Civil Society & Global Health

Gallen (2000) defines civil society as “a group or organisation with common interests or goals whose collective actively represent citizens in an independent manner”. Civil society in a more general sense can be seen as “the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society” (Collins English Dictionary). Seen as in contrast to the state, Gallen also highlights that civil society is “synonymous with the voluntary sector (the so-called Third Sector)”.   Movements such as non-government organisations (NGOs), charities, advocacy groups, social movement agents and human rights organisations are all considered civil society.   The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2015) itself has a civil society initiative originally set up in 2001, “to ensure that the changing roles and expectations of civil society are more adequately reflected within WHO”.  It is these changing relationships between the state and the civil society that the WHO promotes understanding of trends at local, national and global level.  Gallen (2000) describes the role of civil society as the voice of the underprivileged and promoter of democratic ideas.

Social movements originate from worldviews and ideologies such as civil rights movements, religious groups and peace groups.  To be global is to “think, feel and act both globally and locally” (Walters, 1997, pg. 13). Interconnectedness and the notion of global civil society and active global citizenship connects through popular education methods (Mayo, 2011, pg. 27).  Social movement learning that takes place in civil society is often classified as informal amidst the creation of new knowledge (Hall & Clover, 2005). In health, research and action to promote greater health equity has a long tradition (Blas et al., 2010). It will be interesting to see in the future  if neoliberalism and the privatisation of healthcare is the approach in the globalised world, or a return to Nye Bevan’s ideology of accessible health for all.

Keywords: Civil society; Democracy; Global; Social movement; Interconnectedness.


Blas, E., Gilson, L., Kelly, M. P., Labonté, R., Lapitan, J., Muntaner, C., … & Schrecker, T. (2008). Addressing social determinants of health inequities: what can the state and civil society doThe Lancet, 372(9650), 1684-1689.

Mayo, M. (2011) Learning global citizenship? Exploring connections between the local and global. In Fragoso, A., & Kurantowicz, E. (Eds.), Between global and local: Adult learning and development. Peter Lang.

United Nations (2016) Civil Society

Walters, S. (1997). Globalization, Adult Education & Training. Impacts & Issues. Global Perspectives on Adult Education and Training Series. Zed Books, New York.

Wikipedia (2016) Civil Society.

World Health Organisation (2001) Strategic alliances The role of civil society in health.