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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 11, Issue 2, February 2009

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Special Section: Reformist Leaders and Civil Society

Increase Engagement with the New Government
Ingrid Srinath

A Confidence Gap Needs To Be Bridged
Francis N. Pangilinan

There Is a Danger That the Government Starts to Think It Owns the Sector
Liz Atkins

Getting Too Close to New Leadership Can Be Blinding
Boris Strečanský

Be Prepared to Get Your Hands Dirty
David Robinson

Bind Reformist Leaders to Campaign Commitments
Arthur Larok

A Reformist Leader Is No Guarantee
Dragan Golubovic


The Legal Framework for Not-for-Profit Organizations in Central and Eastern Europe
Douglas Rutzen, David Moore, and Michael Durham

The Legal and Regulatory Framework for Civic Organizations in Namibia
Benedict C. Iheme

International Grantmaking
Foundation Center in Cooperation with Council on Foundations

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Download this issue (PDF) | Editorial Board

Bind Reformist Leaders to Campaign Commitments

Arthur Larok1

What innovations have worked, and what lessons have been learned, for civil society to enhance its engagement with the government when a reformist leader takes office?

I think civil society should not be distracted from their core mandate and competences with or without a reformist leader in government. Usually there is a lot of optimism and enthusiasm, to the extent that some level of disappointment is inevitable. Civil society should keep a noticeable distance to remain independent and focused even in the event of a reformist leader being elected. All they should take advantage of is the political will that comes with a reformist leader. They should stick to the issues for which they demand action and not abdicate their professed constituency—citizens—because when all is done and dusted, it is citizens who will have the power to keep in or vote out a reformist leader.

In the run-up to the election of a reformist leader, there is often an increase in civic mobilization. What are some innovations and lessons learned about sustaining civic participation over time?

It is inevitable that civic mobilization will diminish following an election. However, this doesn’t mean that civic engagement cannot be sustained over time. The challenge usually is finding durable reasons and new ways of engagement in an undoubtedly changed socio-political terrain following an election. The type of issues that have heightened civic mobilization in the run-up to an election will largely define the nature and extent of mobilization thereafter.

One way of sustaining civic engagement in the post-election epoch is to develop “citizen-leadership contracts” that bind reformist leaders to campaign commitments. It is important to impress upon such leaders the need for regular interface and conversations around these contracts. Innovations such as subjecting leaders or designates to questions from citizens on the progress, stagnation, or regression of commitments in the citizen-leadership contracts would sustain the much-needed civic mobilization and engagement beyond an election. It is important that a progress report is produced by citizens and a direct interface with a reformist leader is guaranteed at least once a year.

What are some of the challenges that civil society organizations face when a reformist leader is elected?

Challenges include threats of cooptation—i.e., supporting a reformer while maintaining independence from the government—as well as the loss of civil society leaders as they move into government. In addition, civil society faces the challenge of maintaining access to the new leader. Very often reformist leaders are surrounded by so much official protocol that access becomes a nightmare. Another challenge is that some of the ideals civil society shares with reformist leaders before elections can remain unimplemented. To make such ideals a reality through the more robust government, it may be worthwhile to push legislation that institutionalizes them.

What are some lessons learned relating to the management of high (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations that can accompany the election of a reformist government, and how can civil society help hold governments accountable for pre-election promises?

My response to the question about maintaining civic mobilization applies here as well. Citizen-leadership contracts can help define the sustained conversations between civil society and reformist leaders. Through these regular conversations, citizens and leaders can realistically manage their expectations and promises.

The current financial crisis has created challenges for governments, governance, and civil society actors. What advice would you like to convey to civil society actors in light of the financial crisis?

Civil society is diverse and the financial crisis will impact different segments differently. But civil society need to keep the discussion focused on the issues and conditions that led to the financial crisis. The financial crisis is a culmination of many years of questionable global economic policies shaped in large part by a dominant neo-liberal, unbridled capitalist school. This must be challenged and innovative ways of working between the state and market need to be found.

Further, civil society needs to critically engage with developed countries’ governments on how they have responded to the credit crunch and financial downturn. There have been important bailouts of private companies. If the work of civil society is indeed appreciated, why can’t developing countries consider development bailouts through civil society? It is an issue of bailing out private companies versus bailing out anti-poverty initiatives of civil society.

Finally, civil society, especially in the South, needs to start thinking very seriously about alternative sources of revenue, not merely funding from the North.


1 Arthur Larok is Director of Programmes, Uganda National NGO Forum, an independent, inclusive and nonpartisan national platform for NGOs in Uganda.


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ISSN: 1556-5157