A New Role for Civil Society in Yemen

March 4, 2014

  • There has been significant growth in civil society organizations since the beginning of the transition in Yemen
  • Safa Rawiah, who heads an organization focused on Yemeni youth, sees a future in which civil society plays an integral role in the country’s development
  • The World Bank Group is committed to supporting the establishment of a constructve relationship between Yemeni civil society and the government

Yemen has witnessed an increase  of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in recent years, their rapid growth reflected in their numbers – there are now more than 8,300 registered CSOs in the country, almost a quarter of them springing up since Yemen’s transition got underway in 2011, as well as many informal groups and networks. The vibrancy and dynamism of these CSOs reflects a long tradition of community solidarity in Yemen, where CSOs have the capacity to mobilize youth and volunteers within local communities. This is one of the most untapped resources in Yemen, creating a unique opportunity for the government to build innovative development partnerships and channel citizens’ voices.

Yemeni women have also been strikingly vocal in their demands for more participation in the changes underway in their society. Safa Rawiah heads the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, which focuses on developing leadership roles for skilled young Yemeni men and women:

What role do you think CSOs will play in Yemen's future?

I think that in the future there will be larger numbers of active CSOs with more involvement in strategic decisions concerning the country. This was not the case in the past when the involvement of CSOs was merely symbolic. People recognize this new trend towards being more effective. This projects a clearer picture of the future role of stronger CSOs which can work closely with the government and private sector, and have a measurable impact. CSOs will get better at participating in country development strategies, helping not only in their design and implementation, but also in the monitoring and evaluation of them.

What challenges prevent CSOs from doing their role?

There are many challenges including their weak capacity, the sort of thinking that stereotypes them as charities and excludes them from development, and a tendency towards excluding them from real involvement in key decisions concerning the country.

How do you envisage the future of Yemen?

I dream of a brighter, peaceful future where people’s rights are respected, democracy is practiced, everyone’s life and voice matters, and where people can simply live with dignity. I dream of a developed Yemen which reflects democratic practices present in other countries.

Do you have anything to add?

I hope donors and international partners are serious about the involvement of CSOs as effective actors and development partners, and not only aid recipients.

" I dream of a brighter, peaceful future where people’s rights are respected, democracy is effective, everyone’s life and voice matters, and where people can simply live with dignity. "


Youth Leadership Foundation, Sana’a, Yemen.

Strengthening the relationship between CSOs and government

Building inclusive, sustainable partnerships between Yemen’s government and CSOs is one of the cornerstones of Yemen’s transition process. The World Bank Group (WBG) is committed to working with the government and the full range of Yemeni civil society to help foster this partnership.

The Knowledge Forum organized by the Bank in Sana’a in the first week of March is an opportunity for representatives of the government and  CSOs to learn from international experience on the vital role civil society has played in successful democratic transitions. Speakers from Indonesia, Ghana, India, and Brazil will share their experiences at the Forum of how working relationships between CSOs and the government developed in their own countries. Creating an environment conducive to this in Yemen will also be discussed.

Internal governance in CSOs and public access to information were also due to be discussed, using examples from the Palestinian territories and Yemen’s experience with its National Dialogue.

The knowledge shared at the Forum, and the topics addressed, will not be restricted to it: Every effort will also be made to relay it as widely as possible through a variety of media. The Bank has a long term commitment to the goal of establishing a constructive partnership between Yemen’s many CSOs and the government of Yemen. The Knowledge Forum is just one in a series of projects designed to support it.