Managing Developmental Civil Society Organizations

Managing Developmental Civil Society Organizations

by Richard Holloway

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When citizens band together in a civil society organization to effect change for the better, they can be a tremendous force for good. This book is about how to channel people’s enthusiasm most effectively, so that pitfalls are avoided, and goals are attained. The book reviews the variety and different kinds of civil society organizations (CSOs) in operation, and what is within their powers to achieve. It follows the progress of enthusiasts through to professional development practitioners, setting out the processes of planning, resource mobilization, and developing links to governments, businesses and citizens, while still conserving the spark and fire that brings citizens to development work in the first place. It highlights the alternative vision that CSOs bring to their countries’ problems and how this can inspire effective service provision and advocacy, as well as holding government accountable for what has been promised but not delivered. It helps with the periodic maintenance problems of CSOs and how they can keep up their standards. Finally it addresses three dangers of CSOs – foreign donor dependence, possible irrelevance in larger strategic thinking, and the loss of organizational strength. This book is essential reading for staff of national and international development organizations; fieldworkers; and all those wishing to create a people’s organization to effect change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781780449098
Publisher: Practical Action Publishing
Publication date: 10/15/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 140
File size: 16 MB
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About the Author

Richard Holloway has over thirty years experience as a development consultant in Africa and Asia.

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What is civil society and what are civil society organizations?

Richard Holloway


Civil Society Organizations are the associational life of the citizens of a country and can be a tremendous force for good. Citizens are important to government and business as well but CSO's singular power derives from citizens' persuasion and joint action, and its income comes from voluntary donations of time and money. CSO is the larger term which encompasses NGOs, CBOs, and FBOs which are defined. This chapter provides a basic typology of civil society.

Keywords:Civil Society organizations, CSOs, NGOs, CBOs, FBOs, Citizens, Non-state actors, MKSS

Civil society

A tremendous amount has been written on this subject, but, in essence, civil society is the associational life of the citizens of a country when they are not associating to govern a country (i.e. they are non-government) and not associating to make a personal profit (i.e. not for profit), but they are associating with some specific aim in view (i.e. not just for relaxation or recreation). It is based on the belief that non-political, non-profit-making citizens, when they are in association with others who share the same views, can be very effective and can effect change, and this change can be progressive.

When citizens band together to effect change for the better, they can be a tremendous force for good. A local association in India, MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), started work in 1994 by trying to identify where corrupt payments were being made in local food-for-work programmes in Rajasthan. Nine years later, and with the support of many organizations, they ended up getting parliament to pass the Freedom of Information Act 2005, which has dramatically changed the way in which the Indian government does business and protects the rights of citizens.

This chapter is about the kinds of association that have a developmental purpose: that is, those that try to improve, at different levels and in different ways, the situation of the poor and powerless in the countries in which they work.

The chapter starts by positing that there are three different sectors in any society: the government (the public sector), business (the private for-profit sector), and citizens (the private not-for-profit sector). Boundaries are intentionally fuzzy, and the relative sizes of the different sectors may vary between countries, but a basic typology for the three sectors of society is shown in Figure 1.1.

The three sectors

Government controls the structures of a country within its constitution. Its power is derived from the income that it receives from state assets, taxes, and international aid. It controls the means of violence in the country through the police and the armed forces.

Business is responsible for the supply and transformation of goods and services in the country, acting within the law. Its power is derived from the income it receives from trading, natural resource exploitation, and service provision. In a capitalist system, it controls the provision of goods and services at prices that are acceptable to the public and favourable to businesses.

Civil society provides opportunities for citizens to associate together based on topics that they consider important and on which they want action. Its power derives from citizens' persuasion and joint action, and its income comes from voluntary donations of time and money, both from the affected citizens and from supporters of those citizens – both inside and outside the country.

Civil society in the development field is often the structure within which a citizen who has strong feelings about the need for change, particularly reform to improve the situation of the poor and powerless, chooses to operate. He or she feels that something can be done if they associate with other people to try to bring about change on many different levels, from the village to the nation.

Before we drill down into civil society and civil society organizations (CSOs), however, there are a number of points that need to be noted.

1. While we believe that it has a very important role in development, civil society supplements the work of the two other important players – government and business – and could not exist without them. The government of a country sets the scene and the context for what happens in that country (although there may, in some countries, be forces contesting to become the government), and the business sector pays taxes that allow the government to exist financially. Later in the book, we will look at the contributions of government and business and how civil society can relate to them.

