Did you know that civil society is innovating like crazy? All sorts of organizations, from well-known international NGOs to tiny yet burgeoning social organizations, are experimenting with new business models, new partnerships, new technologies and new ways of measuring impact.

This is exciting, but really should be unsurprising. As Danny Sriskandarajah recently wrote, the metaphorical “civic space” where citizens meet, interact, debate and work together for the common good is a highly contested space that is continually being reshaped by social norms, government regulations, private interests and other forces.

As the World Economic Forum discussed in its report The Future Role of Civil Society, this pressure creates a huge incentive for organizations that seek to advocate, deliver services, champion citizens, hold institutions to account, build capacity and represent marginalized people to continually transform themselves and their strategies to succeed. Given that civil-society organizations are today under more pressure than ever (according to CIVICUS’s latest State of Civil Society report, in 2014 there were serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world) there is an urgent and significant impetus for civil-society organizations to innovate, for themselves as well as for the communities and stakeholders they support.

Of course, working with innovative organizations committed to improving the state of the world is at the heart of the Forum, as the international institution for public-private cooperation. So, over the next few days you’ll find us featuring examples of hugely innovative civil-society organizations on our blog platform, Agenda.


Three messages recur in the stories told by these innovative organizations. The first is the impact of those influential global trends that are fundamentally reshaping the context for civil society – such as technology trends, globalization and the interconnectedness of communities; the rising challenge of inequality; lowering levels of trust by the public in all institutions; new pressures on funding and traditional resource models; and new patterns of economic and political power around the world.

Second, we see a renewed focus on partnerships and alliances within and across sectors; a rising importance of collaboration across organizations to share knowledge, resources and capabilities; and an associated need for a new type of leadership and skills associated with new, cooperative approaches to social impact.

Third, we see four areas of intense innovation and experimentation that are creating new opportunities for civil-society organizations and those they serve around the world: innovation in resource and funding models, innovation in using technology to dramatically increase effectiveness and efficiency of services, innovation in how citizens can be engaged in new forms of participation, and innovation in collectively being heard, influencing national, regional and global agendas.

We hope you find these stories inspiring and would love to hear your thoughts on why and how civil society is innovating.

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Author: Nicholas Davis, Head of Society and Innovation, World Economic Forum

Image: A drone flies near spectators at the 4th Intergalactic Meeting of Phantom’s Pilots (MIPP) in an open secure area in the Bois de Boulogne, western Paris, March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau