We Are All Civil Society
What is Civil Society and how do we recognize and reward it through the Digital Prosperity Awards?
In our fast-paced, interconnected world, civil society stands as a vibrant force for change, bridging the gap between government and the individual, connecting people and giving a shared and more powerful voice to the causes that matter. But what exactly is civil society, why should it matter to all of us and how can The Digital Prosperity Awards recognize and exploit digital’s ability to make this voice heard more clearly and more loudly?
Unpacking Civil Society
Civil society is more than just a buzzword. It’s a diverse tapestry of organizations, associations, and individuals who come together with a common goal: to address shared issues, advocate for change, and improve their communities. From NGOs and community groups to advocacy organizations and charitable foundations, civil society is a vibrant ecosystem working independently of the government while often engaging with it to influence policies or bring about change.
Let’s break down the top 5 ways civil society affects us all:
- Your Voice Matters
Civil society is your megaphone, amplifying your voice and concerns. It gives you the power to shape decisions and policies that directly impact your life, ensuring your perspective is not overlooked. Often these are the voices of the most vulnerable, or those most in need, those for whom digital can represent a means of finding and supporting others who share the issue that matter to you or your loved ones.
- Protection of Rights
Civil Society is a guardian of human rights, advocating for equality and holding the powerful or wealthy accountable for their actions or inaction. When injustices occur, civil society steps up to protect the rights of individuals and marginalized groups.
- Building Communities
Civil society is all about forging connections and fostering a sense of belonging. It combats isolation, strengthens social bonds, and helps build communities that thrive. During the covid lockdowns many people turned to digital channels for human connection and became a lifeline for many. Digital breaks down the barrier of distance and can make it easy to find the people who share your interests, views and needs.
- Improving Quality of Life
As well as making life and civil engagement a bit easier, many civil society organizations provide essential services, ranging from healthcare and education to poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. These services directly enhance the quality of life in our communities and beyond. Consider how digital played its part in galvanizing and underpinning the responses of aid to the recent tragic disasters in Morocco and Libya, from the collection and distribution of clothing to the shipments of food, medicine and shelter.
- Catalyst for Social Change
Ever wondered how social change happens? Civil society plays a pivotal role, driving positive change by tackling issues like discrimination and environmental challenges through advocacy and activism. As an example, People of Determination often rely heavily on digital tools for communication and mobility and access to tools that enable them to take otherwise inaccessible jobs, which forces others to reevaluate their potential and role in society.
A strong and vocal civil society makes life worth living for all, no matter your circumstances.
Digital Tech: The Game-Changer
Enter the digital age, where technology has become a catalyst for revolutionizing civil society. Here’s how digital technology is taking civil society to new heights, and the kind of objectives that the Digital Prosperity Awards aims to recognize and reward:
- Digital Communication and Mobilization
The internet and social media have turned the most digitally actively engaged civil society organizations (CSOs) into digital powerhouses. They can now mobilize supporters, disseminate information, and coordinate actions on a global scale—all at the click of a button.
- Data: The Key to Informed Decision-Making
Digital technology enables CSOs to collect and analyze data more efficiently. This supports evidence-based advocacy and decision-making, allowing organizations to better understand the issues they tackle and track their impact over time. Big data can be more granular, timelier, better connected and more easily interpreted, allowing sophisticated reliable insight.
- Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding
Online platforms make fundraising and engagement a breeze. Crowdfunding enables CSOs to tap into a global pool of supporters, while crowdsourcing can be used to gather ideas, feedback, and solutions from a diverse audience.
- Transparency and Accountability
Blockchain technology ensures transparency and accountability within civil society. It tracks donations, ensures funds are used as intended, and reduces corruption—a win for both donors and beneficiaries.
- E-Learning and Capacity Building
Digital technology facilitates e-learning and capacity-building initiatives for civil society practitioners. It helps them acquire new skills, share knowledge, and adapt to changing circumstances with ease, wherever they are in the world, and whenever they can access it.
- Virtual Events and Advocacy
Virtual conferences, webinars, and online advocacy campaigns have become essential tools. They allow CSOs to reach a global audience without the need for physical gatherings.
- Digital Storytelling: Inspiring Change
Multimedia content, from videos to interactive websites, helps convey the stories and experiences of individuals and communities. It creates emotional connections and generates support for causes that matter.
Digital is a real enabler of the individuals and groups that make up civil society. The Digital Prosperity Awards wants to find the best examples of projects that have used digital effectively in furthering their cause.
Challenges and Considerations
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. Digital technology, while a great enabler for civil society organizations, poses its own set of challenges, and the Digital Prosperity Awards Ethics Category is likely to attract entries that tackle these kinds of issues:
- The Digital Divide
Not everyone has equal access to digital technology, creating a digital divide that can exclude marginalized communities from participating in civil society activities. What initiatives help close the gap by providing accessibility and representation?
- Privacy and Security
The collection and storage of personal data raise privacy concerns. CSOs must prioritize data security to maintain trust with their supporters and how can those campaigning for greater transparency or justice use digital to better put their case?
- Battling Misinformation
The internet is a double-edged sword. The rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation can undermine the credibility of civil society efforts and divide societies. We want to see the initiatives that bring people together and reinforce trust.
- Dependence on Tech Giants
Civil society organizations often rely on platforms provided by tech companies. This reliance makes them vulnerable to changes in policies and algorithms that can impact their visibility and reach. Is there any organization sharing easy to digest and implement best practice for the greater good or at the local level?
- Embracing Digital Literacy
To fully harness the benefits of digital technology, civil society actors must have the necessary digital literacy skills and make it easy to engage. Education in this area is crucial for maximizing digital tech’s potential and access needs to become as easy as riding a bike, especially for those with disadvantages.
When applied well, digital can overcome the new challenges it adds to people and organizations in Civil Society to level the field for the benefit of all.
A Brighter Future
In this digital age, technology is the wind beneath the wings of civil society, propelling it to greater heights. By addressing issues like accessibility, privacy, and misinformation, we can ensure that digital technology remains a powerful catalyst for positive change within civil society. Together, we can create a more just and equitable world for everyone—one empowered by the boundless potential of digital technology.
A Final Word or Two
We asked two of the Digital Prosperity Award judges from the Member State of Nigeria, who each represent a different perspective on Civil Society and are judging the Empowering Society entries, to share a simple line about what they’re hoping to see shine through in the civil Society entries:
“Entries that have the aim of creating a more robust digital world.”
“I’m looking for innovation that does good for the local and global community and which should be celebrated.”
To us, that’s a rallying call for civil societies big and small to enter and share your project and your results. We look forward to choosing worthy winners that use digital to really give a powerful voice and create transformative outcomes that drive the aims and ambitions of their community.