This paper results from an international conference held at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Study and Conference Centre in Italy, July 2005.

Global civil society is a deeply contested concept. What precisely it means, whether it is a good or a bad thing, whether it is a truly global phenomenon or essentially a western concept, and how global civil society organisations might be made more accountable for their impacts are just some of the questions that are the subject of a lively and ongoing intellectual and political debate.

To examine some of these issues afresh, the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) convened a high-level three-day conference at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Centre in Italy in July 2005. While drawing heavily on the discussion at the Bellagio meeting, this paper sets out the author's personal perspective on these issues. The author argues that while global civil society is not inherently progressive there are plenty of recent examples of where global civil society groups have been a force for progressive social change. The paper identifies specific ways that these progressive forces can be strengthened.