“Civil society” is a broad term which has varying definitions but can cover a number of different actors within countries including local community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, women’s groups, adolescent and youth groups, social movements, trade unions, professional associations and academia. Civil society organizations (CSOs) perform a number of different functions described in other sections in this Operational Framework, including in the sections on community engagement, accountability and health systems. In doing so they directly contribute to all of the ingredients for action of this Operational Framework.
Key functions include, but are not limited to:
- advocacy and political participation
- social mobilization for both participation in governance and behaviour change
- direct provision of health and other social services
- raising financial and other resources
- engagement and outreach to marginalized populations in difficult environments
- social accountability
- social innovation
- undertaking research and analysis
- providing training and capacity building
- challenging legal or commercial interests where these conflict with health.
However, the contribution of civil society within countries is often under-recognized and/or poorly aligned with health efforts by other stakeholders. While part of the essential nature of civil society is to challenge existing policy and programmes to better serve communities, better engagement with the diverse range of CSOs can help to improve health outcomes.
Supporting civil society engagement in multi-stakeholder platforms (including country platforms for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health) is crucial to realizing the potential of CSOs to contribute to the health of women, children and adolescents. Increased resources, support and technical assistance are required to build the capacity of civil society to meaningfully engage in multi-stakeholder country platforms, to support social accountability and to ensure active citizen engagement in available and created spaces. Lack of political will and funding remain barriers to significant civil society engagement and successful citizen empowerment in many countries.
ùOne model for increased CSO funding at country level is the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF), utilized for strengthening country engagement as part of the SUN Movement (see box). Funded at just over US$10 million by three donors (DFID, Irish Aid and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), the SUN Movement MPTF has provided support for civil society engagement and activities, learning across countries as well as monitoring and evaluation.