In the changed philosophy of governance today, the government is re-orienting its role. The bureaucratic structure is being downsized the world over, the governments today do  believe in doing everything on its own and many of the functions are being delegated by the government to the private sector and civil society organisations. Thus a concept of “governance” is emerging in which “government”, private sector and civil society are partners towards providing services to the citizens. The effect of this philosophy of “state minimalism” and role of multiple actors in governance is that now civil society organizations substantially influence the public policy making and implementation. The civil society sector today is being seen as an alternative proposition to the state and the market. The space being left behind by the receding state is being filled by the civil society organizations whose main objectives are human welfare, social justice, equity and development. In the developing countries civil society organizations are playing an important function of facilitating participative development, creating conditions of people’s empowerment and deepening democracy.

Definition of Civil Society

The meaning of civil society organisations is not clear. There is no precise definition of this term however broadly civil society may be defined as the total society minus the government. It may also be defined as “a particular group of society with a clearly demarcated purpose, functions, organisation and means in pursuit of its agenda”. The civil society organisations are also called “social capital” of the country. This idea of social capital was given by Robert Putnam. Civil society organisation represent the capacity of the society to imbibe a sense of community in it. This sense of community helps the society in voicing its concerns, seek active involvement in the affairs of community and share the benefits of community action.

Some of the other terms used to define the civil society organisations are:


  • Civic institutions
  • Social movements
  • Non-profit organisations
  • Non-governmental organisations
  • Third party sector
  • Voluntary organisations Various advocacy/interest groups.

All these definitions make it clear that civil society organisations are those groups that are not managed and organized by the state. The various type of civil society organisation could be classified under the following four groups:

  • Those groups which mobilize the different streams of social sectors e.g. women, labour and dalits etc.
  • Those groups which represent the interests of some specific groups while dealing with government.
  • Those groups which monitor and evaluate the implementation of various government programmes & policies etc. They also focus on internal functioning of government and bring to fore its weaknesses.
  • Those groups which are directly involved in the developmental tasks. These are called developmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Functions of Civil Society Organizations

Some of the functions for which civil society organisations are established are :

  • To identify the major problems in society.
  • To articulate current issues
  • To Empower the disadvantaged sections of population
  • To serve as independent voice in the strategic debates
  • To provide a constructive forum to exchange ideas and information on key issues.

The civil society organizations encompass a wide variety of diversity. For example, academic institutes, community based organizations, consumer protection bodies, environmental campaigns, human rights’ forums, labor unions, relief organizations, professional bodies, religious institutions, women’s networks, youth campaigns and sometimes even business associations could fall under civil society.

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