Civil society organizations (CSOs) have played significant roles in mountain range governance (MRG) initiatives as initiators, key service providers, sources of knowledge and expertise, promoters of interregional exchange, or watchdogs. The Mountains Connect #5 video shows many key examples from around the world.

The degree to which CSOs are integrated in decision-making structures depends to a large extent on the degree of MRG formalization, the nature of prevailing state-society relations, and the level of CSO professionalization. In some cases, CSOs have sought formal association and obtained observer status in intergovernmental treaties, in other cases they have consciously sought to keep at a distance from governmental actors. In many mountain ranges, CSOs have formed networks to create political leverage, foster the exchange of experiences, provide a link between MRG processes and CSO network members.

Script & CAST

Marisa Young, Vice President, Fundación Agreste

As a civil society organization Fundación Agreste was created more than 25 years ago with the objective to foster participation or environmental protection, to promote initiatives in favor of sustainable development especially in fragile ecosystem areas, in mountain ranges and in dry lands.

Sam Kanyamibwa, Founder & Executive Director, Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network)

ARCOS Network was established in 1995 with the mission to enhance the biodiversity conservation and the sustainable development, through the commission of collaborative actions for nature and people. Since 2018 we host the Africa Regional Mountain Forum Secretariat.

Gvantsa Salukvadze, Senior Researcher, Mountain and Rural Development Initiatives

This Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Regions and its secretariat Sustainable Caucasus was established in 2014 with the main goal of bridging the communication gap between civil society organizations, governmental entities, academia and most importantly, local people.

Emilie Dupuits, Professor for International Relations, University San Francisco de Quito

Civil society organizations play a key role in fostering cooperation in many regional mountain governance initiatives. The ways they can participate are as diverse as the organizations themselves. In mountain ranges, civil society organizations are usually connected through regional networks and associations or multi-stakeholder forums that are supported by the United Nations and international cooperation agencies. Civil society organizations usually play an important role in decision making, even though they rarely have the last word.

Sam Kanyamibwa

ARCOS’s role as a civil society organization is to facilitate dialogue involving all stakeholders in African mountain countries and this includes the governments, civil society, academia, international organizations, and the private sector.

Gvantsa Salukvadze

First of all, I would like to mention that there does not exist any regional mountain governance systems yet. So we have only on the national level which still lacks the integration of diverse stakeholders including civil society organizations.

Emilie Dupuits

How much say civil society organizations have in mountain range governance largely depends on three key factors: First, the degree of formalization in a mountain range can be high or low. Formal association or observer status is an option where formalization is high as in the case of intergovernmental treaties and platforms. Where formalization is low civil society organizations can play the role of expertise and knowledge producer or foster the exchange of experiences. Second, the nature of state-society relations can be collaborative or contentious. On the one hand, civil society participation may be difficult, where discord has characterized the interactions with the state. It can also be complicated in highly formalized mountain range governance, where civil society organizations are observers who don’t really have a say. On the other hand, civil society networks can support governance by ensuring accountability. Third, the level of professionalisation of civil society organizations can be high or low and take different forms. Professionalisation refers to how formally structured civil society organizations are, their degree of expertise and their technical capacities. Established and experienced organizations may create political leverage. Less experienced organizations may seek and find capacity building opportunities in mountain governance processes.

Degree of formalization

  • high or low

Nature of state – society relation

  • collaborative or contentious

Level of professionalisation / Level of formal structures

  • high or low

Sam Kanyamibwa

The involvement of ARCOS is as such at international level, at continental level in Africa and also national level. Examples of these processes are, for example the UNFCCC on climate change, the CBD on biodiversity and we are involved as a member of the Mountain Partnership. Here in Africa, we host the secretariat for the Africa Regional Mountain Forum and nationally, ARCOS has supported a number of countries to develop and formulate national mountain sustainable development strategies. And of course, we have several programmes at the local level where we work with the communities to integrate participation of different actors at the local level in sustainable mountain development.

Marisa Young

In this moment, the Mountain Partnership is an entity that allows bringing together the principal groups in a decisive way for decision-making and what the governance structures mean. Especially because the organizations are not just observers but are full members of the partnership. Additionally, especially in the South American region, this form of participation is still missing that allows articulation with governments to make possible working in common on regional governance initiatives that allow genuine participation for all principal groups.

Doris Mutta, Senior Programme Officer, African Forest Forum at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

Another aspect given the close association of the civil society organization with the local communities: we have been able also to profile the role of indigenous knowledge in managing forest areas and trees and recognizing their role. So we can see how the civil society is very important in environmental management. For example, through the civil society we generate scientific knowledge to inform development of mechanisms that are sensitive to the needs of the local communities, while at the same time would promote sustainable forest management.

Gvantsa Salukvadze

In general, the integration and involvement is still very weak. and this is also no exception for our organization but we still try to unify different voices from stakeholders and act as a platform to which the government authorities. One such example I can give is the National Initiative Group established two years ago which integrates a wide range of stakeholders and afterwards a Regional Initiative Group was established in order to work on climate change issues and integrate CSOs and other stakeholders, including mid-level decision-makers in governmental entities.

Emilie Dupuits

Offering civil society organizations voice and agency in regional mountain governance is crucial but some challenges remain.

Key lessons

  • Where participation is very formal the involvement of civil society organizations may be more regular and legitimate but this is limited to established organizations.
  • Where state-society relations are collaborative, civil society organizations are typically involved but their role may be pushed towards implementing decisions, rather than making them.
  • Finally, civil society participation in mountain range governance requires an effective participation, legitimate processes and accountability.

organizations appearing in the video

  • Fundación Agreste (-> link)
  • Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS Network) (-> link)
  • Mountain and Rural Development Initiatives – Caucasus Region (MRD-Cau), based at Tbilisi State University (-> link)
  • African Forest Forum at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) (-> link)

Mountain regions appearing in the video