Civil Society in International Development

Over the past decades, civil society has become increasingly important to socio-economic development and in political mobilisation, perhaps especially so in developing countries. This is partly an effect of neoliberal reforms that have decreased areas of state responsibility in economic as well as political issues, which has left space not only to private actors but also to non-governmental organisations. Furthermore, the democracy reforms of the last decades and the increased focus on human rights have strengthened the political agency of civil movements and organisations, which often have turned into driving critics of precisely the lack of democracy in governance. Through globalisation, non-governmental organisations have made contacts across national borders, a process that has promoted the creation of trans-national civil networks. Many are the hopes that this vitalisation of civil society will strengthen the societal development in a democratic direction, with increased popular participation.
For Swedish international development cooperation, these trends have implied that efforts have been increasingly directed towards civil society. This demands deeper knowledge about actors and processes that are characteristic of the contemporary international civil society. To some extent, such knowledge is to be found in Sweden today, among development cooperation practitioners as well as within academia. However, the knowledge is limited and there is very little exchange and debate between the two groups. This project is aiming for a change of that situation.
The project has two objectives:
To advance the Swedish research front on civil society in developing countries
To strengthen research-based knowledge about civil society among Swedish actors within international development cooperation (Sida, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, non-governmental organisations and consultants)
The aim is to be a bridge-builder between different actors within international development work, and provide real possibilities for mutual exchange. The project’s activities comprise:
Yearly two-day-conferences with approximately 100 participants (Sweden-based and international researchers, doctoral and other university students, development practitioners and policy-makers). The title of the 2010 seminar is Civil Society and Democracy: A Good Match? Possible future themes are Civil Society and the Urban Poor, and Religion in Civil Society Formation and Development;
Yearly one-day-workshops directed mainly to Sida staff;
Yearly one- or two-day-workshops, initiated, organised and financed by the Sida Partnership forum in Härnösand, directed at non-governmental development organisations;
Proceedings from the yearly conference, in the report series Outlook on Development. As part of the project, CSD will during the first year of the project (2009) arrange a separate series of smaller seminar and workshops with Kumi Naidoo, based on different themes in his upcoming book on civil society. Click here for information on Kumi Naidoo and the seminar series.