Strengthening Civic Engagement

A fundamental aspect of a democratic state is the right of its citizens to participate in decision-making processes. The success of development and participatory governance depends on both a robust state and an active civil society with healthy levels of civic engagement. Empowered and active citizenship is an end in itself: essential for inclusive growth and national ownership. Read More >

Civic Engagement Dialogue Series

UNDP regularly invites civil society representatives to engage on current development issues. The next discussion will be announced soon.

April 28, 2015

“Accountability Through Citizen Participation in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”, Angelina Fisher, Adjunct Professor of Law at NYU School of Law; Programme Director, Institute for International Law and Justice; Naiara Costa Chaves, Advocacy Director of the Beyond 2015 Coalition

Accountability has become a key focus of debate about the future direction and shape of the development agenda as the target date for the Millennium Development Goals draws closer. Despite frequent calls for the inclusion of an accountability dimension in the post-2015 agenda, there have been few attempts at systematic analysis of what accountability-for-development means. Further, analysis has not addressed which accountability frameworks are likely to be effective and why, and what an effective accountability framework for post-2015 commitments might look like. Recently the joint UNDP/NYU publication sought to answer these gaps in knowledge and take a holistic approach with accountability analysis. The discussion focused on some of the challenges and opportunities in developing an integrated accountability framework, and its impact for citizen participation based on some firsthand experiences. The speakers also shared their expertise on how the nature of the interface between citizen and government has an impact on sustainable development initiatives and how it relates to accountability and transparency.

June 25, 2014

“Island Voices-Global Choices: A Conversation with SIDS Civil Society”, Noelene Nabulivou, Diverse Voices and Action for Equality Fiji and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era; Gordon Bispham, Caribbean Policy Development Centre; and Lemalu Nele Leilua, Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organizations

The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States will be held from 1-4 September 2014 in Apia, Samoa with pre-Conference activities taking place from 28-31 August 2014, which include forums focusing on Major Groups and other stakeholders and youth. The Conference aims at building on existing successful partnerships and launch innovative and concrete new ones, as well as help focus the world’s attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities. With governments, private sector and civil society organizations in New York for the Final Preparatory Committee meeting (23-27 June 2014), this was an opportunity to meet with representatives of the SIDS Civil Society Steering Committee which coordinates the participation of stakeholders from civil society and other non-state actors under the leadership of UN-DESA/DSD and UN-NGLS. The discussion focused on meaningful and useful partnerships between SIDS States and civil society required to enhance sustainable development gains, at the national or regional level. It also highlighted efforts to be made to advance the roles of women and youth-led groups in SIDS States. See the Powerpoint presentations here and here.

November 15, 2013

“Youth, Human Rights and Political Participation”, Ivana Savić, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Development Studies, Member of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee

Young people, their aspirations and knowledge should be central to the development agenda. From a development perspective, the involvement of young men and women in participatory processes and planning and policy making at all levels plays a pivotal role in ensuring that youth rights are promoted, youth voices are heard, inter-generational knowledge is shared, and innovation and critical thinking are encouraged from a young age, to support transformational change in their lives and communitiesExclusion or insufficient engagement of young men and women in formal decision making processes or structures, means valuable resources that can contribute to the advancement and quality of development are lost. Efforts to create a supportive and sustained enabling environment for inclusive and meaningful engagement and participation of young men and women are therefore key. Ivana Savić shared her experience in the context of youth participation in international development negotiations and platforms such as the UN CSD, Rio+20 and Post-2015, as well as the first youth representative to the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee. Watch the video of the discussion here.

September 26, 2013

“Strengthening the Role of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers”, Antti Pentikäinen, Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, Member of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee

Many of today’s conflicts have a religious dimension and conflict parties often use religion to mobilize support. At the same time, religion can help in defusing tensions as constructive religious and traditional leaders can draw on theology to provide an important alternative narrative to extremism and often have good links with and across communities. Recognizing the importance of religious and traditional actors working for peace, the UN Secretary-General in his report on mediation (A/66/811) recommended the establishment of a more in-depth partnership “to better connect the efforts of the United Nations with these important peace advocates”. Antti Pentikäinen of Finn Church Aid initiated, together with the UN Department of Political Affairs, a process to establish a network that can help traditional and religious peacemakers and facilitate their cooperation with various UN structures. During this interactive discussion co-hosted with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Faith-based organizations, Antti talked about promoting the role of religious and traditional peacemakers and provided insights on the rationale and methodology that should be used to improve cooperation in this field. Watch the video of the discussion here. See the Powerpoint presentation here.

June 20, 2013

“Violence against women and access to justice”, Maja Daruwala, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Violence against women remains a persistent challenge in countries worldwide. Despite national and global commitments made by governments and powerful advocacy by women’s organizations, women continue to experience violence in all forms – at home, at work and in public spaces, in times of peace and during conflict. Particularly brutal assaults on women in Brazil, India and South Africa in recent months attest to the entrenched nature of the problem.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has concluded after a recent visit to India that the country’s laws are not tough enough on this issue. The recent report of the High-Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda has highlighted the need for a target to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women. Against this background, Maja Daruwala discussed the complexities inherent in women’s efforts to access justice, addressing issues of police and legal reforms and societal and official attitudes, to explore ways forward.

 April 9, 2013



“Civil Society and its Environment: Driving Sustainable Development? – Findings from the CIVICUS State of Civil Society 2013 report”, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Secretary General, World YWCA

The annual CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report assesses the health of citizen participation and civil society around the world. This year’s report, to be published in late April 2013, draws on fresh data and research to explore the different components of the environment within which civil society and citizen action during 2012 took place. This panel discussion came at a critical time for global negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, the post-Rio+20 Sustainable Development Goals, and the follow-up to the 2011 Busan 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, and explored and sharpened the contribution to sustainable development of an enabling environment for civil society. Click here for the Programme. Click here for Short speaker biographies and Additional resources. Watch the video of the discussion on UN Web TV.

March 14, 2013

“Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan - How do we ensure that Women's Equality remain a Priority?”, Mahbouba Seraj, Afghan Women Network (AWN)

Since 2001, gender equality has taken center stage in development initiatives in Afghanistan, in response to the appalling social, economic and political injustices faced by women under the previous regime. Mahbouba Seraj of the Afghan Women Network will share her observations on the current state of affairs as Afghanistan prepares for the 2014 presidential elections and security transition and the 2015 parliamentary elections. She will also give her assessment of some of the main challenges and opportunities ahead. Mahbouba will discuss specific proposals to strengthen the role of women in Afghanistan and the role that civil society can play in this. 

October 24, 2012

“Post-Rio to Post-2015: Planning International Stakeholder Engagement”, Farooq Ullah of The Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, Maruxa Cardama of Local Authorities Major Group and Sasha Gabizon of Women’s Major Group

Following the civil society groups’ two-day meeting on ‘Post-Rio to Post-2015: Planning International Stakeholder Engagement’ (New York, 20-21 October), this informal post-Rio conversation with Major Groups and other stakeholders addressed the institutional framework moving towards post-2015. Farooq Ullah of Stakeholder Forum, Maruxa Cardama of Local Authorities Major Group and Sasha Gabizon of Women’s Major Group shared their observations on the current processes and gave their assessment of some of the main challenges and opportunities ahead. They discussed specific proposals to strengthen the post-Rio agenda and how this process fits into the post-2015 framework.

March 28, 2012

“The Rio+20 Negotiations:  Opportunities and Challenges for Rio and Beyond”, Neva Frecheville, Beyond 2015 Coalition/WWF-UK and Jens Martens, Director, Global Policy Forum, Europe

Neva Frecheville of the Beyond 2015 Coalition/ WWF-UK and Jens Martens of the Global Policy Forum Europe shared their observations on the current state of negotiations. They gave their assessment of some of the main challenges and opportunities ahead. They discussed specific proposals to strengthen the social and economic dimensions in the Rio+20 Zero Draft. They also focused on the proposal to adopt Sustainable Development Goals and how this discussion fits into the post-2015 development agenda.

