What is the power of an NGO

globalization

Number in absolute numbers, worldwide 1909 to 2015

Source: Union of International Associations (UIA): Yearbook of International Organizations

Civil society actors are also organizing themselves across borders in the course of globalization and influencing global politics. The actors are initiatives, associations and organizations that cannot be assigned to the state or the market, or purely to private life. On a global level, internationally networked non-governmental organizations (NGOs) increase the weight of civil society and raise issues such as environmental protection, social justice and human rights. The first forerunners of the NGOs can be found in the 19th century. From the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 1980s, the number of NGOs rose continuously and then stagnated for a short time. From 1991 to 2015 the number of NGOs increased again steadily from 4,620 to 8,976 - also because their importance has increased further through cooperation, expertise and lobbying activities.

Facts

In the course of globalization, civil society actors are also organizing themselves across borders and influencing global politics. Global civil society includes charitable initiatives, associations and organizations that cannot be attributed to the state, the market or purely to privacy. Civil society is based on various forms of collective action in public space, "between" the established institutions and the private sphere. Civil society is therefore also referred to as the intermediate or third sector.

Civil society is of great importance in the context of global governance approaches, i.e. governance in a global multilevel system. The main actors are internationally networked non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are active, for example, in the areas of environmental and social standards, human rights, development policy, the fight against corruption, climate change and the fight against infectious diseases.

At the global level, there are basically three approaches for NGOs to influence the political agenda: First, they act as lobbyists, for example through campaigns, protest actions or informal lobbying. Second, they take part in negotiations that deal with the development of global standards and norms (negotiation networks). Here they are directly involved in political decision-making processes. Thirdly, as service providers and experts, they make their resources available (monitoring, coordination and advisory networks).

The first forerunners of the NGOs can be found in the 19th century. In 1839 the first human rights organization, the Anti-Slavery Society, which works for the worldwide abolition of slavery, was founded. With the International Committee of the Red Cross, the first humanitarian organization in the world was founded in 1863. However, the name NGO has only caught on since 1945.

From the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 1980s, the number of NGOs rose steadily. While the Union of International Associations (UIA) registered only 832 NGOs in 1951, there were 2,173 in 1972. In the 1980s, the number of NGOs stagnated and stood at around 4,500.

The end of the bloc confrontation and the associated reorganization of international politics caused the number of NGOs to rise rapidly. In particular the world conferences of the United Nations (UN), beginning with the Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, led to a new position and acceptance of the NGOs. Also due to their increasing importance through collaboration, expertise and lobbying, the number of NGOs increased continuously from 1991 to 2015 from 4,620 to 8,976.

Even if NGOs cannot be assigned to any political party and they claim to represent general social interests, there is still criticism of an excessively strong position of NGOs: The deficits in the legitimation of global politics cannot be adequately compensated by NGOs because these are also not democratically legitimized. Even the NGOs that work for more democracy on a global level are not elected and therefore not authorized to act on behalf of the people. In addition, NGOs are not always structured democratically internally and their dependency on donations can conflict with their credibility.

Data Source

Union of International Associations (UIA): Yearbook of International Organizations, © UIA

Terms, methodological notes or reading aids

So far, neither in the public discussion nor in the professional world has a uniform definition of NGO term push through. In general, the term refers to all international organizations that are not legitimized by a public mandate. If the term NGO is taken broader and all private actors and interest groups - i.e. international trade unions, business associations, associations of scientific institutions, welfare associations, aid organizations, foundations, churches, self-help groups and citizens' initiatives - are included, the number of NGOs increases to a good 25,000 per year 2015.

While the UN, for example, uses a broad definition, the information provided here is based on the definition of the Union of International Associations (UIA), which has created a comprehensive catalog of criteria for the NGOs it has registered. After that, NGOs have to
  • be founded on a private initiative,
  • be independent - above all from state influence,
  • have international membership,
  • draw their financial resources from at least three countries,
  • operate in at least three countries,
  • have an election mechanism for the performance committee and
  • provide evidence of a head office and permanent staff.