What is Civil Society, its Role and Value in 2018?

15th October 2018
Author: Rachel Cooper

Civil society is widely understood as the space outside the family, market and state (WEF, 2013). What constitutes civil society has developed and grown since the term first became popular in the 1980s and it now signifies a wide range of organised and organic groups including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions, social movements, grassroots organisations, online networks and communities, and faith groups (VanDyck, 2017; WEF, 2013). Civil society organisations (CSOs), groups and networks vary by size, structure and platform ranging from international non-governmental organisations (e.g. Oxfam) and mass social movements (e.g. the Arab Spring) to small, local organisations (e.g. Coalition of Jakarta Residents Opposing Water Privatisation). Civil society has created positive social change in numerous places throughout the world. For example, Wateraid UK provided over 1.3 million people with safe drinking water in 2017/181, whilst in El Salvador, the government passed a law in 2017 banning environmentally and socially harmful metal mining practices following civil society action since 20042. However, questions about civil society’s value, legitimacy and accountability are increasingly. Increasingly researchers and practitioners are focusing on the role and value of diaspora communities and their potential contribution to international development.

Download Report
Suggested Citation

Cooper, R. (2018). What is Civil Society? How is the term used and what is seen to be its role and value (internationally) in 2018? K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies


15th October 2018


Continent: Global