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Civil Society Overview

Irish Aid works closely with a wide range of Civil Society Organisations who make an important contribution to the eradication of poverty, hunger and human rights violations. Their work at grassroots level enables them to advocate for and empower local communities to participate in their own development. In 2015, funding to NGO and Civil Society Organisations was €168 million or 26% of Ireland’s total overseas aid budget. This funding supported the work of CSOs in developing countries across the world, particularly in least developed countries.

A group of women carrying water

What is civil society?

Civil society is seen as the space between the household and the State. This space is where citizens can provide or advocate for services where the State does not fulfill its primary responsibility to provide necessary services.

We work with a wide range of civil society organisations, embracing a number of different actors with individual roles and mandates. While our primary focus is on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), we also support the work of groups and associations such as:

  • trade unions
  • professional associations
  • community –based organisations
  • faith-based and missionary organisations
  • social movements  and networks
  • media
  • academia

Why we work with Civil Society Organisations?

The work carried out by CSOs is important in its own right and is also a necessary complement to the work of governments and multilateral organisations.   

In the overseas development programme, we recognise that the delivery of services is primarily the responsibility of the state but CSOs play an important role in ensuring that poor people and communities have a voice and participate in decisions.

Civil society organisations play an important role in ensuring that poor people and communities have a voice and participate in decisions.

This can result in better services and  the promotion and protection of human rights. Our support for civil society is aimed at encouraging and promoting partnership between government and civil society and in doing so we are guided by the Irish Aid Civil Society Policy 2008.  The policy’s main objectives are to support:

  • a safe and enabling environment where civil society is able to develop and function
  • CSOs to hold State institutions to account for improved quality and access to information and services, as well as increased transparency
  • CSOs to support the poorest members of society to participate in the economy and access quality services
  • CSOs, globally and nationally, to engage in promoting development, human rights and social justice

How we support the work of CSOs?

Irish Aid supports CSOs working at international, national and community level in a range of sectors including governance, health, education, agriculture, gender equality, disability and human rights, mainly in sub-Saharan  Africa.  We do this in a number of ways:

Through our country programmes

In the delivery of our country strategy plans in our partner countries, CSOs are supported to promote accountability, and pilot new, innovative approaches and advocacy.  

Through our Irish Embassies

Funding is provided for small development projects undertaken by local CSOs in a limited number of developing countries that are not key partner countries.

Through Irish Aid HQ

Significant funding is allocated to Irish and international NGOs for their long-term development, emergency and human rights and conflict resolution work, as well as development education and public awareness initiatives.

Read more about Civil Society funding

See Annex 13 of the Irish Aid Annual Report 2017 for a list of organisations that received funding through the main civil society funding schemes administered by Irish Aid HQ.