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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Rise of Global Civil Society:Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up

Excerpts from a very promising book

This book examines recent efforts by policy leaders in Washington to transfer more responsibility for social welfare to local and nongovernmental institutions. Private voluntary organizations, faith-based partnerships, and a proliferating array of NGOs—aided by communications technology and unprecedented mobility—are spreading real capacity as well as the norms of civic community and private enterprise around the globe.

The key to meeting development challenges in the future will be to harness the best of both the public and the private sector so as to foster experimentation with approaches that rely on markets and on civil society, and that engage the poor as partners.

The capital that already exists in poor countries far exceeds the combined value of foreign aid, investment by the private sector, and philanthropy. Trillions of dollars are currently held by the poor, but this wealth is trapped in the underground economies of poorly managed Third World nations.

Conventional efforts by elite policy experts and bureaucracies to bring about prosperity in the twentieth century have mostly failed. As a result, confidence in “top-down,” bureaucratic solutions is declining, while confidence in “bottom-up” innovation by business and nonprofits is growing. The twenty-first century will see more social entrepreneurship, private philanthropy, public-private partnerships, and grass-roots linkages involving the religious and civic communities. There will be less of the traditional approaches to “helping,” and more partnering with and empowering of indigenous institutions.

Building the seedbed for democracy requires promoting a global civic culture to incubate the attitudes and habits that produce healthy democratic societies.

The only path to free and prosperous nations is by way of cultivating democratic citizens. Democracy as it is understood in Western political theory is not merely about politics and the state; it is about civil society and local community habits. Too many attempts at building formal democracy sidestep the difficult issues of culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and a variety of attitudinal factors that often militate against liberal democracy.

The concluding chapter offers a guide for a variety of actors across all sectors—government, business, philanthropy, NGOs, and private individuals—on how to apply the observations and recommendations that flow from the previous chapters. It is presented as a roadmap to encourage more effective efforts at promoting freedom, democracy, and prosperity around the world.

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