Non-governmental Organizations helped to found the United Nations and Article 71 of the United Nations Charter embeds arrangements for UN consultations with NGOs. NGOs interact with the UN Secretariat, programs, funds, agencies, and UN Member States. NGOs work with the UN comprises a number of activities including information dissemination, awareness raising, development education, policy advocacy, joint operational projects, and providing technical expertise. This work is completed through formal and informal channels, both at the national level and at the UN.
Official UN Secretariat relations with NGOs fall into two main categories:
However, broadly speaking, NGOs may cooperate with the UN in at least four ways:
The World Bank defines NGOs as "private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development" (Operational Directive 14.70). In wider usage, the term NGO can be applied to any non-profit organization which is independent from government. NGOs are typically value-based organizations which depend, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service. Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professional over the last two decades, principles of altruism and voluntarism remain key defining characteristics.
The term NGO is very broad and encompasses many different types of organizations. In the field of development, NGOs range from large, Northern-based charities such as CARE, Oxfam and World Vision to community-based self-help groups in the South. They also include research institutes, churches, professional associations and lobby groups. The World Bank tends to interact with two main categories of NGOs: 1) operational NGOs - whose primary purpose is the design and implementation of development-related projects, and; 2) advocacy NGOs - whose primary purpose is to defend or promote a specific cause and who seek to influence the policies and practices of the Bank. A growing number of NGOs engage in both operational and advocacy activities, and some advocacy groups, while not directly involved in designing and implementing projects, focus on specific project-related concerns.
Over the past several decades, NGOs have become major players in the field of international development. Since the mid-1970s, the NGO sector in both developed and developing countries has experienced exponential growth. From 1970 to 1985 total development aid disbursed by international NGOs increased ten-fold. In 1992 international NGOs channeled over $7.6 billion of aid to developing countries. It is now estimated that over 15 percent of total overseas development aid is channeled through NGOs. While statistics about global numbers of NGOs are notoriously incomplete, it is currently estimated that there is somewhere between 6,000 and 30,000 national NGOs in developing countries.
The World Bank classifies operational NGOs into three main groups: 1) community-based organizations (CBOs) - which serve a specific population in a narrow geographic area; 2) national organizations - which operate in individual developing countries, and; 3) international organizations - which are typically headquartered in developed countries and carry out operations in more than one developing country. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, most examples of World Bank-NGO collaboration involved international NGOs. In recent years, however, this trend has been reversed; an increasing number of projects involve community based organizations.
CBOs (also referred to as grassroots organizations or peoples' organizations) are distinct in nature and purpose from other NGOs. While national and international organizations are "intermediary" NGOs which are formed to serve others; CBOs are normally "membership" organizations made up of a group of individuals who have joined together to further their own interests (e.g.: women's groups, credit circles, youth clubs, cooperatives and farmer associations). In the context of Bank-financed activities, national or international NGOs are normally contracted to deliver services, design projects or conduct research. CBOs are more likely to be the recipients of project goods and services. In projects which promote participatory development, grassroots organizations play the key function of providing an institutional framework for beneficiary participation. CBOs might, for example be consulted during design to ensure that project goals reflect beneficiary interests, undertake the implementation of community-level project components, or receive funds to design and implement sub-projects. Many national and international NGOs work in partnership with CBOs, either channeling development resources to them or providing them with services or technical assistance.
Because the nature and quality of individual NGOs vary greatly, it is extremely difficult to make generalizations about the sector as a whole. Despite this diversity, some specific strength generally associated with the NGO sector includes the following:
The most commonly identified weaknesses of the sector include:
Source: World Bank website "Nongovernmental Organizations and Civil Society/Overview." <http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/essd/essd.nsf/NGOs/home> Accessed June 8, 2001 (no longer available)
Over the years, the IMF has become more transparent and has sought to become more accountable, not only to the governments that own it, but also to the broader public. This has led to a more active involvement with CSOs, as well as legislatures. When the IMF began to engage with CSOs in the 1980s, it was usually at a global level, in response to advocacy by groups concerned with economic and social justice. Such engagement remains central in IMF-CSO relations.
There are three ways for civil society organizations to participate in the activities of the Organization of American States (OAS). First, a civil society organization can register to the OAS. If for any reason a civil society organization would like to participate without registering, they can attend meetings of the General Assembly, the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), and other specific Conferences of the OAS by soliciting to become a Special Guest. The third and last way of participating in OAS activities is through cooperation agreements with the General Secretariat or other OAS organs.
There are numerous benefits in becoming a registered CSO with the OAS:
As of June 15, 2006, 171 organizations have been accredited within the Organization of American States. To see the list of registered civil society organizations, please click here.
Working with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) enables FAO to increase the effectiveness and quality of its work in agriculture and the fight against hunger. Through dialogue and consultation with CSOs, FAO ensures that its decision-making, policies and scientific research reflect the interests of all sectors of society.
CSOs work with FAO in a number of ways: in technical areas such as sustainable agriculture, gender and environment; in institutional areas such as representation and legislation and in capacity-building, advocacy and technical support.
FAO works closely with federations, associations and local groups representing farmers, fisherfolk and herders to ensure that the aspirations of the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized and the hungry are successfully voiced. FAO's work with Civil Society is also guided by major international initiatives, notably the UN Millennium Development Goals with ambitious targets for dramatically reducing hunger and poverty by 2015.