During a speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland January 2009, UN Secretary-General mentioned the following: “Our times demand a new definition of leadership—global leadership. They demand a new constellation of international cooperation—governments, civil society and the private sector, working together for a collective global good.”
The above quotation gives us a clear indication of what civil society means in contemporary discourse: a sphere of activity poised between government and the private sector, yet separate from them both.
According to the definition adopted by the World Bank, civil society is a broad term that encompasses the vast range of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that publicly express values and interests, and thus occupy a place in public life. These interests can be ethical, philanthropic, scientific, cultural, religious, or political, and can be promoted by groups as diverse as labor unions, faith-based organizations, and foundations.
Though this definition might seem overly removed from the daily lives of many of us, the most important thing to remember about civil society is that it is in fact all around us, operating constantly, and impacting us whether or not we are active participants. Have you recently donated blood, attended a play, listened to an environmental activist give a presentation, watched a news bulletin on student protests, been on strike, accepted a pamphlet from a local church, or volunteered at a community sporting event? You have experienced civil society at work.
Bahman Baktiari is the Executive Director of the International Foundation for Civil Society.
In response to the rapid shifts in social, political, and economic climates taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, the International Foundation for Civil Society: Middle East and North Africa (IFCS) formed and commenced outreach and advocacy activities. The organization recognizes the new generation’s call to improve living conditions and to move away from the authoritarian culture that has been in place for decades.
Focusing its efforts on promoting the values upon which a civil society is founded and thrives, as well as bridging cultural gaps and fostering a discourse of understanding, the IFCS engages in a number of activities in effort to provide humanitarian aid to citizens of these turbulent regions. Included in these activities are the promotion of sports events, water improvement projects, cultural and historical exchange, and public health programs.
Bahman Baktiari serves as the Executive Director of the International Foundation for Civil Society: Middle East and North Africa.
Executive Director for the International Foundation for Civil Society, Bahman Baktiari, discusses how businesses and business models are attempting to help with the global water crisis.
A combination of droughts and urbanization is creating a global water crisis, where many citizens do npt have access to clean, potable water. Often, the grassroots solution of building wells is not enough, and a more in depth, long-term approach is needed.
Businesses are beginning to take note, and are using entrepreneurial techniques to work towards solutions. Coca-Cola dedicated $6 million to programs that will provide access to clean water for over 2 million Africans by 2015. PepsiCo has developed a branch titled PepsiCorps, which offers technical assistance, site management, and quality assurance for water infrastructure in small communities.
The Safe Water Network has partnered with Merck in Andhra Pradesh, India, to develop facilities for the distribution of clean water and to spread awareness of this source. By using business models for logistics and operations, the Safe Water Network has been able to improve access to clean water for multiple small communities across the globe, including in Ghana, Kenya, and India.
About the Author: Bahman Baktiari has extensive experience in international affairs, previously serving as the Director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, and maintaining a current membership with the United States Institute for Peace Working Group in Iran.
Bahman Baktiari, executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Society: The Middle East & North Africa (MENA), understands the strategic importance of events such as the Arab Spring, the name given to the outburst of revolution that has toppled regimes from Tunisia to Egypt, and resulted in protest movements in Yemen and Bahrain. Baktiari’s organization has dedicated itself to furthering tolerance and creating ties of cultural understanding, and as part of this mission, Baktiari and his colleagues are responsible for guiding MENA’s many projects. The organization is among the panoply of institutions that have increased in importance with the prominence of the challenges faced in the region.
Those challenges include not only the ongoing ramifications of the Arab Spring, but also the various conflicts involving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Currently, NATO is involved in the decade-old conflict in Afghanistan, as well as the more recent conflict that collapsed the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Add to this issues related to the young government of Iraq, and the need for expert guidance like that offered by MENA becomes obvious.
New conflicts, such as the brewing civil war in Syria, promise to keep international eyes fixed on the region.
For further reading on MENA, please follow the links below: