By Michael Hammer.

Civil society has been central to political change in many countries, with new forms of organization emerging to advocate for change and represent the views of new generations of citizens in innovative ways. However, civil society organisations around the world are feeling the pinch as freedoms dwindle and the economic basis for work shifts. While some doors are opening, other doors are closing as revolutions turn sour and entrenched political elites curb social freedoms and civil society spaces.

Unlike the current Millennium Development Goals, which were laid out in 2000 on a 15-year timeline, the successor Sustainable Development Goals approach increasingly seeks to bolster the adaptive potential of economics and societies in the face of climate change through private sector-driven economic growth.

These dynamics are fundamentally changing funding streams and the partnerships between national-level civil society organisations and their long-established partners and donors in the international NGO world. The global-level shifts are also reordering relationships between civil society and governments, as well as modifying the legitimacy base for these organisations locally, nationally, and at the global level. As a result, civil society groups are having to work hard to find, create, and expand spaces for engagement and action.

But how exactly are these changes happening? What are the major differences between countries and organisational contexts? How do organisations, policy makers and donors respond? These are the questions that an INTRAC-convened panel, entitled Responsible Development in a Polycentric World: Inequality, Citizenship and the Middle Classes, will address at the 14th EADI General Conference, taking place in Bonn from 23-26 June.

Panelists include Professor David Lewis from the London School of Economics (LSE), Heike Spielmans, director of the German International Development NGO Network VENRO, and Michael Hammer, executive director of INTRAC and board member of the Ethiopia Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP).

These speakers will draw on experience from policy dynamics in donor countries and northern NGO networks, recent civil society research projects (Civil Society at a Crossroads and Legal Frameworks and Political Space for NGOs), and the Ethiopia experience, as well as draw in experiences from comparative work in Ghana on challenges and opportunities in strengthening civil society sustainability in the changing context.