Representing a plurality of knowledges, values, and initiatives, civil society organizations can be a central force behind progressive transformations, creating the necessary pressure to effect changes in other sectors, not least governments and private-sector parties.1 This study describes and analyzes the context of civil society organizations, including their actual or potential roles in conservation and sustainable development in the Cerrado savannas of central Brazil, the challenges they face, and actions that could enhance their participation in decision making important for the region. The study is based on extensive personal and institutional experience since 1990, literature review, and interviews and stakeholder consultations carried out as part of the Ecosystem Profile of the Cerrado Biodiversity Hotspot2 for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). The objective is to convey the complex social characteristics and conditions of civil society organizations (CSOs) and to formulate recommendations for civil society itself as well as for government and donors. The premise is that CSO interventions and participation in decision-making processes are key to the future of this poorly understood biome, which is of vital economic and environmental importance to Brazil and surrounding countries.
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