Civil Society comprises the relationships and groups that constitute our lives, the things we do as civilians, freely and voluntarily, in association with others, outside the state and the market.

mural1We understand civil society to comprise eight segments:

  • Family, kinship and friendship networks;
  • Household and domestic economies;
  • Neighbourhoods and informal social supports;
  • Voluntary associations, self-help and support groups;
  • NGOs, charities and social enterprises;
  • Cooperatives and mutuals;
  • Self-employment, family-enterprises and small business; and
  • Religion, faith and spirituality**

**note: our interest here is in civil society that is generated by the practice of faith or spirituality, not in endorsement or promotion of any one particular faith or spiritual tradition.

These diverse social forms have three features that are the basis for commonality:.

  • Relational – they are defined by relationships;
  • Associational – they are driven by formal or informal bonds
  • Voluntary – they are formed without coercion

Civil society relationships are horizontal, relational and voluntary. State-citizen interactions are vertical and coercive. Business-customer interactions are monetary exchanges. When governments, institutions, public policy and political movements focus exclusively on states and markets, they see only state-citizen and business-customer interactions and ignore the things that are most important to us.

The Civil Society Movement is a response to this global threat to civil society. For more than a century, public attention has focussed almost exclusively on states and markets, and ignored civil society.

Why was civil society marginalised for a century?

  • Historically, the 20th century was the century of concentrated power (Communism, Fascism, World Wars, Big Business). Civil society is dispersed, localised, small in scale.
  • Ideologically, the philosophies of the 20th century were individualist-collectivist (Fordism, Marxism, Nazism, Existentialism, Scientific Management, Neo-Liberalism)
  • Organisationally, labour unions and corporations were easy to organize. Before the Internet it was difficult and costly to organise the disparate components of civil society.

In the 20th century, governments, institutions, public policy and political movements, on both Left and Right, failed to see civil society.

  • They viewed the public sector/private sector as the solution to every problem. They regarded the imposition of state or market solutions on society as the proper business of government.
  • They viewed only individuals and governments as social actors. They could not see associations of citizens and their interactions. They could not see individualism-collectivism as flip sides of the same coin.
  • They served core public/private sector constituencies. They ignored the third sector (households, associations, social enterprises, cooperatives). They ignored family and small-businesses and the self-employed.
  • They viewed government as ‘management’, the execution of top-down, corporate-style administration. They used political parties as their instruments of management, based on command-and-control cultures.

This institutional failure to recognise civil society cannot solve 21st century problems because:

  • The active participation of citizens is required to solve the pressing social, economic and environmental problems of our time. The imposition of state or market prescriptions on society does not work.
  • Associations of citizens, big and small, are key social actors.
  • Self-employed people, micro and family businesses are a vast and growing sector that does not fit the traditional public or private sector.
  • Top-down ‘management’ of society and organisations runs counter to the practice of participation in distributed networks in the 21st century.

In the 21st century, civil society is under threat around the world. Centralised states and concentrated markets are corroding civil society and contracting the space available for it. Voluntary and relational components of social life are being colonised by both states and markets. In developed countries, many not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) have been turned into service delivery instruments for the state. In developing countries, a large proportion of NFPs have become instruments for delivery of foreign aid. In both settings, market transactions have entered social and familial space, and upturned relational models of functioning. NFPs have become increasingly corporatised and detached from their founding purpose and culture.

The Civil Society Movement is a response to the absence of an authentic public voice for the diversity and richness of civil society around the world. It is:

  • A movement – which individuals, small groups and large organisations can join.
  • A voice so that civil society can speak for itself, about itself, to the world.
  • A catalyst for change – so individuals and groups may network and organise initiatives.
  • A global network – because the threats to civil society from states and markets are global in nature.

social-entrepreneurship1Individuals, groups and organisations are invited to register as Members. Members in each country can network with each other and take initiatives as they see fit.

The Civil Society Movement is made viable by new technology. Individuals and groups can connect and organise online, locally, nationally and globally. The financial cost of organising civil society and generating a collective voice can be reduced significantly in the 21st century.

Individuals and groups in every country are warmly invited to join the global Civil Society Movement.

Click here for the Membership Form.

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