Draft Civil Society Partnership Policy


This document sets out DFATD’s approach to enhancing effective development cooperation with international, Canadian and developing country civil society organizations (CSOs). It outlines the guiding principles for and overall objectives of Canada’s development engagement with CSOs. Recognizing that context matters, the guidance contained within this document is not prescriptive in nature, but rather provides an approach, with illustrative examples of actions and best practices, to enhancing effective development cooperation with civil society.


Central to the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation is a broad commitment to effectively harness the efforts of all actors engaged in development. In keeping with that commitment, the Government of Canada engages with those development actors that can best deliver results within its thematic priorities and developing country partners. This includes both traditional partners and new ones, such as those found within the private sector, the science and technology sector, as well as diaspora communities. The Government is committed to working with accountable and effective partners that align with Canadian values and policy priorities, and enhance the visibility of Canada’s investments. 

Accountability for results and democratic governance depend on a vibrant civil society. Aligned with Canada’s foreign policy priorities and the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, DFATD’s support to civil society is a tangible expression of Canada’s commitment to the core values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.Footnote1 A sound and coherent approach to partnering with international, Canadian and developing country civil society is critical to the achievement of sustainable development results and poverty reduction.

What is Civil Society?

The term “civil society” refers to a wide range of non-government and non-profit driven organizations through which people organize themselves to pursue shared interests or values in public life. In the international development context, these organizations can be found at the international, regional, national and local levels. Examples of CSOs include community-based organisations, environmental groups, women’s rights groups, farmers’ associations, faith-based organisations, philanthropic organizations, human rights groups, labour unions, co-operatives, independent research institutes, and the non-profit media.Footnote2

Civil society contributes to development in ways that complement the roles and functions of governments, the private sector and multilateral organizations. DFATD engages with international and Canadian CSOs dedicated to international development as well as developing country CSOs through policy dialogue, consultations and funding arrangements on a diverse range of issues in efforts to reduce poverty and promote democratic governance in developing countries. CSOs contribute to development as:


  • Providing services, including to poor and marginalized people, in areas under-served by governments or the private sector, and piloting alternative service delivery mechanisms;
  • Responding to rapidly unfolding crises brought on by natural disasters or civil and military strife through flexible humanitarian actions;


  • Enabling individuals, including poor and marginalized people, to be more involved and ensuring that their interests are taken into account in the political and decision-making process;
  • Holding governments to account for the use of public funds, for policy choices and their effects, for program implementation, and for adherence to international standards;
  • Helping build trust and social cohesion, which is particularly important in rebuilding communities that have been torn by civil war or ethnic strife;
  • Engaging Canadians in development;


  • Piloting alternative ways of working and using innovative approaches to address development challenges at the local, regional and global levels;
  • Providing mechanisms for mobilizing people’s energies and expertise within and across national boundaries;


  • Helping to promote positive change by addressing underlying causes of poverty, by stimulating public debate, and by drawing attention to issues and challenges that might otherwise be ignored; and
  • Enabling individuals, including poor and marginalized people, to take responsibility for their own affairs, rather than relying solely on government or other sources of support.

Principles and Commitments Guiding DFATD’s Engagement with Civil Society Organizations

To achieve the objectives outlined within this document, DFATD’s development and humanitarian engagements with CSOs will be guided by the following:

Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation: The principles agreed to within the Busan Partnership form the foundation of co‐operation for effective development. For example, the principle of inclusive development partnerships affirms that “openness, trust, and mutual respect and learning lie at the core of effective partnerships in support of development goals,” and recognises the different and complementary roles of all actors. The principles guide efforts to reduce duplication, harmonise humanitarian and development assistance, achieve burden sharing and division of labour, reduce transaction costs, and help to avoid excessive fragmentation of aid at the global, country and sector level. Canada’s endorsement of the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation also recognized that civil society is an actor in its own right, and acknowledged the importance of inclusive partnerships for development and support for an enabling environment for civil society.

Respect for the Istanbul Principles for Development Effectiveness: The Istanbul Principles form part of the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. These eight principles were developed by and for civil society to assist organizations in achieving greater development effectiveness. These guiding principles for CSOs include a commitment to human rights and social justice, gender equality and equity, democracy and empowerment, environmental sustainability, transparency and accountability, equitable relationships and solidarity, sharing knowledge and mutual learning, and promoting sustainable change.Footnote3

The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States: Canada endorsed the New Deal at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. It is integral to the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. The New Deal builds on the evidence presented in the 2011 World Development Report entitled Conflict, Security, and Development, and seeks to address many of the challenges encountered in implementing the Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States.Footnote4 Central to the New Deal are the principles of country ownership and leadership, and advancement of five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals– legitimate politics, justice, citizen security, economic foundations, and revenues and services. The New Deal also calls for renewed partnerships built on: country compacts in support of national plans; political dialogue; increased transparency; improved risk management; strengthened country systems for improved service delivery; and greater flexibility and predictability.

Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship: The objectives of humanitarian action are to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for such situations. Humanitarian action is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.Footnote5

Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (ODAAA): The Act mandates that all Canadian official development assistance be focused on poverty reduction and be consistent with aid effectiveness principles and Canadian values. Under the Act, activities reported to Parliament as ODA must contribute to poverty reduction; take into account the perspectives of the poor; and be consistent with international human rights standards.

