Ever since 1945 NGOs have received a form of official recognition within an international organisation. Under Article 71 of the United Nations Charter, NGOs may be granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Thereafter, to meet the diversity, scope of skills and the growing resources available to NGOs, in 1996 ECOSOC adopted a new resolution which updated the previous provisions and paved the way for closer partnerships. Resolution 1996/31 of ECOSOC constitutes the current legal basis governing “relationships designed to facilitate consultation between the United Nations and Non-Governmental Organisations”.
Today more than 3,700 NGOs have consultative status with ECOSOC and their number doubled between 2000 and 2010. In addition to this constantly growing number, it should be noted that NGOs play an active part in the running of all international organisations, but in many different ways. These NGOs can thus be consulted or even involved in the deliberations and the implementation of certain decisions taken by international organisations. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are collaborating with several hundred NGOs.
NGOs long held merely advisory and/or operational roles within the operational or decision-making processes of international organisations. However, many of them are now also involved in defining the policies and priorities of the programmes of international organisations.
The role of organised civil society
Some NGOs have acquired operational skills and knowledge of different sectors, providing technical expertise that is essential to a well-informed debate and they also exercise a powerful counter-weight. These NGOs assume a role of non-governmental diplomacy which widens the remit where they are likely to interact on the international stage (roles traditionally reserved for sovereign stakeholders) such as conflict mediation, humanitarian action, etc.
This role now devolved to NGOs is irreversible. Through their organised stakeholders (NGOs) civil society and public opinion are becoming increasingly active on the international stage with increasingly powerful resources (technical resources, expertise, information and communication resources). Organised civil society demands the ability to participate in the resolution of international problems, which through globalisation are also becoming regional, national and local problems.
Developing joint projects and alliances
NGOs and the third sector in general are often founded with the aim of eradicating the very problem for which they were created such as “drugs, AIDS, poverty or social exclusion”. This principle characterises the development behaviour and the very growth of these organisations, in other words, in their need to continually adapt their own sense of purpose and the feeling of being useful. That is why we believe that the very nature of our organisations is based on their development with this being understood as the set of maturation and learning processes via which an organisation moves through its lifecycle and renews its potential in order to evolve and adapt to new needs and not in accordance with meaningless organisational development.
After an initial period marked by spontaneity and pioneering spirit, many of these organisations have become considerably more professionalised and institutionalised which has gradually enabled them to move from the culture of heroism to that of social responsibility and to position themselves as reliable and credible contact-partners.
In this context the development of joint projects and alliances with other organisations in the third sector is the best guarantee of a consistent development that avoids self-referential behaviour or an excessive fragmentation that too often impedes unity of action by the third sector, a pre-requisite for obtaining conclusive results in the pursuit of the objective of social change.
Building a society more balanced and more just through the third sector
We are living in a period of historic transition between the age of excess of the 20th century and that of the moderation of the 21st. Now that the myth of infinite growth has shown its limits, we must now learn to live differently.
This is the reason why we are now facing a huge challenge, namely to ensure a health system and social protection system that is just, supportive and sustainable in a different economic environment. We believe that this is where organised civil society and the third sector in general will have a role to play. The third sector can mobilise resources and means with less dependency on money because it knows how to compensate (and sometimes replace) it with passion, expertise, generosity and commitment. The synergy between the public sector and the third sector is an essential response to the challenge that awaits us, namely of the sustainability of health and social protection systems.
The third sector is likely to become a key stakeholder in the evolution and development of communities and to help maintain the bond of solidarity that unites countries and their populations, with the aim of building a more inclusive, more just and more balanced society.