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Changing Roles of Civil Society

Why/how should corporates defend civil society space? Good new paper + case studies

Duncan Green's picture

I saw some effective academic-NGO cooperation last week, and even better, it involved some of my LSE students.

The occasion was the launch of Beyond Integrity: Exploring the role of business in preserving civil society space, commissioned and published by the Charities Aid Foundation and written by Silky Agrawal, Brooks Reed and Riya Saxena, three of last year’s LSE Masters students. They researched and wrote the report as part of a student consultancy project, and CAF were so impressed that they decided to publish it. Result.

First the content: the authors went looking for cases where businesses had got involved in defending civil society from attacks by government, and identified four really interesting cases (see table). They interviewed a number of the players in each case.

They found some ‘key learnings’ (bit depressing to see them already adopting the barbarisms of aidspeak!):

  • Firms in consumer-facing industries are responsive to large-scale social movements that raise awareness regarding human rights abuses;
  • Privately owned companies with strong ethics and values tied into the core business model, led by engaged leaders, are likely to respond to civil society;
  • At times, privately held dialogues between key stakeholders and host governments can be more effective at initiating positive action than a public challenge, as the respect and dignity of each stakeholder is maintained;
  • Leveraging formal and informal cross-sectoral networks is instrumental in convincing corporations to act on behalf of civil society.

Can Virtual Civil Societies Build Citizen Competence?

Sabina Panth's picture

The image of civil society as non government entities with concrete institutions, with office space, meeting halls and formal titles, is gradually shifting in this virtual age of online activism and social media.  Instead, these formal institutions are diffusing into loose networks, where, in place of human resources, software programs are doing much of the work.  In the words of journalist Charlie Beckett, these emerging entities are the “Virtual Civil Societies.”