Working Paper
The Role of Civic Organizations in the Provision of Social Services

Towards Synergy

In recent years churches, NGOs and community associations, commonly referred to as civic organizations, have been playing an increasing role in the provision of social services in response to fiscal stress, state inefficiency and an ideological environment favouring non-state action. In this paper, we identify the organizational realm of civil society with greater precision by clarifying the diversity and ambiguity underlying this term and focusing on those particular types of organizations commonly involved in service provision. The distinctive capacity and role of the voluntary sector in service provisioning is analysed in the light of actual experience. The paper examines the types of organizations involved in this activity, the forms of provisioning that characterize various sectors (health, education, water and sanitation, and services for vulnerable groups - children, the elderly, and the disabled), and variations in provisioning across countries and regions. From the empirical literature it highlights the advantages and disadvantages of state as well as non-state provisioning and identifies the conditions underlying success and failure. Drawing on the concept of 'synergy' and on the literature, the paper rejects the view that the non-state sector should assume prime responsibility for the provision of social services. Instead it develops an approach in which the central role of the state is to create an enabling environment for effective civic action, with a focus on potential synergy in various sectors of service provision.