Civil Society

Civil society refers to a broad category of social institutions which includes the family and the private sphere, referred to as the “third sector” of society, distinct from politics, government and business.

In Penang or elsewhere Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) include a wide of array of organizations: community groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), labor unions, indigenous groups, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, and foundations.

We chose to broaden that perspective to include universities, educational institutions  of all levels, research and neighborhood and activist groups with a continuing long-term interest in and commitment to the shared broader goals of society and nature.

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* For more on how we look at Civil Society as a key factor for sustianble development in Penang, here is a brief extract from a long posting in Sustinable Penang, for which you will find the full text at at

The Role of Civil Society

It is my firm belief that the lead to sustainable transport and a sustainable city in Penang at this point lies just about entirely in the hands of Civil Society – and it is a wonderful thing that Penang has such strong tradition in this respect. But there is a slight problem.

While the concerns of the various groups are of course very diverse, as they should be, and it appears to me that there is still great difficulty in getting them to speak on the issues fair and better mobility in Penang with a common voice. If you turn to the page you will see a listing of some two dozen organizations that are more or less directly concerned with bringing sustainable transport to Penang.  They need somehow to be brought together to make their voices heard as one in order to take an active leadership role.  These barriers need to be broken down, and given the intelligence, commitment and energy of these groups this should be entirely doable.  But we need to find the way to bring them together.

And in the meantime, the various lobbies, financial interests and alliances that have intentions quite other than the common interests continue to prove themselves a continuing menace to the entire concept of sustainable development and social justice. In short, it is a hard slog for democracy.  But I am hopeful that Civil Society will overcome these challenges in Penang.  In time, but hopefully soon.

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Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as a development economist, Francis Eric Knight Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion, he is MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent non-profit advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, incomplete information, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: Climate/Action/Plan 2019-2020. In the autumn of 2018 he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of countering climate change from GHG emissions from the mobility sector. (For more see Britton online at, @ericbritton. email at and Skype: newmobility.)

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