Putting the civil society sector on the economic map of the world

Lester M. Salamon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The past twenty-five years have witnessed a spectacular expansion of philanthropy, volunteering, and civil society organizations throughout the world. Indeed, we seem to be in the midst of a 'global associational revolution,' a worldwide upsurge of organized private voluntary activity. Despite the promise that this development holds, however, the nonprofit or civil society sector remains the invisible subcontinent on the social landscape of most countries, poorly understood by policymakers and the public at large, often encumbered by legal limitations, and inadequately utilized as a mechanism for addressing public problems. One reason for this is the lack of basic information on its scope, structure, financing, and contributions in most parts of the world. This lack of information is due in part to the fact that significant components of the nonprofit sector fall within the non-observed, or informal, economy, and in part to the way even the observed parts of this sector have historically been treated in the prevailing System of National Accounts (SNA). This paper provides an overview of a series of steps that have been taken over the past 20 years by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in cooperation with colleagues around the world and, more recently, with officials in the United Nations Statistics Division and the International Labour Organization to remedy this situation, culminating in the issuance and initial implementation of a new United Nations Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts and the forthcoming publication of a new International Labour Organization Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work. Taken together, these efforts point the way toward putting the civil society sector on the economic map of the world for the first time in a systematically comparative way. Journal compilation

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-210
Number of pages44
JournalAnnals of Public and Cooperative Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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