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Civil Society: Roles, Examples, Factors, Functions, Needs, Qualities & Problems

Civil society constitutes the realm beyond the confines of family, state, and market, where individuals come together to promote shared interests. It is commonly denoted as the ‘third sector,’ distinct from governmental and corporate entities, encapsulating a collection of non-governmental organizations and institutions that reflect the desires and aspirations of citizens. Within civil society lie […]

Civil society constitutes the realm beyond the confines of family, state, and market, where individuals come together to promote shared interests. It is commonly denoted as the ‘third sector,’ distinct from governmental and corporate entities, encapsulating a collection of non-governmental organizations and institutions that reflect the desires and aspirations of citizens.

Within civil society lie entities like professional guilds, religious congregations, labor unions, and citizen advocacy groups, all of which amplify the voices of various societal segments, enhancing civic engagement within democratic systems.

Roles of Civil Society

Civil society assumes a pivotal role in championing universal principles such as human rights, environmental stewardship, labour norms, and the battle against corruption.

Examples of Civil Societies or NGO’s in Nigeria

  • Africa Youths International Development Foundation
  • African Children Talent Discovery Foundations
  • African Grassroots Development International
  • African in Diaspora Organization (Speed-Africa)
  • Centre for Neighbourhood Improvement
  • Additionally, explore HIV/AIDS – Definition, Symptoms, and Ramifications

Factors that can promote Civil Societies

  1. A progressive society wherein citizens equitably access communal resources generated.
  2. A society enabling citizens to fulfil their civic obligation by participating in decentralized power structures and political frameworks.
  3. A community affording its constituents’ opportunities to hold influential roles in public decision-making.
  4. Willing engagement of citizens in societal networks, associations, and transformative endeavours.
  5. A society where citizens wield decision-making authority, striving to enhance and enrich local communities.
  6. A society where citizens advocate for equity and adherence to the rule of law.

Functions and Needs of Civil Society

Civil society serves a variety of functions within a society, meeting essential needs that contribute to a well-functioning and balanced community. Some of the key functions and needs include:

  1. Representation and Advocacy: Civil society provides a platform for different groups and individuals to voice their concerns and advocate for their interests. This representation helps ensure that a diverse range of perspectives is considered in decision-making processes.
  2. Social Cohesion and Integration: Civil society organizations foster connections among individuals from various backgrounds, contributing to social cohesion and the integration of diverse communities. They create spaces for dialogue, understanding, and collaboration.
  3. Monitoring and Accountability: Civil society plays a crucial role in monitoring the actions of governments and other powerful entities. They hold these entities accountable for their decisions and actions, promoting transparency and reducing the risk of abuses of power.
  4. Service Provision: Many civil society organizations offer services that address gaps not covered by the state or private sector. These services can include education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and more.
  5. Promotion of Values: Civil society often promotes values such as human rights, democracy, environmental sustainability, and social justice. They contribute to the dissemination of these values within society.
  6. Innovation and Creativity: Civil society encourages innovative solutions to social challenges. Since they are not bound by bureaucratic constraints, they can experiment with new approaches to address complex issues.
  7. A bridge between State and Citizens: Civil society acts as a bridge between the state and citizens, facilitating communication and collaboration between the two. They can amplify citizens’ concerns and facilitate their engagement in public affairs.

Qualities and Problems of Civil Society

Civil society exhibits certain qualities that are beneficial for societal development, but it also faces certain challenges. These qualities and problems include:


  1. Diversity: Civil society encompasses a wide array of organizations and groups with different aims and functions, contributing to a pluralistic and inclusive society.
  2. Flexibility: Civil society organizations can respond swiftly to emerging issues and adapt their approaches as needed.
  3. Independence: They are often independent of direct governmental control, allowing them to act as checks and balances on government power.
  4. Innovation: Civil society is known for its ability to innovate and experiment with new solutions to societal problems.


  1. Fragmentation: The diversity within civil society can lead to fragmentation and a lack of coordination among different organizations, potentially diluting their impact.
  2. Funding Challenges: Many civil society organizations struggle to secure sustainable funding, which can hinder their operations and long-term effectiveness.
  3. Accountability Issues: Some civil society organizations may lack clear mechanisms for accountability, leading to concerns about their transparency and use of resources.
  4. Influence Imbalances: Certain well-funded or politically connected civil society organizations might overshadow others, potentially skewing the representation of societal interests.
  5. Political Manipulation: Civil society can be vulnerable to political manipulation, where governments or other actors attempt to co-opt or control their activities for their own interests.

In essence, civil society plays a vital role in enhancing democratic participation, promoting social justice, and addressing societal gaps. However, addressing the challenges it faces is essential to ensuring that it remains effective and true to its intended goals.

Solutions to the problems facing civic society

Certainly, addressing the problems facing civil society requires a combination of strategic approaches, policy changes, and collective efforts. Here are some potential solutions to the problems commonly encountered by civil society:


Networking and Collaboration: Encouraging civil society organizations to collaborate and network can help consolidate efforts, share resources, and amplify their impact.

Umbrella Organizations: Establishing umbrella organizations or platforms that represent various sectors of civil society can promote coordination and streamline communication.

Funding Challenges:

  • Diversification of Funding Sources: Encouraging organizations to seek funding from multiple sources, including government grants, foundations, individual donors, and corporate sponsors, can reduce dependency on a single funding stream.
  • Sustainable Funding Models: Developing sustainable funding models, such as endowments or social enterprises, can provide stable financial support over the long term.

Accountability Issues:

  • Transparency and Reporting: Promoting transparent financial reporting, impact assessment, and regular updates to stakeholders can enhance accountability and build trust with donors and the public.
  • Self-Regulation: Encouraging civil society organizations to establish self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct can help maintain high ethical standards.

Influence Imbalances:

  • Inclusive Decision-Making: Ensuring that decision-making processes within civil society organizations are inclusive and participatory can help prevent dominance by a few influential actors.
  • Support for Smaller Organizations: Providing targeted support, capacity building, and resources to smaller and grassroots organizations can empower them to have a stronger voice.

Political Manipulation:

  • Clear Mission and Values: Maintaining a clear mission and values can help organizations remain focused on their original goals and resist attempts at manipulation.
  • Advocacy for Autonomy: Advocating for legal frameworks that safeguard the autonomy and independence of civil society organizations from undue political interference is crucial.

Capacity Building:

  • Training and Skill Development: Offering training programs in areas like fundraising, advocacy, governance, and project management can enhance the effectiveness of civil society organizations.
  • Mentorship and Knowledge Sharing: Creating platforms for experienced organizations to mentor newer ones and facilitating knowledge-sharing can strengthen the sector as a whole.

Awareness and Advocacy:

  • Public Awareness Campaigns: Raising awareness among the public about the importance of civil society and its role in society can garner support and recognition.
  • Advocacy for Supportive Policies: Advocating for policies that protect and promote civil society’s activities, such as tax incentives for donations or streamlined regulatory processes, can facilitate their work.

Technology and Innovation:

  • Digital Platforms: Leveraging technology and online platforms for fundraising, communication, and collaboration can help organizations overcome geographical barriers and increase their reach.
  • Innovative Models: Exploring new organizational structures, such as social enterprises or impact investing, can provide alternative avenues for sustainable funding.

International Support:

  • Global Solidarity: Encouraging international collaborations and partnerships can provide civil society organizations with access to expertise, resources, and advocacy platforms on a global scale.

Ultimately, solving the problems facing civil society requires a comprehensive approach that involves the efforts of civil society organizations themselves, governments, donors, the private sector, and the general public. By addressing these challenges collectively, civil society can continue to play a vital role in advancing social progress, advocating for human rights, and promoting democratic values.

See also:

Public Service: Meaning, Characteristics, Shortcomings & Improvements

Human Rights: Characteristics & Category

Capitalist democracy

Employment: Definition, Factors and Poverty


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