Is Skills Universe a CIVIL SOCIETY? 8

According to Galin (2000) civil society is conceived as an arena of popular opposition politics.  To my understanding it is an area outside of the family, business and the state.  A civil society wants to advance a common interest or interests.  Non-governmental organizations and churches are examples. The societies are independent of the government.  During the apartheids years in South Africa the ANC was also an example of a civil society, but now they are the ruling governing party.

Wikepedia definition:  “It is sometimes considered to include the family and the private sphere and then referred to as the “third sector” of society, distinct from government and business.’s 21st Century Lexicon defines civil society as 1) the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens or 2) individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government.  Sometimes the term is used in the more general sense of “the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society” (Collins English Dictionary)

I need to do an assignment on a civil society and would like choose skills universe as a civil society. Skills universe is not linked to family, business nor the state.  It wants to advance ‘common interests’ amongst training providers.  On the website it states that:  “Exploring the world of work. The network for training companies, facilitators, assessors, HR staff & everyone interested in people at work.”  I actually don’t see the main purpose of skills universe as networking.  “Business networking is a socio-economic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities. A business network is a type of social network whose reason for existing is business activity.” Is skills universe existing because it is a business activity?  I don’t think so.

I see skills universe as a civil society that wants to advance common interests.  The advertising of jobs, learning material, etc. (business) is a very small component of this website.

Albert, Sylvia, other Skills Universe members … I would really appreciate your input. 

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8 thoughts on “Is Skills Universe a CIVIL SOCIETY?

  • Victoria Siphiwe Mamvura-Gava

    Having worked in the NGO and Civil Society sphere for almost 20 years, I  say yes Skills Universe is a Civil Society for all reasons and explanations already advanced by colleagues here. My jobs where in the sectors of health, education, capacity budiling within the civil society, nothing Politics. I was also one of the +5 people in Namibia who wrote the Unit Standards on how to run and manage a civil society organisation in Namibia now posted on the Namibia NQF.

  • Wilma de Villiers Post author

    Leon, I appreciate your valuable input.  According to Hopkins definition as quoted by you, Skills Universe is a civil society.

    Politics is not referring only to formal political parties or systems but to everyday power relations and differentials – so people trying to achieve social justice are involved in trying to shift power relations and this is political.  Therefore education can be seen as not free of politics.  Education takes place in civil societies.

  • Leon du Plessis

    Hi Wilma –

    I have read your blogpost and the subsequant value bearing comments of the participants with great interest. Hereafter I visited  the article quoted by Des – also with great interest.

    In order for me to understand more about the concept of civil society, I  also looked at what SACSIS (The South African Civil Society Information Centre has to say about the topic.

    Des indicated that if it can be seen  as professional associations, religious groups, labour unions, citizen advocacy organisations, that give voice to various sectors of society and enrich public participation in democracies, Skills Portal and Skills Universe can be identified as civil societies.

    Further common terms to describe a civil society used are NGO, NPO, charity, voluntary sector and so on.

    The Centre for Civil Society at John Hopkins University (London, UK) defines a civil organisation as: “Any organisation whether formal or informal, that are not part of the apparatus of government, that do not distribute profits……..that on self-governing, and in which participation is a matter of free choice. Both member-serving and public-serving organisations are included. Embraced within this definition, therefore, are private, not-for-profit health providers, scools, advocacy groups, social service agencies, anti-poverty groups, development agencies, professional associations…….and many more”

    As confirmed by Des it is clear that many definitions for civil society exist.

    From my perspective both Skills Portal and Skills Universe are the places where all stakeholders in the development of human resources meet. This would include matters of all aspects of the world of work – as pointed out by Sylvia.

    I also had a look at the Human Resource Development Strategy for South Africa.

    During the little research done by me on the topic of civil society the first thought that came to my mind was (and perhaps still is) – this has something to do with politics.

    However – if you consider all of the above and you also look at civil society from the perspectives highlighted by Des and Sylvia then I support them when they indicate that, based on these perspectives, Skills Portal and Skills Universe can be civil societies.

  • Wilma de Villiers Post author

    Des, thanks for the reference to the article.  I read it and it is very interesting.  The following quote from the article confirms why I see Skills Universe as a civil society:

    “So my second school of thought – civil society as the good society – is very important, because it sets the contributions of voluntary associations in the proper context and guards against the tendency to privilege one part of society over the others on ideological grounds – voluntary associations over states for example, or business over both.”

  • Des Squire

    Hi Wilma, have a look at this article and see if it assists.

    Personally I am not sure how to answer your question as I tend to link Civil society to political thought. However if we want to see it as “professional associations, religious groups, labor unions, citizen advocacy organizations, that give voice to various sectors of society and enrich public participation in democracies” then we could say Skills Universe is a civil society.

    But this does not solve the provlem and the paradoxical definitions that exist. Some say that free press is an essential element in civil society and I see no reason why it should not be. This being the case then yes – Skills Portal and Skills Universe would fall into the category of civil society.   

  • Wilma de Villiers Post author

    Thanks for your response, Sylvia.  I will appreciate Alan’s response.  My suggestion is that Alan should re-visit the statement/ explanation of what ‘skills universe’ is, because I experience that it is much more than what is currently said.

  • Sylvia F. Hammond

    Hi Wilma, thanks for raising such a great question and it would be great if you would use it in your assignment – I’m sure that we will all benefit from the insights you derive.  Our original concept for the skills portal and the skills-universe which grew from that – was that we wanted to provide “open access” to information about the skills development area, which until that time was clouded in mysterious acronyms understood by an elite few.  It grew from skills development into a broader concept embracing the workplace – but the concept of “open access” remained.  One aspect which is invisible on skills portal is the amount of questions we receive from people seeking information – on all aspects of the workplace.  Many of those now we refer to skills-universe because there is such a broad base of knowledge in the members.  So the over-riding rationale to me is the provision of information related to development of human resources (in the broadest sense of the HRDS-SA) and the world of work.  I’m sure that Alan will also respond.

  • Wilma de Villiers Post author

    Sorry … commenting on my own blog, but …

    Skills universe is providing a platform for me where I can communicate with people all over South Africa regarding training issues.  I have learned so much from other people’s comments, discussions and blogs.  I have posted so many times questions in the different platforms that ‘skills universe’ is providing.

    It is all for FREE … I don’t have to pay to be a member, here is freedom of speech, etc., etc.