Civil Society

Civil Society

Developing resilient values-based civil societies which demonstrate greater competency, legitimacy, accountability and sustainability

Developing resilient values-based civil societies which demonstrate greater competency, legitimacy, accountability and sustainability


Effective and efficient civil society organisations have been a hallmark of successful societies, whether it is in the form of farmer’s federations, arts clubs or other non-governmental organisations.

However, in many societies, they are seen as a threat.  Over the span of two years, 64 laws, regulations and other initiatives that put restrictions on civil society were adopted and put into force.

The Aga Khan Foundation therefore seeks to encourage positive developments in civil society.  It sees a robust, efficient civil society – increasingly funded by indigenous sources – as a key driver of the overall quality of life, both in developing and developed countries.

CASE STUDY: Supporting communities to bring about their own social and economic development
Local civil society development in Aswan, Egypt

Challenges: In poor and remote areas a healthy civil society struggles to grow

Local communities have an important role in ensuring development is equitable, sustainable, responsive and innovative. Yet, in poor and remote areas of Egypt, local CSOs lack the operational, technical and resource needs to clearly articulate and direct the development process. These villages often lack basic representational capacity needed to liaise with governments, civil society organizations and their local communities. A strong civil society can enhance credibility and programming capacity, enabling villages to appropriately respond to community needs and crises.

Response: supporting grass-roots civil society organisations and strengthening links to government

In response to these challenges, AKF and the Om Habibeh Foundation are working in the Kom Ombo and west Aswan areas of the Aswan Governorate with CSOs and businesses in order to improve community living conditions. By training and funding CSOs, AKF is working to build robust and sustainable institutions that harness the private energies of citizens committed to the public good. Established in 2007, the Civil Society programme’s objectives are to:

  • Build the capacity of local community-based organisations to better identify local needs – such as employment, sanitation, local infrastructure and services – and then address these.
  • Build linkages between communities, CSOs and governments.


AKF does this by:

  • Exposing CSOs and government to successful models of development: This enables CSOs to better identify community needs and find solutions. Training increases the capacities of CSOs to raise funds , build external relationships, manage and implement projects, record-keep, and encourage community participation.
  • Improving linkages between government, civil society and communities: Bringing together relevant actors in one space to collaborate and enact change facilitates improvements to quality of life for communities and ensures greater transparency.
  • Fostering social inclusion: Not only does increasing the representation of women and youth on the boards of local CSOs create a more inclusive and representative community governance structure, it also improves the social status of these groups within their communities.

Key achievements 

With funding from the European Commission, the Canadian government, the Finnish government, and the Ford Foundation, since 2007, AKF Egypt has:

  • Developed relationships with 25 partner CSOs to increase access to quality health, education and sanitation services;
  • Established multiple village coordination committees. Recent projects completed by coordination committees in Kom Ombo, for example, include the conversion of over-ground electricity to underground wiring to reduce fire hazards, improvement in the quality of drinking water, street lighting, irrigation canals improvements, water transportation infrastructure improvements, sanitation infrastructure improvements, and bolstering of mosquito defences;
  • Trained 540 community members to improve the operational, representational and project implementation of CSOs. Four of these CSOs were supported to mobilise 650,000 EGP for projects that will reach 10,000 direct beneficiaries;
  • Founded and supported a CSO Federation, an organisation that represents a number of local CSOs to improve co-ordination with the government and represent the interests of an area wider than just community. Engaging Aswanee CSOs to form a federation was a landmark achievement, marking the first organised effort by a coalition of villages to engage with government and business on behalf of large constituency of citizens;
  • The CSO Federation successfully lobbied for a 14% increase in the price the local factory pays for sugarcane.

A recent assessment of the programme showed the following:

  • Compared to the 2007 baseline, CSOs showed average percentage gains in their capacities for: fund-raising (54%), external relationship building (47%), project implementation (21%), record-keeping (19%), mission and purpose (15%) and community participation (6%);
  • 70-80% of all projects related to village development plans were implemented;
  • Beneficiaries reported increased access to quality education services, septic tanks, agricultural equipment, piped drinking water and information about modern farming techniques.

Plans for the future

AKF will continue to seek out partnerships with local CSOs and local government as programming expands in the Aswan Governorate, providing community engagement and ownership of the development process. In the Kom Ombo district of the Aswan Governorate and in the peri-urban areas of Aswan City, cooperation with its current 25 CSO partners will deepen through further support for community improvements. AKF also intends to expand its civil society programme in west Aswan – an area with many communities in need – to include five more CSOs. Over the next three years, AKF will support an additional 75 CSOs across Aswan Governorate.

Members of a local civil society organisation discuss how to prioritise development objectives.

A women’s civil society organisation discuss how to better use their facilities to support mothers with young children.

 “…civil society [is] a realm of activity which is neither governmental nor commercial, institutions designed to advance the public good, but powered by private energies.”

– His Highness the Aga Khan