The Role of Civil Society in Educational Development

Social Accountability and Governance – Role of Civil Society:

There is a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the role of civic engagement in the development of a country – it is perceived as existing in the absence of a robust state. In addition, it is also often felt that the presence of a strong state reduces the need and scope of civic engagement. However, the existence of a healthy and active civil society does not preclude the existence of a robust state, and vice versa.
As for governance, there is a delicate balance between the decisiveness and accountability. Since the emergence of state, there has been a range of tensions between the civil society and the state, on the fact that power is exercised by the state at the expense of the citizens’ sovereignty, although the degree varies according to
the characteristics of political regimes and the level of distance between ruling institutions and citizens. It is said that “smaller the extent to which citizens feel represented and serviced by public institutions, the bigger the governance crisis. The greater the degree of separation between the actions of rulers and citizens’ expectations and control over rulers’ actions, the greater the governance crisis”.
But its not that simple. There are two distinct elements – expectations and representation. The majority of citizens may feel that their values are represented and respected by a given government. Yet, that does not inevitably mean that their expectations are fulfilled. The tension between representation and expectation can be translated into the tension between decisiveness in fulfilling expectations, and accountability in holding public power under the control of those represented by the state. These two contradictory elements and their point of intersection, define the type of political regime and approach likely to be taken toward addressing the governance dilemma.
The conditions of the relationship between the government and civil society are constantly shifting and change the balance of power in one direction or the other. Hence, there is no permanent equilibrium when it comes to governance. There are 7 different types of strategies that a government can adopt – Laissez-faire approach, combination of conflictive and harmonic relationships, repression of all manifestations of citizens’ organized interest, cooptation approach, patronage approach, proactive engagement and civic mobilization through nationalistic appeals. Governments will employ a mixture of these approaches, hence interacting with the expressions of the citizens in different ways.
The civil society organizations (CSOs) also implement their own strategies in defining their relationship with the state and other development actors like political parties, business organizations and international institutions. Four main civic engagement strategies are as follows:
Confrontation strategy: CSOs view government as the main obstacle for achieving their objectives.
Parallel track strategy: CSOs decide not to engage with the government and instead establish a set of parallel services that they themselves delivery directly to their clients and constituencies.
Selective collaboration: A strategy that combines collaboration on specific fronts and a critical distance, or even confrontation, on others.
Full endorsement: CSOs fully engage and endorse government objectives and policies.

These strategies create all sorts of tensions among CSOs, and between CSOs and the government. The mix of government approaches to these strategies frame a certain aspect of governance. As mentioned before, the two elements of the permanent tension that constitute the governance equation are decisiveness and accountability. Can these two elements be reconciled – is it possible for public institutions to increase decisiveness to achieve efficiency in delivering public services in order to meet the expectations of the population, while expanding accountability and therefore achieving higher levels of legitimacy and credibility? That depends on the mechanisms and systems in place by which the government is held accountable. Traditionally, the mechanisms have been horizontal – based on national bureaus, offices and procurement units appointed either by the legislative or executive branches of the state. Their legitimacy depends on the credibility of public institutions at large. However, a new vertical mechanism of accountability have begun to seep into the mainstream, characterized by the exercise of direct participation of CSOs and citizens. The existence of these horizontal and vertical mechanisms of social accountability can lead to creation of more transparent governments and aid public institutions in meeting the expectations of the population.

Role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs):

NGOs have been increasingly participating and contributing to the delivery of educational services, influencing education policy, and have been included by governments and donors in different aspects of the education system. Given their huge presence in the education sector in the developing countries (especially in Africa), there are a few factors that needs to be considered to ensure that NGOs contribute more effectively to educational development.

Government and NGO interaction: NGOs should involve the government to be effective. Familiarity has a positive effect on the relations and establish mechanisms of communications. Tensions between these two actors is inevitable and should be expected. However, these issues should be addressed. Collaboration between the government and the NGOs is necessary, if they are to achieve their educational objectives.

Education Policy and NGOs: Changing government policy and the way that it is formulated is the most effective way to ensure the success and sustainability of NGO interventions. Alliances between the NGOs, and other actors like the government and donors, are key to successful promotion of a particular agenda.

NGOs and Donors: Fundamentally, the relationship between NGO and Donors is a strained and an unequal one. But for those NGOs that have a diversified resource base in terms of finance, people and infrastructure, these difference can be absorbed. NGOs that negotiate with donors from a perspective of relative weakness, have to align themselves more narrowly to the donors agenda. Donors on the other hand must realize that their need for results and timely execution of projects should not overshadow the benefits of NGOs in the education sector.

NGOs and Civil Society: An essential part of civil society strengthening is community participation and mobilization. However it is important to focus on the links between community, other civil society actors and the state. The NGOs also need an identity (much more than just a contractor) in order to maintain their ability to innovate, create new relationships between the community and the state, and transform the citizens in the society.

A Continual Tension Between NGO and Education: When NGOs act as if the government is not present, their program objectives are compromised. Hence, strategies of every NGO working in the education sector must include collaboration with the government in designing, implementing and monitoring education programs. Also, the relation between the donors and the NGOs is critical in providing innovative solutions in the education sector. Donors using NGOs to implement tightly prescribed projects may have certain benefits, such as greater assurances of successful implementation. However, the biggest benefit of NGO intervention is their innovative capability and flexibility, features that will certainly be muted by a strict donor oversight or regulations.

Fostering Human Security Through Active Engagement of Civil Society Actors:

The role of civil society actors is crucial for human security. The civil society actors’ active engagement among states and international organizations allow them to help close the gap between the progress from the top-down human security approach and actual results on the ground. Also, the civil society actors are well positioned to compensate for the reluctance of the international organizations like the United Nations to accept human security as a leitmotiv (coherent pattern of thoughts that help to formulate agendas and to guide political decisions). But even though civil society is a potential force for stabilizing or even constructing democracy, it can also be crucial to the escalation of a conflict or war. Having said that, here are a few ways the civil society can foster human security:
– Protection: Direct CSO engagement allows the development of local and more suitable approaches for the implementation of human security.
– Prevention: CSOs can play a crucial role in the implementation of effective early warning and prevention measures and providing valuable support of international organizations that seek to establish human security.
– Empowerment: CSOs can effectively strengthen the empowerment of people in terms of social, economic and human rights, and increasingly impact the international organizations.
Only peoples’ active engagement, be it thru’ civil society or politics, can truly foster lasting human security.


Social accountability allows more interaction between the civil society and government, and helps them acknowledge each others’ limitations, and recognize that collaboration is necessary for effective and sustainable development.
In places where the demands outweighs the governments ability to provide educational services, NGO have come to the rescue and have done a great job (especially in Africa) in filling the educational gaps. NGO programs in the education sector have matured over the last 10 years. And although they have provided tremendous benefits, they have to yet to provide a key to a more sustainable and accountable education system.
Human security requires civil society engagement. It has to grow bottom-up and be protected top-down; the very individual whose security and dignity is of concern, is very much responsible for effective establishment of human security.


About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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