Civil Society and Peace Processes

Civil society plays an important role in peacemaking and peacebuilding. Inclusive Peace applies a broad functional understanding of civil society. This approach allows us to support civil society in engaging in different roles by using a variety of strategies to participate in and influence peace and political transition processes.

Why work with civil society?

The concept of civil society is grounded in Western liberal philosophy, which often aspires to a specific ideal rather than complex and diverse realities. As a result, in mediation, peacebuilding, and development practice, civil society is sometimes understood too narrowly as mainly modern and “benevolent” non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities.

At Inclusive Peace, we apply a broad conceptualisation of civil society, understood as a wide range of actors including professional associations, clubs, unions, faith-based and NGOs, as well as traditional and clan groups. The media, businesses, and political parties – with the exception of their professional associations – are often excluded in the definition of civil society.

We also identify civil society as a dynamic social sphere rather than a separate sector. This understanding recognises that most people belong to more than one group and sector such as state, business, and family besides civil society. It also recognises that the values, identity, and positioning of civil society and civil society organisations (CSOs) evolve as a result of history, violence, or political change. The context in which civil society operates also plays an important role, influencing the space available to act, strengthening or limiting how effective civil society can be.

How we work with civil society

We focus on how, when, and under what conditions civil society does or does not fulfil a peace-supporting role. We support civil society actors and their supporters to better understand how civil society contributes to reducing violence, ending armed conflict, and building sustainable peace.

We apply a functional approach to what civil society actors can contribute to peacemaking and peacebuilding. This approach helps to first identify what is needed in specific contexts and at different phases of a process. It then analyses which actors may have the potential to fulfil these functions in the short, medium, and long term from the perspective of what they do, not who they are. This allows us to look at the universe of existing societal forces that can influence peace processes rather than just focusing on well-known, pro-peace NGOs and similar groups.