Canada’s Aid Effectiveness Agenda: Since 2007, the Government of Canada has been committed to delivering aid that is effective, focused and accountable. Canada has taken important steps to reform its development assistance program in accordance with this agenda and in line with international agreements and recognized best practices.

Objectives and Actions

DFATD’s civil society development partners are essential players in helping advance Canadian development priorities, especially poverty reduction. Guided by the principles of our engagement, DFATD will work with CSOs, and in collaboration as appropriate with partner countries, multilateral and global organizations, the private sector and other donors to pursue the following development objectives:

1. Augment the Voice of Individuals, Particularly Poor and Marginalized People: For policies, strategies and services to be effective, the perspectives of individuals, including the poor and marginalized in developing countries, need to be taken into account. Aligned with the ODAAA legislative requirement to take into account the perspectives of the poor, DFATD strengthens civil society in developing countries and empowers citizens to participate in and assume ownership of their development through support and capacity building measures.

2. Facilitate an Enabling Environment for Civil Society in Developing Countries: An empowered civil society is a crucial component of democratic governance and development. In order for civil society to grow and strengthen, it must operate in an enabling environment that respects rule of law, promotes good governance and fosters core civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Many actors, including governments, have a role to play in creating such an environment and setting the conditions that enable civil society to actively engage. DFATD is committed to supporting an enabling environment for civil society, both in law and practice, in developing countries, leading to more effective policies, equitable and sustainable development, and inclusive growth.

3. Foster Canadian CSO Leadership in International Development and Innovation: Canadian CSOs are recognized leaders on the global stage for their world class expertise. The great diversity within civil society in Canada is a significant strength which helps it to respond in innovative ways to the needs of those living in poverty. DFATD looks to our CSO partners to create alliances that have global reach and can tackle major development challenges, and to adopt innovative approaches to development and poverty reduction. To that end, DFATD will support CSO alliances and place increasing focus on incubating innovative ideas, testing promising initiatives, and scaling up those with widespread impact and effectiveness.

4. Integrate the Role of CSOs as Development Actors into Development Programming: Civil society provides a vehicle for the voices of the poor and vulnerable to be heard by their governments. The development of policies and the delivery of services are more effective when different perspectives and needs, including those of women, young people, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities, are taken into account. DFATD considers civil society perspectives and the inclusion of diverse views in development programs and strategies. DFATD leverages the resources, expertise and networks of civil society to help achieve development objectives. CSOs need to be financially independent and seek funding from various sources. This enables them to better reflect the views of their constituents and secure their own sustainability.

5. Increase Transparency and Accountability: The development program is transparent about its expected and achieved outcomes for development assistance. DFATD expects all of its development partners including CSOs to uphold similar transparency and accountability standards. To increase results of our development investments, DFATD seeks partnerships with CSOs that demonstrate effectiveness, and relevance to Canadian international assistance priorities and broader foreign policy priorities. DFATD is committed to providing predictable funding opportunities, recognizing that CSOs are accountable to the communities they represent and require time to plan their programming.

6. Enhance Sustainability: Sustainability is achieved through, amongst other activities, building service delivery capacity, improving democratic governance and strengthening local systems.DFATD respects the development priorities of country-level partners and local ownership, including the value placed on short and long term results. DFATD supports CSO-led initiatives that produce enduring results, and whose continuity can be locally ensured when external funding comes to an end.

DFATD also recognizes that the sustainability and effectiveness of development investments depend on the ability of the population to hold governments to account over the long term, and is committed to investing in efforts that can strengthen the role of civil society in performing these functions.

7. Foster Effective Partnerships Between the Private Sector and Civil Society Organizations: The private sector is a driving force for robust economic growth. When international, Canadian and developing country CSOs join efforts with the private sector, development can be more inclusive and sustainable. DFATD aims to foster effective partnerships between these sectors and with developing country governments for investments, jobs, and service delivery in priority areas of focus.

8. Engage Canadians in Development: Canada’s unity is strengthened through the expression of common values both at home and abroad. Canadian CSOs have an important role in expressing Canadian values internationally, building support for development cooperation, sharing their expertise, and telling Canada’s international development story. DFATD encourages Canadian CSOs to undertake public engagement activities in the South and in Canada and is committed to supporting initiatives that: encourage Canadian volunteers, raise financial resources for development cooperation, and act as a channel for Canadians to personally contribute to development.

9. Demonstrate Results: Through effective partnerships with Canadian CSOs, the impact of Canada’s development assistance will be more visible and recognized by Canadians and others around the world.


Effective development cooperation with civil society partners leads to significant development and humanitarian results. CSOs are important partners in promoting community-government engagement and transformative change, particularly through their work to increase the involvement of individuals in the decision-making process that affects their lives, and empower poor and marginalized people and communities. It is in the interest of Canada and the international community to support an enabling environment for civil society in developing countries so that CSOs can function effectively and independently in ways that complement the efforts of governments, the private sector, and multilateral organizations in order to reduce poverty, support democratic governance and development.

Together, the Government of Canada and its CSO partners will be global leaders in development assistance and achieve results that will make a difference in the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.

Related Links


Footnote 1

Government of Canada (2008). Official Development Assistance Accountability Act.

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Footnote 2

This definition is derived in part from the OECD (2009), Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness. Findings, Recommendations and Good Practice.

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Footnote 3

Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness (2011). Istanbul Principles.

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Footnote 4

Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States (2007).

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Footnote 5

Good Humanitarian Donorship (2003).

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