The role of civil society and social movements

Civil society organisations (CSOs) can provide both immediate relief and longer-term transformative change – by defending collective interests and increasing accountability; providing solidarity mechanisms and promoting participation; influencing decision making; directly engaging in service delivery; and challenging prejudice. In this way, excluded groups can be effective drivers of their own change by forming or participating in organisations that represent group interests. CSOs also play an important role in conducting research to raise the profile of excluded groups.

However, these activities can be constrained by institutional factors, such as the type of regime they are operating in, the level of decentralisation of state institutions and various other aspects of governance. New research is recognising the importance of building alliances and platforms across the state and civil society, to connect champions of change.

Houtzager, P. P. (2003). Introduction: From Polycentrism to the Polity. In Houtzager, P. P., & Moore, M. (Eds.), Changing Paths: International Development and the New Politics of Inclusion. University of Michigan Press.
What is the nature of the new politics of inclusion? This chapter challenges the perception that supporting uncoordinated and decentralised actions in civil society and the market is sufficient to produce improved governance outcomes. Greater inclusion will emerge instead from representative and deliberative institutions through which societal and state actors can negotiate collective solutions across the public-private divide.
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Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. (2011). Blurring the Boundaries: Citizen Action across States and Societies. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
This report synthesises the findings of ten years of research from the Development Resource Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability. Findings suggest that governments often become more capable, accountable and responsive when state-led reform to strengthen institutions of accountability and social mobilisation occur simultaneously. Further, change happens not just through strategies that work on both sides of the governance supply and demand equation, but also through strategies that work across them: it is important to link champions of change from both state and society.
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Case studies have shown that social movements can act as the first steps towards developing a sense of self-identity and citizenship, which does not necessarily emerge initially through engagement with the state. They allow individuals to turn grievances into a sense of collective injustice, and then action. The paper below argues: ‘A sense of citizenship normally starts with people’s own agendas – they create a political identity around a matter that immediately affects their lives… Group membership amongst those who are marginalized and the sense of dignity and solidarity that comes with this can stimulate people to aspire as a precursor to political engagement.’ (2006: 19)

Eyben, R., & Ladbury, S. (2006). Building Effective States: Taking a Citizen’s Perspective. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
How can a citizen-centred approach to development build effective states by improving relations between state and society? This paper gives an overview of current debates and analyses citizens’ own views on these issues. It argues that a state’s legitimacy is strengthened by civic participation, which often grows up around local issues, and can be empowered through donor support.
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Social movements have been particularly active in Latin America, where they have worked for inclusion of a wide range of marginalised groups.

Earle, L. (2008). Social Movements and Citizenship: Some Challenges for INGOs. Oxford: International Training and Research Centre (INTRAC).
How can social movements in developing countries use concepts of citizenship to demand basic rights from the state? This report examines a social movement focusing on low-income housing in São Paulo. In Brazil, the concept of citizenship is linked to service provision. Lack of access to basic services is regarded as having ‘limited citizenship’. Framing basic rights as ‘citizenship rights’ is a powerful weapon in social movements’ state-focused campaigning. International donors can best support social movements through flexible approaches that fund communications and training.
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Jacobi, P. (2006). Public and Private Responses to Social Exclusion among Youth in Sao Paulo. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 606, 216-230.
What can be done to address problems of social exclusion? This article examines programmes of inclusion in São Paulo. The dynamic practices highlighted here – such as digital inclusion and social entrepreneurship – offer different ways of reducing social exclusion. All depend significantly on local organisational capacities and potential individual mobilisation. Important changes occur when practices are implemented cooperatively by local actors, government officials, and professionals within civil society.
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Useful websites

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) programme on Social Policies for Inclusive and Sustainable Development