Conference overview paper

INTRAC 20th Anniversary Conference
Civil Society at a New Frontier
Challenges and Opportunities Presented by Economic Growth
5–6 December 2011, St Anne’s College, Oxford
A two day international development conference focusing on civil society, economic growth
and the post-aid environment.
Globally, civil society is facing a new set of challenges. On the one hand, economic growth
is elevating many previously ‘developing’ countries to middle-income status, and several
have joined the G20 as major world economic powers. As a result, the private sector and
governments are reconsidering their roles within a growth-centred paradigm no longer
dominated by the North. Civil society needs to do the same.
On the other hand, developed countries face massive public debt, and with it significant
constraints on government budgets. Over the past thirty years, as part of civil society, NGOs
have taken on major tasks in international development. In doing so, their functions have
expanded from a relatively narrow but respected repertoire to encompass a wide range of
activities that are often contested. That world is changing.
Finally, there have been major international changes which are affecting what we
understand as ‘development’. Assumptions that ‘good governance’ is required for
development to take place have been undermined by economically successful but
undemocratic societies. At the same time there are states so ‘fragile’ that growth on its own
is not a remedy. The international redistribution of wealth may be making global governance
more inclusive of emerging economies. But global governance is also more complex as new
problems of re-ordering power are layered on top of the old issues of poverty and exclusion.
Where does civil society fit into these issues? Does growth provide new opportunities as
societies gain the resources to allow citizens time and motivation for self-organised,
voluntary civil engagement? How do newly affluent societies and governments address
social dilemmas such as accelerating inequality? Without the excuse of resource scarcity,
does the new affluence expose the unwillingness of elites and governments to deal with the
negative side of economic advance? If so, what should be the response of civil society?
INTRAC is inviting leading actors in the public, private, and civil society sectors to review the
many possible futures of civil society in an era where economics stands in the foreground of
contemporary social dilemmas and the politics of international development, and to debate
how civil society can respond positively to these challenges.
Conference themes
 Reconciling economic growth, redistribution and poverty reduction: the response of
civil society
 Civil society and the private sector
 Private philanthropy and international development
 Adapting to middle income status: the changing face of civil society and international
Citizen rights, governance and democracy in the face of economic growth and change
Responsible global citizens: engaging with global challenges
Conference methodology
The conference aims to promote blue sky thinking on the more difficult and longer term
challenges to civil society, as well as on ways of supporting civil society locally and globally
to fulfil its wider roles. We feel that this more open discussion is necessary at a time when
the big strategic issues go unremarked in favour of a focus on the operational day-to-day
Panels will be held on the Conference themes, facilitated by major thinkers in this area. The
programme will ensure that we are able to both analyse the challenges and look towards
possible solutions. We aim to form new alliances and launch a process for revision and
change within civil society compatible with the challenges the sector faces.
On Monday 5th December, an evening session will be open to all where a panel of senior
civil society leaders will debate some of these issues in a wider forum.
Conference background papers
To stimulate discussion we will commission two background papers:
 Paper one will summarise current thinking, research and practice on the challenges to
civil society.
 Paper two will explore the implications for civil society of economic growth, taking in
issues around post-aided civil society in mid-income countries and the challenges
created by growth.
Conference participants
We are aiming for between 50-100 participants. Participants will come from INGOs, social
movements, trade unions, civil society networks, philanthropic foundations, the private
sector, governments, think-tanks, universities and faith-based groups. We aim to attract
participants who are sufficiently experienced and aware of the debates to be able to fully
Conference steering group
Professor Alan Fowler, Ingrid Srinath (Executive Director, CIVICUS), Pim Verhallen,
Dr. Rajesh Tandon (President, PRIA), Marianne Bo Paludan (Save the Children, Denmark)
and Dr Brian Pratt (Executive Director, INTRAC).
Conference outputs
 INTRAC briefing notes and papers capturing the key contributions, debates and
 Policy briefs aimed at government, private actors and civil society
 An online discussion group will be created on the INTRAC website for participants to
continue their debates after the event, based around the conference themes.
 1-2 journal articles for Development in Practice based on the background papers and
For further information please contact Bobbie O’Neill at or
visit +44 (0)1865 201851