February 14, 2012

“Extractive industries and Human Development - How can Africa get More from its Minerals?”, Yao Graham, Third World Network Africa, Member of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee

In 2009, African heads of state adopted the African mining vision centred on a transformative strategy of Africa’s minerals powering industrialization. Yao Graham is a member of the International Study Group that produced the report on Africa’s mineral regimes for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union. Last December an AU Ministerial adopted an action plan based on the vision and the report. What are the implications and challenges of these aspirations? Yao Graham is Coordinator of Third World Network (TWN)-Africa, a pan-African research and advocacy organization based in Accra, and member of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee. Click here for Yao Graham's presentation.

February 9, 2012

“Defining the Post-2015 Agenda: How to Ensure an Inclusive Process”, Cristina Diez, ATD Fourth World and Rajiv Joshi, Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP)

While the international development community is still working on achieving the MDGs, discussions have started about possible goals and targets that could provide a framework for development policy after 2015. The post-2015 development framework will, as noted by the UN Secretary-General, be most effective if it results from inclusive and open multi-stakeholder participation. This lunchtime discussion with Cristina Diez from ATD Fourth World and Rajiv Joshi from GCAP gave an overview of some of the UN and civil society processes and activities on the post-2015 agenda and highlight possible synergies. In particular, it focused on national consultation processes and how to ensure these are open and inclusive.

November 15, 2011

“Planetary Boundaries and Social Boundaries: A Framework for Sustainable Development Goals?”, Kate Raworth, Senior Researcher, Oxfam and Peter Roderick, Lawyer and Co-founder of Planetary Boundaries Initiative

This brownbag discussion presented the concept of Planetary Boundaries and the complementary concept of Social Boundaries. Do these ideas make a coherent framework together? If so, what should the social boundaries be, and could they be quantified? How could this framework be further developed so that they set out a unified vision for international social justice and environmental sustainability? Can we combine these ideas to define a safe and just operating space for humanity, and could bringing together development and environment in this way provide a framework for generating Sustainable Development Goals? Peter Broderick's presentation focused on answering these questions. Kate Raworth presented Oxfam's perspectives: "Can we live inside this doughnut?"

October 17, 2011

“Rio+20 What Can we Expect? A Stakeholder Perspective on the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development”, Felix Dodds, Executive Director of The Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future

In his much attended presentation, Felix Dodds provided an overview of the current state of play and debates on key issues to be discussed at the Rio+20 conference to be held next June. As the civil society Chair of the recent DPI-NGO Conference on ‘Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens’, Mr. Dodds will discuss the key issues for Rio, including the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the international framework for sustainable development. He will give his assessment of some of the main challenges ahead, as well as the possible positive outcomes of Rio+20 and UNDP contributions to them.

September 30, 2011

“Democratizing Access to Funding: An Argentine Perspective”, Guillermo Correa, Argentine Network for International Cooperation (RACI)

The Argentine Network for International Cooperation (RACI) has established a network of over 50 NGOs as well as local and international funders, embassies and others to bring together various stake­holders and increase in­formation, understanding and impact. The Network serves as a bridge between the CSOs, who work or aim to work with the support of International Development Cooperation, and the activists who realize social investment for development in Argentina. For civil society organizations it is becoming increasingly difficult to access resources and, in turn, maintain the sustainability of the programs they implement. Guillermo Correa, Executive Coordinator of RACI, focused his presentation on successful models of social investment in Argentina, specifically, on the relation between donors and recipients, discussing how NGOs can work better together, avoid overlap, be more transparent and share information to make the sector stronger and more democratic.

October 15, 2010

“Post-2010 Scenarios: What Role for Civil Society?”, Ingrid Srinath, Secretary-General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Action?

Ingrid Srinath, (now former) Secretary-General of CIVICUS, shared her reflections on "Post 2010 Scenarios: What role for Civil Society?", drawing from the recent CIVICUS World Assembly and the MDG review summit, and the research and experience of other networks such as the International Advocacy NGO network, Global Call to Action Against Poverty and Better Aid. Ingrid was until 2012 the co-chair of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee and serves on the board of the IANGO Accountability Charter and the World Economic Forum NGO Advisory Group. Click here for an article by Ingrid Srinath in the Guardian, UK, September 2010.

