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WELCOME??? OPINION

THE ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN COMBATING POVERTY AND SOCIAL EXCLUSION

Civil society needs to invest time to generate grassroots awareness and

build solidarity on economic and financial issues, says Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

In the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis there has been an increase in criticisms directed towards ideals on market fundamentalism from many

different quarters. The current epoch has brought with it diverse challenges for ordinary citizens. Prior to the escalation of the financial crisis about 1.4 billion people lived under one dollar a day and millions more have joined this group in addition to the many

millions who have been put out of work as a result of the crisis.

Directly or indirectly related to the crisis and the marked deficits in global economic governance, civil society is now perceived as the most trusted sector ahead of government and the private sector. It has been argued that the financial and economic crisis presents remarkable opportunities for civil society. But these opportunities may not be effectively utilised if citizens continue to operate in environments laden with restrictive NGO laws, if global institutions remain undemocratic and if internally, those in civil society continue with a business-as-usual attitude and do not adapt to the current global realities.

In spite of these challenges we should acknowledge the contribution from civil society in representing the interests of citizens and most importantly do some serious ‘soul searching’ about our work vis-à-vis the current challenges faced by the marginalised, poor and underprivileged. Coalitions of civil society organisations at local, national and global

levels have for many years led calls for changes in legislation in several countries on issues ranging from gender-equality, participatory democracy, NGO laws and climate change. In certain instances these calls have led to profound changes in respective countries but a lot more remains to be done. One of the advantages civil society has is that in most countries it is closer to target groups. This enhances the service delivery role civil society plays and in most emerging democracies, has prompted governments to use civil society to implement government programmes.

“To effectively address the issue of poverty and social exclusion as well as other challenges facing ordinary citizens, civil society needs to establish the direct link between local, national and global inequities…”

In spite of the successes in this area, the role of civil society should not be

limited to service delivery. There is a need for governments to involve civil society more in decision-making especially the promulgation of legislation. After all NGOs for example working directly with target groups on issues ranging from gender equality, climate, and poverty alleviation are in a better position to provide input to legislation because they have first-hand experience working on these issues.

To effectively address the issue of poverty and social exclusion as well as other challenges facing ordinary citizens, civil society needs to establish the direct link between local, national and global inequities. Campaigns like the Global Coalition Against Poverty (GCAP) with members and partners in over 100 countries around the world is able to mobilise faith based organisations, local, national and international NGOs, trade unions, and women and youth organisations. The strength of GCAP lies in its ability to bring together civil society

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