Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Civil Society as a Governing Actor

WEF sees civil society organizations as a different kind of governing Actor.

WEF’s concept of civil society begins with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) but also includes institutions that are based in the academic community, the international media, the religious world and the cultural industries. In WEF’s international and regional meetings, it invites a cross section of representatives from these non-state, non-business communities. From WEF’s perspective, the leaders of civil society bring four important attributes to the Davos experience and to global governance.

In the first instance, these organizations are repositories of knowledge about the complexities of globalization.

Second, they have a strong moral commitment to address the structural imbalances in the world.

Third, they are willing to share their knowledge and value commitments with senior MNC executives who have a deficiency in their knowledge-base about the impacts of globalization and a weakened moral compass by their over-concentration on business matters. Some CSOs have already opted to engage directly with MNCs in an effort to address specific crises or to implement specific projects. These mini-governance undertakings -- whether called 'partnerships', 'public-private projects,' or 'corporate relationship building exercises' -- demonstrate a new form of activist-based civil society relationship to international business.

Fourth, civil society leaders have legitimacy with communities of people who are overly marginalized in the global community. These civil society leaders can be important vehicles to help convey significant ideological messages from the international elites to diverse communities around the world. These messages, whether conveyed face-to-face or via various electronic networks, can have a significant impact on the leadership of other community and civil society organizations.

For WEF, the disconnect between the UN system, nation-states, and MNCs on the one hand and the ‘realities’ of the world on the other can be compensated in part by the knowledge and moral capacities of civil society and their links to wider communities around the world.


Related Ideas: Missing sense of ownership; Plurilateral

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

Mary Gilbert

Posted: 11-07-2012 10:37

It is significant that the role of civil society leaders is seen as promoting a one-way information flow, from the MNCs and those who agree with them, to "diverse communities around the world." There seems to be no acknowledgement that information flow in the opposite direction is crucially important. It is also clear that the CSOs that would be invited into the governance structure are those that already have an allegiance to the MNC way of thinking. There are currently several clusters of NGOs working to create a global citizens platform, with planks that the currently disenfranchised would welcome. The idea is that the ordinary people of the world can be enabled to speak with one voice on matters that concern them vitally. Central to these platforms are ideas of equity, rights, localization, and maximum subsidiarity. These are widely-held values that need representation and enactment. The WEF scheme ignores these. In the NGO world there is a genuine and well-founded fear of MNC rule, a fear that people, their rights, and the inherent value of ecosystems independent of monetary value will be ignored. In general, the people of the world want a widely conceived self-determination that includes freedom from decisions made by corporate boards who are at such a distance that they cannot see the effects of their decisions on human lives and on the health of the ecosystems that enable us to be here. Perhaps you can advise on this predicament.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.