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How to Fend Off Attacks on the Legitimacy of Civil Society Organizations

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Civil society organizations (CSOs) play an important role in countries where governments have cut services and where citizens are suffering from lack of basic amenities. However, they must fend off attacks on their legitimacy. This challenge presents a minefield.

Despite the challenges of building a pluralistic civil society sector, there is hope. In fact, a case study in the United States illustrates how an advocacy organization can reframe social issues to open up space for new alliances.

Civil society has a key role to play in advancing human rights and ensuring millions of vulnerable individuals have access to their voices. It also has a responsibility to build ethical leadership. These organizations must cultivate genuine links with local communities, which can help them to withstand attempts by the government to taint their image.

There are five major sources of legitimacy that organizations must demonstrate to bolster their credibility. Some governments may paint dark hues on international funding, and governments hostile to independent civic groups can impose legal restrictions and impose informal harassment methods.

A diverse portfolio can help a civic organization gain legitimacy. Citizens who engage in charity work, for example, are generally happy to support such efforts. While advocacy groups can find it difficult to address politically challenging issues, such as those that divide the country, such organizations can still be effective.

Civic actors are often perceived as elite, out of touch with ordinary citizens. In fact, their tendency to travel abroad and to have foreign education backgrounds has been criticized as a symptom of elite status.