling environment for civil society. For example, in Lao PDR, a decree was signed in April 2009, which for the first time allows local not-for-profit associations to register and operate independently. UNDP had supported the decree drafting process since 2006.

In addition, UNDP helps governments to recognize civil society contributions to development and to understand how civil society operates and why they can be partners for development.

UNDP often collaborates with the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Legislation (ICNL) and with the American Bar Association - International Legal Resources Centre (ABA-ILRC) on matters concerning the rule of law and the legal environment for civil society.

Participatory Civil Society Assessments

UNDP is engaged in collaborative efforts in a number of countries to improve knowledge of the civil society sector through civil society-led assessments. To effectively invest in and empower civil society, it is key to obtain a thorough and independent assessment of the extent, structure and capacity of national civil society actors.

UNDP has a long-standing partnership with CIVICUS on the Civil Society Index, through which participatory civil society assessments have been carried out in many countries across the world. The Civil Society Index aims to generate evidence-based knowledge about strengths and weaknesses of the sector through the active involvement of civil society actors themselves. It measures the civic engagement, level of organization, practice of values, perceived impact and external environment of civil society within a state. The Civil Society Index creates internal, rather than external, momentum for reform and catalyzes greater citizen engagement in democracy processes.

To date, the Civil Society Index has been carried out in more than 50 countries by CIVICUS and its country partners. UNDP has supported its implementation in 21 countries, beginning with seed support in 1999. In the period 2009-2011, UNDP and CIVICUS will continue to collaborate and aim to support the Civil Society Index in more than 60 countries.

The landscape of civil society assessments has evolved greatly in recent years, with the emergence of a number of new methodologies. Periodic reviews of these experiences in assessing civil society are necessary to take stock of what has worked and identify lessons for future exercises. To this end, UNDP has produced a set of three inter-related publications:

Civil Society Organizational Development

Many CSOs have strong capacities that they use to contribute to their country's development agenda, and it is for this reason that UNDP is keen to partner with them: it can contribute to the effectiveness of development interventions, especially with respect to marginalized and vulnerable groups. However, some civil society organizations also face capacity challenges, for instance in areas such as internal management, self-regulation, networking with other organizations and platforms, and advocacy. UNDP works to develop the organizational capacity of civil society organizations through several initiatives.

National NGO (non-governmental organizations) platforms can provide a powerful and legitimate avenue for a strong, cohesive and credible voice for civil society. UNDP supports an International Resource Center (IRC) to strengthen the organizational and advocacy capacity of national NGO Platforms, for example by bringing in southern voices in regional and global debates on crucial topics such a trade, food security and climate change.

Launched in 2007, the IRC is a partnership among five national NGO platforms and six regional coalitions of NGO platforms. The web portal provides access to more than 80 national NGO platforms and six regional coalitions of NGO platforms and aims to share information, present NGO perspectives, and strengthen southern voices in global and regional policy debates. It includes position papers on a range of development issues, and an overview of inter-governmental agendas and major international summits. Partners include:

Selected Resources
  • Elements for Successful CSO Law Reform Initiatives: The case studies of Honduras, Iraq and Macedonia (UNDP and ECNL, 2011) English
  • Fast Facts: Democratic Governance Assessments (UNDP, 2011) English
  • Participatory Civil Society Assessments - Experiences from the Field (UNDP, 2011) English
  • The Future of Participatory Civil Society Assessments: A Conceptual Analysis (UNDP, 2011) English
  • A Users’ Guide to Civil Society Assessments (UNDP, 2010) English | French | Russian
  • The Role of Legal Reform in Supporting Civil Society (UNDP and ICNL, 2009) English | French | Spanish
Africa Forum on Civil Society and Governance Assessments
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On 10-12 November 2011, UNDP BERA/ Civil Society Team organized a meeting on Civil Society and Governance Assessments in Dakar, Senegal with its co-conveners TrustAfrica, CIVICUS, CONGAD and the African Governance Institute.

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Governance Assessments Portal
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GAP aims to be a hub of information and a valuable entry-point on democratic governance assessments. It seeks to provide UNDP staff, national counterparts and the wider community of stakeholders with information.

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