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What can international organizations do to support civil institutions in developing states?

Question submitted by Jack Glore, from William Paterson University, March 19, 2013

Answered by: Terra Lawson-Remer, Fellow for Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy

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Civil institutions are critical pillars of democratic accountability—without them, democracy remains elusive, regardless of the laws written in constitutions. This is particularly true in countries dependent on oil and other natural resource wealth, and those struggling to realize democratic transitions.

However, supporting civil society from the outside is riddled with danger. When international actors get involved in the domestic affairs of other countries they risk upsetting complex power dynamics and promoting autocrats. This meddling can also incite a backlash against perceived imperialism. In this context, international organizations can do two things to support civil society organizations (CSOs) to foster democratic accountability and rule of law.

First, they can require that the lending requirements for international investment projects protect impacted communities. For example, in order to be eligible for loans, the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) should require that protections for human rights and due process be included in the legal agreements between multinational investors and governments. Similarly, the MDBs now apply strict environmental and social safeguards to investment projects. Continuing to improve these safeguards, especially transparency and disclosure requirements, empowers civil society by holding power-brokers accountable.

Second, the MDBs should give grants directly to CSOs to support them in building organizational capacity and technical skills to promote good governance and accountability. Currently, global civil society's need for support far exceeds existing programs, so additional grant financing would go a long way toward supporting nascent civil institutions."