Facilitating NGO participation in international affairs

Maintaining NGO working relations with United Nations bodies and specialized agencies
Encouraging participation of NGO's, including industry, business and scientific groups

Inviting and enabling NGOs to take part in the formulation of international policies and in the implementation of development programmes.


The International Council of Voluntary Agencies holds as a key strategy the maintaining and facilitating of members' close working relations and consultations with international organizations, including UN bodies and specialized agencies, the Bretton Woods institutions and regional bodies. The Executive Committee shall also consider and prioritize its involvement in UN and other international conferences and summits, and facilitate the involvement in all international events not only of its own members but that of other NGOs.

NGO access to the UN process was greatly increased through the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (as happened also at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994). Funding from Northern governments for a Southern travel fund increased the number of developing country NGOs that could take part in the preparatory meetings and later in the conference itself. Accreditation rules were streamlined to allow more national and local groups to participate. 1,418 NGOs were officially accredited to UNCED. To be accredited to UNCED, an NGO had merely to provide its annual report, verify its non-profit and nongovernmental status, describe its activities, and establish its 'relevance'. (In contrast ECOSOC rules restrict conference accreditation to NGOs with an international membership base and demonstrate technical expertise.) Chapter 27 of Agenda 21, UNCED's comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, deals exclusively with NGOs, recognizing that their independent stance, their technical abilities, and their experiences can make them assets for governments pursuing sustainability. By acknowledging NGOs as partners and ascribing "rights" to them, Agenda 21 encourages governments to cultivate relationships within the NGO community and to eliminate legislations and attitudes that might stand in the way of cooperative relations.

NGOs' strength is traditionally channelled into lobbying their own governments or international and intergovernmental forum. In UNCED's wake, NGOs have many new openings for influencing policy-making at both national levels and within the UN system. 'Pressure points' within nations are through (a) robust cooperation with national democratic political systems; (b) production of national reports and studies; (c) involvement in the formulation of national Sustainable Development Plans; (d) participation in and influence of national Commissions on Sustainable Development and in (e) national delegations to international events. 'Pressure points' within the UN systems are: (a) involvement in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development; (b) the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service; (c) upcoming UN conferences; and (d) through the ECOSOC review of mechanisms for managing relations between the UN and NGOs.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) is an interagency organization with offices in New York and Geneva that provides education and information on development issues and facilitates dialogue between NGOs and the UN system. With a focus on economic and social issues, and particularly on sustainable development, the NGLS is in the vanguard of efforts to strengthen NGOs and step up their participation in UN events and activities.


The important role which NGOs and social movements play in international negotiations has been broadened through the UNCED process. UN procedures will never be the same again. The extent to which NGOs were able to move the UN and the world toward a more progressive and inclusive agenda is debatable, but it is beyond dispute that NGOs have shaken up the UN system, forcing change in the methods and modes of future NGO-UN interactions.

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal