Civil Society

Civil SocietyAre you searching online to find out more on what the term civil society actually means? Etymology is the academic science of tracing the origins of words. Within that context, we learn that the word “civil” derives from Latin and means, “relating to a citizen [or] relating to public life.” This definition also connotes a person that lives in a city.

Obviously, cities have their own special needs, structure, and rules that are outside of simple agrarian models. Today, we still see this type of connection in the modern meaning of civil society.

Defining Modern Civil Society for Beginners

With a little bit of insight, you will be informed on modern civil societies, their characteristics, and how these organizations operate.

Civil Society in the Modern Era

The term civil society may have had some ancient roots, but it has been clearly defined in its modern capacity for over 100 years. In general, a civil society organization will pertain to the well-being of people. Most Americans commonly understand that a nonprofit organization or volunteer organization is a member of civil society. Regardless, this can have business and economy connotations.

For instance, a popular business model in the recent past has been fair trade product cooperatives. When looking at a fair trade products, such as coffee, this veers from the capitalist model and into a civil society venture due to the fact that fair trade coffee is not about profits. Instead, they want to make sure that the third world place the coffee is purchased from is not bought for the lowest price. Moreover, American coffee consumers are happy to pay an extra dollar per pound if it means that coffee farmer is paid a fair wage for their product.

Characteristics of Civil Society Organizations

In the simplest of terms, any organization that defines itself as a civil society member will not be seeking to make a profit and this defines its main characteristic. It does not matter if they make and sell a product or if a service is offered. The main goal of a civil society organization is to offer a free service to someone involved in the process.

For instance, with fair trade cooperatives for coffee, the group of people that get benefits are the coffee growers and not the traders. For organizations like the Legal Aid Society, the group of people receiving the benefits are those that need legal services but cannot afford lawyers.

In order to guide these civil society organizations, a board of directors is usually in charge. If a product is not sold, an additional characteristic of a civil society organization is fundraising or requesting grants from the government. The exceptions to the characteristics of civil society organizations usually applied to religious organizations that get donations from congregants and then offer these funds as charity to the poor.

Civil Society Success Stories

Three of the most successful civil society organizations throughout history have been universities, monetary funds, and cooperatives. In essence, all of these organizations have the ability to turn a significant profit and use these gains to grow their organization further. To explain this, examples of three prominent civil society organizations are given below.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – When a first world country wants to help a third world country gain financial footing, they can give this country the funds they need if it is approved by the IMF. The IMF takes regular donations from first world countries and holds these funds in an account. If the members of the IMF all vote accordingly, a third world country can get a money grant from the IMF. This benefits the givers significantly in political alliances with third world countries.

Alvarado Street Bakery – Operated in the San Francisco Bay Area, this is a bakery that produces sprouted grain bread. It might not sound like a complicated product, but this is actually a civil society business model since its economic principles revolve around being a non-profit cooperative. Among the benefits of working in this way are the reduced taxation, inexpensive startup costs, and easier access to government grants.

Harvard University – A prime example of civil society success, this academic institution began in 1636 as a way to keep the clergy of the Pilgrim churches free of illiteracy. In 1639, it was named Harvard after John Harvard donated half of his estate. Considered significant at the time, his donation was 400 books and 779 British Pounds. Obviously, Harvard followed other civil society organizations by giving away a service for a low cost and this is one of the primary reasons it maintained a historic high academic standard over other for-profit universities.

Additional civil society resources

Are you curious about defining civil society further? For more information, consult with the references below. These are the top authorities on the subject and will provide you with a chance to branch out in a professional capacity.

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for Civil Society

United Nations and Civil Society

Organization of American States

World Bank Civil Society Organizations

United Nations Human Rights Commission Civil Society Handbook