What is an NGO?
The acronym NGO means “Non-Governmental Organisation”. An NGO is a formal organisation, usually with legal incorporation, that acts represents a group interest or cause and engages with national and international bodies to achieve its goals. Although similar to a lobby group an NGO is typically an organisation that engages in advocacy for interests, causes or issues that promote the common or public good. There are national and international NGOS. Over 1300 separate organisations engage in advocacy at the United Nations through the various commissions and committees of the UN system.
What is meant by ‘status’ with the United Nations?
An NGO has status with the United Nations if it is recognised by the United Nations as an organisation that can promote the goals of the United Nations charter. There are two levels of recognition or affiliation:
- Association with the Department of Public Information
- Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
Many NGOS are associated with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations. As is implied by its name, the Department of Public Information believes that it the goals of the United Nations, as set out in the United Nations Charter, can be more effectively achieved if organisations representing civil society become involved in disseminating information about the United Nations, its goals and policies. Equally, these NGOs derive a benefit in that they are informed about high level UN initiatives and through the various UN Committees have an opportunity to influence United Nations policies and strategies.
Some NGOs have achieved recognition and affiliation with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. This status is normally referred to as ‘consultative status’. It means that these NGOS have access to various United Nations Committees on social and economic affairs and can make their views known to these Committees. This means that they can influence policy very directly. Such influence can often be a very powerful means of achieving systemic change at the global and local levels.
In the last ten years some religious congregations have created NGOs in order to engage in advocacy for social justice. These religious congregations are usually congregations for whom acting with and for marginalised social groups is a constitutive element of their founding charism. Among the first such groups to achieve consultative status with the United Nations was Franciscans International. This NGO was created by the thirty or so religious congregations and groups that make up the Franciscan family. Since about 1997 an increasing number of congregations have achieved consultative status with ECOSOC. Among these congregations are:
- Mercy Global Concern (Sisters of Mercy)
- International Presentation Association (Presentation Sisters)
- School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND)
- Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND-N)
- Seton Foundation (Sisters and Daughters of Charity)
- UNANIMA (Consortium of thirteen women’s groups)
There are approximately sixty such NGOs linked to the UN system at present. A new term has been coined to describe faith-based NGOs: Religious NGOs (RNGOs). At the international and local levels such organisations are becoming increasingly effective in promoting advocacy in a rnage of areas such as: poverty eradication, women’s rights, health issues, trafficking, refugees, migrants, indigeneous peoples, environmental rights, and child rights. Many religious congregations that have established NGOs, such as Franciscans International, focus on two or three areas for explicit focus. For example, Franciscans International act collaboratively with other NGOs in the areas of poverty eradication, social justice and the care of the earth.