ARNOVA Conference Honors Dr. Jeff Brudney

In mid-September 2015, public and international affairs professor Jeffrey Brudney journeyed to Ghana, Africa as a member of a small team of scholars selected by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). Brudney joined African scholars and nonprofit organization leaders in a workshop intended to create an African association dedicated to fostering freer, more open institutions where people can express and trade views - what scholars have named "civil society."

"In the U.S., we call it 'We, the People,'" said Brudney, the Betty and Dan Cameron Family Distinguished Professor of Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector. "Civil society means a safe, free space to speak out about programs and policies and to exchange ideas. Civil society fosters an atmosphere that encourages and motivates people to become more involved, engaged and trusting in their society through taking a more active role in its institutions."

"When civil society doesn't exist," Brudney continued, "societies tend to move toward repressive governments, despots, bribery and corruption. Ultimately, these conditions can lead to violence and revolution." BrudneyARNOVA

In addition to its political benefits, Brudney notes, civil society has economic benefits. In countries that have a more civil society, people trust one another and their businesses more. As a result, they are more willing to participate in the financial marketplace - from business ownership to consumer confidence.

"For example, when I shop on, I have complete confidence that I'll receive the product," explains Brudney, "so I am willing to spend the money even though I do not have the product in-hand. But this confidence in economic commerce is lacking in many nations, especially those weak in civil society. When graft and corruption threaten financial environments, people don't take financial risks. The overall economy doesn't grow."

With a grant from the Ford Foundation, the ARNOVA team plans to work with the African scholars and nonprofit organization leaders to devise and implement a five-year plan to form an association that will promote civil society in Africa. The association aims to help scholars and leaders become more involved with fostering open discussion, free-flowing communication, trust and confidence.

At the invitation of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Ghana, Brudney stayed an extra day in Ghana to present a lecture attended by nearly 60 students and faculty members. He also gave an interview on Ghana radio. Hoping to develop a plan and an agenda for building a more civil society, Brudney reflected, "It's a very ambitious enterprise, but I am pleased and excited about our progress so far, and the great turnout we had for the lecture."

In November 2015, the African scholars and leaders will come to Chicago to continue their discussion and work with the ARNOVA team. The group is tentatively scheduled to re-convene in Nigeria in May 2016.

"To bridge the socio-cultural gap, expand perspectives, you do this over a long period of time - and you do it in both places," says Brudney. "All of us look forward to our next meetings -- and to helping build a more civil society."