2. Citizens are essential to civil society, but also play roles within government and business. A citizen can be a government employee, his or her family may run a small clothing business, and, in addition, he or she may belong to a school alumni association, a faith or religious group, an ethnic association, and many more. If the citizen is very concerned about domestic violence, he or she might belong to a CSO that addresses this topic. If the citizen feels strongly about development issues, and if there is a cause that is dear to his or her heart, it is likely that he or she will choose CSOs as the channel for his or her aspirations and commitments. We should not forget, however, that the citizen will also exist in many other circles and contexts.

3. The sectoral boundaries within a society are fuzzy. Not only do citizens have many roles in all the sectors, but it can be difficult to understand in which sector some institutions fit. Is a political party part of government or civil society? Is a cooperative a business or does it fit within civil society? Is a not-for-profit business (or a social enterprise) a business or part of civil society? Learning more about CSOs helps us to answer these questions.

Civil society organizations

Any time that citizens associate together we can legitimately call the association that they have formed a CSO. This is the larger, all-inclusive word that contains within it a number of different types of organization: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), and faith-based organizations (FBOs).

Non-governmental organizations

From the start of the United Nations until the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, all non-government, non-profit developmental organizations were called NGOs. At the Earth Summit, the concept of a civil society, as opposed to a state-controlled society, became very common (Poland's Solidarinosc led the way as an independent trade union), making the terms 'civil society' and 'civil society organization' (CSO) more common and more widely used. Other people, particularly from the global South, pointed out that 'non-government' frequently translated into 'anti-government' in either the language or the attitudes of their countries. This was unhelpful – and indeed often harmful – to civil society, and was another reason why the positive 'civil society' was more attractive than the negative 'non-government'. In common usage in 2015, NGO is the term used to describe larger, formally registered CSOs that often derive their funding from foreign sources. NGO often subdivides into NNGOs (national NGOs) and INGOs (international NGOs).

Community-based organizations

These are associations of people who come from a common (and limited) geographical area and who have a common agenda for change. CBOs are based on membership. Usually, but not always, they rely on voluntary staff (as opposed to paid labour). It is quite possible for many CBOs to federate into organizations that go beyond limited community boundaries; this then becomes a federation of CBOs.

Faith-based organizations

These are organizations of people whose common denominator is belonging to a particular faith (usually Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism) and the way that this faith operates in the field of development. Depending on the country and its history, such faith-based organizations may be very large indeed and form a parallel educational or health structure to the government. In some cases, FBOs offer their services only to people who belong to the same faith; in others, the services they offer are available to all, without discrimination.

Non-state actors

There is one further category that readers may be familiar with: non-state actors. This term was coined by the Cotonou Agreement of 2000 and defines the kind of CSOs that the European Union is prepared to fund. In most cases, it is synonymous with civil society and includes non-profit associations of for-profit entities, such as chambers of commerce.


Three kinds of civil society organization

Richard Holloway


It divides CSOs into the typology of mutual benefit organizations, public benefit organizations and pretenders and then clarifies the kinds of CSOs which make up each of these categories. It describes NGOs, which are a sub-set of public benefit organizations and clarifies the variety of work they do; within Pretenders it illustrates the kinds of organizations that pretend to be of mutual or public benefit but are neither. It provides the CIVICUS definition of civil society, and finally identifies the development contractor as a potentially useful business.

Keywords:CSOs, Mutual Benefit Organizations (MPOs), Public Benefit Organizations (PBOs), Pretenders, NGOs, GONGOs, BONGOs, DONGOs, CIVICUS, development contractor

Citizens join or support a great variety of organizations – everything from a local farmers' group or wives' club to a national organization like the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society. Many local and traditional organizations are well known only by the people of a particular area or language group, and are unknown outside that locality. Examples are the age sets of the Maasai people in Kenya, the arisan of Java, and the stokvel of South Africa.

In order for us to appreciate the richness of associational life, we need some tools with which we can 'unpack' such richness. We can usefully identify two broad categories of citizen organizations – mutual benefit organizations and public benefit organizations – but this should be followed by a warning note about a third category: 'pretenders'. Each of these categories then has a variety of sub-categories. Figure 2.1 illustrates the different categories of citizen organizations found in the civil society of most countries. There may well be other categories; continual research is needed to understand the many, many ways in which citizens associate together for the purposes of change and progress. As an example, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 produced a flowering of citizen initiatives to help those affected by it – all the more noticeable because the Myanmar government at that time, and until recently, had not allowed formal non-government civil society organizations (CSOs).

