Study Group of Eminent Scholars on Civil Society Engagement in National and Global Governance

July 14, 2008
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East-West Center, Honolulu July 14 – 16, 2008

Sponsorship and Purpose

The Study Group of Eminent Scholars on Civil Society Engagement in National and Global Governance, will meet from July 14 to 16, 2008 in Honolulu. It is sponsored by East-West Center, Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, United Nations University and the Soka University of America. The Study Group will examine emerging issues in theory and practice of civil society engagement to promote and strengthen inclusive governance at national and global levels.


Advancement in the achievement of development objectives in developing countries including those in Asia and the Pacific has been constrained by many factors: an inability to sustain government initiatives due to weak linkages between larger governance processes and program level intervention; weaknesses in basic transaction cost infrastructure including the judiciary, police, and revenue and land administration; high levels of corruption which impedes government reinvention; and the lack of a rigorous analysis of historical and legal context and socio-economic factors before initiating new government reinvention interventions.. Other challenges are the environmental degradation, inter and intra-state conflicts, inadequate access to basic social services, and low levels of women’s participation and the civil society engagement in economic and political activities.

The 2005 the United Nations World Summit Outcome Document emphasizes the centrality of governance capacity development in multiple contexts, including the eradication of extreme poverty, the promotion of economic growth and economic development. Good governance and effective public administration are necessary conditions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the region. With this in view, countries are emphasizing the need to improve governance systems and processes to promote sustainable development. The multi-lateral agencies and bilateral development partners have been supporting the efforts of the countries in the region.

Civil society organizations play a vital role in promoting inclusive governance i.e. governance characterized by the principles of accountability, transparency, participation, access, equity, subsidiarity and the rule of law. They play their roles both at the national and global levels, recognizing that improving the quality of democratic governance process requires actions both at the national and global levels. Rapid pace of globalization and the emergence of regional institutions with mandates to promote and protect such public goods as human rights, democracy, and access to basic services have influence on national democratic governance process and vice-versa.

At the national level, civil society organizations are performing the watchdog functions to improve the quality of electoral and parliamentary process including electoral monitoring, voter education, training of candidates especially women and responsiveness of parliamentarians to the interests of minorities, poor and marginalized groups. Furthermore, they work for public interest law reform, enhance access of the poor to justice through paralegal services, and undertake advocacy and accountability of public officials including informing media about violations by the public officials. Their most widely recognized role in democratic governance process, however, is their promotion and protection of civil and political rights especially during civil wars and other crisis situations, and the establishment of the human rights institutions outside the government structures to investigate alleged violations of human rights, conduct public enquiries, and promote human rights education.

At the global level, civil society organizations are performing advocacy functions for such global public goods as debt relief for the high debt and Least Developed Countries, climate change, implementation of the UN conventions and treaty bodies dealing with civil and political rights, transparency in global governance, and increased foreign assistance from the donor community. Examples of civil society organizations actively engaged in global governance are Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Amnesty International and the World Association of Voluntary Organizations (CIVICUS).

The Study Group will prepare concept papers and case studies of innovations and good practices concerning the civil society’s roles in enhancing the quality of democratic governance practice in developing countries. Concept papers will examine critical issues at the global levels. Case studies will focus on selected countries in Asia.


The Study Group of Eminent Scholars on Civil Society Engagement in National and Global Governance will:

  • Examine emerging issues in civil society engagement in national and global governance;
  • Identify innovations and good practices;
  • Discuss country experiences including those in China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, and Indonesia;
  • Review the role of civil society in global public goods including debt relief, human rights promotion, climate change and environmental sustainability and cross-border corruption;
  • Examine civil society’s capacities, accountability, constraints and opportunities to promote inclusive governance at national and global levels

Modalities and Outcomes

The project will be undertaken by East-West Center in partnership with the Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, United Nations University, and Soka University of America. A workshop of authors of book chapters will be organized at the East-West Center from 14 – 16 July 2008. The workshop will serve as the basis for a book on this important topic to be commercially published by the United Nations University Press, as a part of the Ash Institute’s Innovations in Governance Series. Follow-up activities will include country level study groups and the preparation of an inventory of civil society innovations in enhancing the quality of democratic governance practice with focus on Asia.

The project will contribute to our understanding of civil society engagement in democratic governance process and the evolution and sustainability of innovations in promoting inclusive governance at the national and global levels. It will also promote capacity building of training and research institutions, support the networks of innovators, and facilitate sharing of experiences and lessons learned among scholars.

Draft table of contents and the list of potential members of the Study Group are enclosed. The approved amount for this project is $40,000 from Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, $30,000 from United Nations University, and $25,000 from Soka University of America.

Study Group Convener
G. Shabbir Cheema
Senior Fellow (Politics, Governance and Security)
East-West Center 1601 East-West Road Honolulu, Hawaii 96868
(808) 944-7427