SDG16 – a new era for civil society?


Peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law are important conduits for sustainable development, according to the 16th of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

But the eruption of apparently spontaneous social mobilization and protest across the developing world raises important questions for the pursuit of SDG Goal 16, notes a prominent analyst.

Citizen mobilization should in principle be good for participative processes of development. Yet, strong criticism has been aimed at the looser forms of social organization that seem to drive today’s global protests, writes Richard Youngs, a Senior Associate with Carnegie Europe’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program:

Critics argue that the proliferation of dispersed, leaderless networks feeds a highly disruptive politics – a directionless discontent that has not proven itself capable of contributing well-worked solutions to developmental or democracy-related problems. In addition, many such groups seem to shun external funders.

The challenge today is not so much for donors to coax inert civil societies into life through basic training and capacity building, but rather to catch-up with the chaotic and diverse civic vibrancy that has taken shape in developing-country politics. In many contexts, the most difficult and pressing questions are about how to cohere rather than ignite civil society.


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