April 13, 2010

“From Political Won't to Political Will: Examining Political Will for Active Citizen Participation”, Carmen Malena, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Action

Carmen Malena presented highlights of her book “From Political Won’t to Political Will” (2009), which examines why political will for participatory governance is lacking and what can be done about it. It identifies strategies and actions that have proved effective in nurturing political will and outlines what citizens, civil society actors, elected representatives, and government officials can do to build broad-based support for citizen empowerment and participatory governance. The book emphasises the importance of developing multi-faceted strategies that simultaneously address issues of political want, political can and political must. Among others, it recommends to build trust between civil society and state actors. Carmen Malena’s presentatation was followed by an interactive discussion with UNDP staff on how UNDP can promote participatory governance. Carmen Malena works as an independent consultant and part-time director of the CIVICUS Participatory Governance Programme. Click here for a video of the launch of the book at the World Bank, April 2010.

June 23, 2009

“Peoples´ Voices on the Crisis”, Roberto Bissio, Social Watch

Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of Social Watch: "The world is caught in the “perfect storm” of the economic crisis and additional crises brought on by the depletion of natural resources, climate change, and unsustainable models of food production and energy consumption. The global financial architecture needs to be reformed so that developing countries recover policy space and the United Nations is the organization with the legitimacy and capacity to introduce the changes required. Investing in the poor is not just an ethical imperative but also the best stimulus package to rescue the world economy." Roberto Bissio was the co-chair of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee until 2012.

May 20, 2009

“UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Implications for Development Policies and Programming”, James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The historic adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples entails the principles of "free, prior and informed consent". According to these principles, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them”. This and other principles also have an impact on the action of inter-governmental organizations when they carry out projects that affect indigenous peoples. James Anaya’s presentation focused on what these principles mean for UN programming.

May 13, 2009

“Legislating from Below: Experiences and Lessons on Establishing Peoples' Entitlements to Information and Employment in India”, Nikhil Dey, MKSS

The Collective for the Empowerment of Peasants and Workers (MKSS) has led to one of the most progressive legislations in the world on the transparency and accountability of the state in India, and has also played a crucial role in the Right to Food and Employment Guarantee campaigns. These campaigns have successfully sought legal entitlements through the Indian Parliament and the Supreme Court. The MKSS continues to strive for effective implementation of these laws and are fostering processes of democratic participation and decision making across the country today. See a short interview with Nikhil Dey here.

March 5, 2009

“On Family Violence Prevention Strategy: A Civic Response to Domestic Violence”, Ani Pitman and Di Grenell, Amokura

The Amokura Family Violence Prevention Strategy is an integrated community based initiative to address family violence in Taitokerau/Northland, (northern region of the north island of New Zealand). The initiative is led by the Family Violence Prevention Consortium which is made up of the Chief Executives of seven iwi (tribal) authorities: Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa, Ngati Kahu, Whaingaroa, Ngapuhi, Ngati Whatua and Ngati Wai. Di Grennell, Executive Director and Ani Pitman, Advocacy and Legal Analyst, of Amokura, New Zealand, received the Leitner Center's Annual Human Rights Prize.

February 2, 2009

“Civil Society Index: Towards a Better Understanding of Civil Society”, Katsuji Imata, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Action

The CIVICUS Civil Society Index is an action-research project that aims to assess the state of civil society in countries around the world. Between 2003 and 2006 the Civil Society Index was successfully implemented in over 50 countries worldwide. The study measures five key dimensions of civil society: civic engagement, level of organization, practice of values, perceived impact and external environment. The Civil Society Index is an important entry point for developing national civil society strategies and forms one of the main flagships in the global UNDP strategy to strengthen civil society and civic engagement. In his presentation, Katsuji Imata shared his views on how to promote civic engagement through the CSI and CIVICUS’ work.

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