Society features

Civil society and NGOs: key players for a sustainable future of public health

Since the 1990s, we have seen a dramatic increase in the involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in global and local governance.

Civil society is defined as people, institutions and organizations that aim to advance a common goal through ideas, actions and demands made on governments.

Members of civil society are very diverse, ranging from individuals, religious and academic institutions to problem-oriented groups such as NGOs. Likewise, NGOs are very diverse, from local groups to national, regional and international groups, with various goals such as youth empowerment, sustainable development, poverty reduction, environmental protection, among others. .

The involvement of civil society and NGOs can take various forms, such as expert advice and analysis, intellectual competition with governments, mobilization of public opinion, representation of the voiceless, provision of ” technical expertise and monitoring and evaluation.

Civil society and NGOs have particular strengths in moving towards a sustainable future. Creativity, flexibility, entrepreneurial nature and the capacity for long-term vision and thinking often distinguish them from government agencies. The whole community would benefit from greater participation of civil society and NGOs.

Five major areas of civil society, NGOs play a major role

Collection and dissemination of information – Civil society and NGOs have much to offer in the collection, dissemination and analysis of information. There are many other examples where they play a key informational role.

Recent multi-stakeholder consultations on Nationally Determined Contributions have shown how civil society and NGOs can mobilize their networks to articulate their positions on the draft texts.

At the international level, one of the most significant examples concerns the Conferences of the Parties and other meetings held in conjunction with multilateral environmental agreements such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Biological Diversity. climatic changes. Often, meetings stand out less for what is said in plenary and more for the wealth of research and policy documents produced by civil society and NGOs and published specifically to coincide with official events. Many conference delegates read these opinion pieces and other documents, which often shed new light on the costs of inaction and options for change. Another common opportunity for members of civil society to contribute to these negotiations comes in the form of a single declaration drawn up and released at the close of the official event.

Policy-making consultation – Over the past decades, civil society and NGOs have taken a more active role in the agenda-setting and policy-making process. They have helped inform the public and governments of critical new issues for many years. Global environmental issues rose to prominence in the 1970s due to their activities.

Policy implementation – Civil society and NGOs are particularly useful in an operational context, as they can provide implementation tailored to specific conditions and can ‘make the impossible possible by doing what government cannot. or does not want to do ”. This is especially true with regard to natural resource management, which is often best managed by community organizations that have an interest in local environmental conditions and are free from many of the conflicting demands faced by government.

These operational functions within the system could be strengthened through increased efforts to include local and community groups with knowledge of the issues involved; capacity building aimed at improving communication between local groups and other governance partners; and supporting initiatives to measure and monitor service delivery and the use of benchmarking and the identification of “best practices” as a means to improve performance.

Assessment and Monitoring – Civil society and environmental NGOs are essential actors in monitoring compliance with international agreements and in seeking more accurate compliance data than the government is willing to provide. There is plenty of room for greater involvement of civil society in this important area of ​​governance.

Advocating for environmental and social justice – Over the past decades, civil society and NGOs have been extremely effective in highlighting the disparities between who bears environmental burdens and who benefits from environmental investments. Some groups have published reports. Others have taken public interest lawsuits to defend environmental rights as well as to clarify and enforce laws.

With all this, the existing structures do not allow civil society and NGOs to effectively fulfill these roles. There should be reform measures to facilitate the participation of civil society and NGOs throughout the governance structure.

While the government may agree that the participation of civil society and NGOs is essential, many also believe that the disadvantages of civil society participation may outweigh the benefits. Some fear that civil society and NGOs could form special interest groups and that their participation would invariably lead to political distortions. Others fear that decision-making processes get bogged down in civil society and NGOs, which are not necessarily representative or accountable to their particular constituencies.

Policymakers also fear that civil society and NGOs are seeking to usurp the sovereign powers of government.

However, some of these concerns may be overstated, given the benefits of civil society participation. Civil society can help build the political will for a new approach to development that integrates environmental and social goals. Non-governmental organizations can serve as alternatives to weak or inadequate democratic institutions, avenues for more inclusive dialogues, and channels for disseminating information on activities and issues within the system.

Civil society and NGOs are not only actors in governance but also a driving force for greater national cooperation through the active mobilization of public support.

As we continue to live in these unprecedented times – a time incomparable with the pandemic that occurred over a century ago, the constructive participation of civil society and NGOs in achieving a sustainable future for the Philippines is one of the most important tasks that are deemed critical but necessary.

The texts are excerpts from my presentation during the virtual town hall discussion entitled “Moving Towards A Sustainable Future Through ESG”, organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute, in partnership with Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship, on the occasion of the Day of the Earth 2021.

The author is the Executive Director of the Young Environmental Forum and a non-resident member of the Stratbase ADR Institute. He completed his course on Climate Change and Development at the University of East Anglia (UK) and an Executive Program on Leadership in Sustainable Development at Yale University (USA). You can send him an e-mail at [email protected]