When looking at these categories, however, we should not be tempted to think too formally about such organizations. Civil society also includes such ephemeral forms as demonstrations or boycotts where citizens come together for a particular purpose and disband after the purpose is achieved. These forms of loose collective behaviour by citizens are important, particularly when there are state prohibitions on more formal structures; in fact, many people would say that 'popular movements' are the purest form of CSO.

Two kinds of civil society organization and the pretenders

Let us look at these suggested two (plus one) major categories of citizen organizations. This book suggests that these categories fit the kinds of associational life that exists in the world today, and a review of them may help a CSO consider whether it could usefully modify or modulate into a different kind of organization.

Mutual benefit organizations

These comprise individuals who join together to form an organization in which they are members, in which they have a governance function to elect office bearers, and from which, as members, they derive benefits. Such organizations may be very small – community organizations in a particular geographical area – or large and national in scope. Typical examples are cooperatives, trade unions, professional associations, and village self-help groups. They may also contain an ephemeral category, as mentioned earlier, for such things as boycotts or strikes.

Public benefit organizations

These are groups where those responsible for founding the organization aim to benefit citizens whom they have identified as needing help. The people who govern or are members of the organization are not themselves the targets or beneficiaries of the organization, and those governing the organization are appointed at the initiative of committed individuals (often in the form of a board) and are not drawn from those identified as needing help.

These organizations can also range from very small to very large. Their mandate comes from the common perceptions and values of self-selected citizens. And while they are invariably public-spirited in nature, board members are more often than not accountable to their organization's governance structure and to the law under which they are incorporated, not to those who benefit from their services. Those whose interests are served, therefore, do not set the mandate of the organization, as they do in mutual benefit organizations.

Typical examples of public benefit organizations are foundations, NGOs, and charitable organizations.


Because so much attention (and so much money) has been paid to CSOs, spurious groups of people have appeared that pretend to be CSOs but actually belong to the state or the business sector, or are purely self-interested. These represent neither membership organizations nor organizations of committed individuals who wish to benefit others; instead, they comprise individuals who are trying to earn money or power for themselves, their political party, or their business.

These three broad categories have sub-categories within them. When we look at these, we see the accuracy of Alan Fowler's statement about civil society: Too seldom is the point made that civil society is a messy arena of competing claims and interests between groups that do not necessarily like each other, as well as a place for mediation and collaboration (Fowler, 2001).

Note that so far this chapter has not discussed donor funding. To pick up a point made earlier, an understanding of the nature and value of civil society is not defined by the donors or by the approach a donor may have to them.

Mutual benefit organizations

The following is an overview of the kinds of organization typically found in this category, though – there may well be other local variations, as suggested earlier:

• faith-based organizations;

• indigenous CBOs;

• introduced (or induced) CBOs;

• ethnic or traditional organizations;

• political parties (?);

• employment-related organizations (trade unions, professional associations, trade associations);

• cooperatives (?);

• people's organizations or social movements;

• student organizations;

• recreational or cultural organizations.

Faith-based organizations

These are associations that benefit the members of a particular faith-based grouping, either a common religion (such as Islam) or, more commonly, a particular sect or congregation within a specific religion.

Where faith-based groups offer benefits to the general public (schools or hospitals, for instance), they are listed under 'public benefit organizations'. This category is for a group defined by its faith, and identified more precisely by a particular sub-group within that faith, and that offers benefits to the members of that group. Such a group may be of great service to its members, helping them both spiritually and socially.

One of the worrying elements of contemporary civil society is that such groups have also shown themselves to be potential lightning rods for extremism, intolerance, and violence towards others. Charismatic people who have great potential for encouraging mutual tolerance between different faiths may lead such organizations. However, it is also possible that such organizations can be led autocratically, particularly if the leader claims divine guidance. Examples of mutual benefit, faith-based groups exist all over the world. In places where different faiths used to coexist, such groups have often polarized along religious or sect lines, turning to feuding and violence. In places where traditional life is a strong basis for religion, those traditions can define the mutual benefit organization.


Excerpted from "Managing Developmental Civil Society Organizations"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Richard Holloway.
Excerpted by permission of Practical Action Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Figures and boxes,
1 What is civil society and what are civil society organizations?,
2 Three kinds of civil society organization,
3 What is the best path to take for social change?,
4 What is your civil society organization going to do?,
5 Moving from a good idea to a well-planned programme,
6 How can you mobilize resources for your civil society organization?,
7 Who does your civil society organization need to relate to?,
8 Managing advocacy and social accountability,
9 How can you sustain your civil society organization over time?,
10 Future dangers,

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