Last week was international civil society week. This initiative, championed by Civicus, seeks to ‘connect the forces that nurture positive social change, share the tools that enhance citizen action, and celebrate inspiring examples of people power’. The Commonwealth is fortunate to have a vibrant civil society that is able to connect through events like the Commonwealth People’s Forum and using common language, communications technology and other means. The Royal Commonwealth Society is one of the largest Commonwealth civil society organisations, with branches in every region. The role, effectiveness and even definition of civil society is something that attracts diverse views, so we decided to ask our branches what civil society means to them. Below we guide you through what they said:
Question 1: What role should civil society play in the Commonwealth?
The word cloud above doesn’t throw up many surprises. The word Commonwealth’s frequency in responses reflects the belief of several of our branches that promoting civil society’s role in the Commonwealth was crucial. Promoting values was another role that our branches saw for civil society both at a national and an international level. Finally, branches suggested that civil society should complement the role of governments by bringing forward new debates and building means of communication. This was best encapsulated by one response which said, “Civil society should play the role that government does not play”.
Question 2: How can civil society work together effectively across the Commonwealth?
The responses to this question were more diverse. One response put great emphasis on the need to offer experiences to individuals which help them connect to other parts of the Commonwealth. Others stressed the need to share best practice on a range of issues in order for civil society to work more effectively across the Commonwealth. Across the responses the need to communicate effectively was emphasised, through partnerships, technology and national and international hubs and network centres.
Question 3: How can civil society engage individuals effectively?
Almost all responses put emphasis on appealing to what is personal to the individual: values, rights, interests, principles, strengths, joys, and their worries. This resonates with the idea that civil society should be promoting and expressing common values and the focus of the Commonwealth Charter in putting these values at the heart of the Commonwealth. Other responses focused on connections between individuals through internet technology or opportunities to network.
Question 4: How can civil society engage young people and what can young people contribute?
Like the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, RCS branches are working to increase engagement with young people. Many responses talked about benefitting from the work of young people and the positive change to society they can achieve. Other branches discussed the need to challenge young people to turn energy into this positive change. For all respondents, engaging young people in the commonwealth was a necessity.
Our thanks to all RCS branches that sent responses to our survey. To find out more about the branches and if there is one near you, click here.