Social capital Institutions

Posted October 1997

SD Cooperation with Civil Society Organizations


COOPERATION BETWEEN FAO's Sustainable Development (SD) Department and civil society organizations (CSOs) is the focus of a paper recently drafted by Marlynne Hopper of the "Civil Society Dynamics" Issue Group in the Rural Institutions and Participation Service (SDAR). The paper was prepared on the basis of a series of Department-wide consultations in order to:

The paper is divided into five sections:

  1. a typology of CSOs
  2. inventory of past and on-going collaborative relations between SD and CSOs
  3. SD Department's specific role
  4. future directions for cooperation
  5. policy issues for future cooperation.

Section 1 discusses the diversity of CSOs and acknowledges the many roles and functions they assume in sustainable development processes. It describes civil society organizations (CSOs) as "all types of formal and informal associations, organizations, and coalitions which are established on the direct initiative of individual members or groups of society, and which do not belong to the official governmental, political and administrative systems at any level". The paper further outlines various organizational attributes - including scale, ownership, accountability - as well as functional areas of interest (e.g. research, self-help, advocacy) that can be used to differentiate among CSOs or form the basis of a broad organizational typology. Distinguishing between CSOs is deemed important given the heterogeneity of organizational types and the diversity of roles alternative organizations perform.

The focus of Sections 2 and3 is on SD's past and on-going collaborative relations with CSOs. Since its inception in 1995, SD has recognized the benefits and complementarities that result from working with CSOs and placed a premium on encouraging collaboration with a wide range of civil society actors, including for instance, representative organizations of farmers or rural women, cooperatives, scientific, research and intermediary development support NGOs and informal civil society organizations.

Numerous benefits, it is argued, have accrued from these relationships, among them, most notably: enhanced sustainablility of project achievements, information sharing and access to state-of-the-art information, closer access to rural populations and the promotion of linkages between governments and CSOs. High levels of motivation, energy and commitment among CSO staff, coupled with CSOs' knowledge and expertise and their experience of local populations are among the factors raised as contributing to these successes. The paper also raises some of the constraints which these relationships have encountered, such as, differences in approach or operating style or inadequate funding to initiate and sustain meaningful cooperative activities.

Section 4 identifies the specific role of SD based on a discussion of the concept of 'sustainability'. It affirms that the SD Department is "primarily concerned with the interactions between the four capitals (human, social, economic and natural)" and that its aim is to "identify, analyze, advocate and utilize the synergies generated by these interactions". In this context, "more than simply reconciling the interests of socio-economic development and the environment, SD seeks to address questions of social and human equity for present and future generations, where access to food and the means to produce or purchase it is the overriding concern". SD's normative functions, it is argued, have shaped relations with CSOs. Similarly, SD's comparative advantages (for example: global experience and reach, extensive technical expertise and knowledge) have enhanced the outcome of collaborative relationships with CSOs.

Sections 5 and 6 affirm that it is essential to encourage and deepen collaboration with CSOs in the future given the significant benefits and complementarities to be achieved, and raise a number of policy issues for further consideration. The main technical and functional areas for future cooperation are outlined. Technical areas include: environment, gender, agricultural research, cooperatives and follow-up to international conferences (including UNCED, ICN, Beijing, the World Food Summit).

Given the various mandates and responsibilities of the different Services within SD, the paper explains how the functional areas for future SD-CSO collaboration are likely to vary depending on the Service involved. Nevertheless, Services will focus in the following areas: building organizational capacities, as well as partnerships and alliances in rural areas (SDA); promoting education and technology transfer on agricultural-related issues (SDRE); promoting scientific collaboration and sponsorship on agricultural research and environmental issues (SDRN); integrating gender into development and mobilizing rural women (SDW); promoting research and technology development in support of capacity building (SDRR); information exchange, policy assistance and advice to governments (all Services).


For further information, contact:
Chief, FAO/SDAR
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
e-mail: Jennie.DeyAbbas



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