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“Civil Society” Defined From the desk of Bahman Baktiari

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.

Bahman Baktiari

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.

Access to Clean Water: Business Solutions

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.