University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Rachel Fairhurst and Kristen Wall

Civil society groups can play an important role in peacebuilding. One example is the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, an innovative approach to international development policy.

The New Deal is led by self-identified “fragile states” — including Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Timor Leste, and Togo, among others — in partnership with international donors. It acknowledges the need for peacebuilding and statebuilding as a foundation for successful development in the world’s poorest and most conflict-affected countries. It also recognizes civil society as a key partner in transitioning states out of fragility.

This complex multi-stakeholder process has provided civil society with a springboard to elevate issues of peacebuilding, conflict, and development within national and international policy arenas.


Governments, civil society, and international organizations endorsed the New Deal in December 2011 at the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. The agreement includes five peacebuilding and statebuilding goals:  legitimate politics, people’s security, justice, economic foundations, and revenues and fair services. These goals aim to strengthen state-society relationships and prioritize mutual accountability and national ownership to help states transition to stability.

At the heart of the New Deal is the notion that developing countries should be in the driver’s seat of development and peacebuilding strategy. This is accompanied by a commitment from the governments of the countries implementing the process to be responsive and inclusive of their own societies. The New Deal requires a similar commitment by donors to support country-owned and country-led processes that include not only national government perspectives but also those of local communities.

At the heart of the New Deal is the notion that developing countries should be in the driver’s seat of development and peacebuilding strategy.

The New Deal has galvanized many national and international coalitions of civil society organizations, all working together on implementation. The participating groups include nongovernmental organizations and civil society coalitions within the fragile states and in many donor countries. They span the sectors of peacebuilding, development, human rights, gender equality, and environmental protection. Through the New Deal, civil society participants are deepening relationships and building peacebuilding networks to address complex sources of state fragility.

Civil society participants in the New Deal are raising awareness of the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals among local populations. They also are engaging with their governments on highly political issues of legitimate politics and access to justice, enabling conversations that would have been unthinkable previously. In some countries, participants are building new state-society bridges and carving out a greater role for civil society in national policymaking. Civil society organizations have served as advocates for the inclusion of local perspectives in assessing root causes of conflict. They also have provided technical expertise to help fragile states identify sources of fragility and measure movement toward resilience. In a number of countries, for example, civil society participants are urging states to collect and report sex-disaggregated data on economic and social indicators to track women’s progress.


Despite these contributions, significant challenges remain to civil society’s engagement in the New Deal. Perhaps the greatest obstacle is insufficient political support at state and international levels.

Civil society plays an important role in spreading awareness of the New Deal and in holding governments accountable to their commitments. Yet due to state-society tensions in some fragile states, governments are hesitant to include civil society actors as partners, and some are wary of civil society’s efforts to hold them accountable. Donor states also have varied levels of commitment to the New Deal. In the fragile states, a lack of resources and institutional capacity impedes the ability of local civil society actors to participate fully in the process.

On paper, the New Deal is unique: offering a new, country-led approach to development that incorporates peacebuilding and statebuilding and provides an active role for civil society. Yet the challenges are many, and they underscore the need for greater support for local civil society engagement.

The active involvement of civil society has the potential to reshape development and peacebuilding dynamics in fragile states and can make the process more inclusive and accountable. Donor agencies should recognize the value of civil society engagement in the New Deal and do more to ensure that citizen groups have the capacity and resources to uphold this new integrated approach to development, governance, and peace.

Rachel Fairhurst is a Research Associate at the Kroc Institute. Kristen Wall is a Senior Policy Officer at the National Democratic Institute.