Global Policy Forum

NGOs and Global Conferences


NGOs find that global conferences are excellent arenas for pushing NGO advocacy goals, and for democratizing global policymaking. NGOs can participate directly in some global conferences. At others, official event organizers (like the United Nations or national governments) organize a parallel "civil society" event, to mirror the formal conference to which NGOs do not have access.

Another distinct form of NGO conference has evolved from the 2001 World Social Forum. The World Social Forum and the thousands of related conferences that have taken place since 2001 are entirely NGO-organized, and independent of national governments or the UN. Generally, the majority of NGOs at these events are part of the global movement for social and economic justice, and organize the events to discuss and advocate for a "fairer globalization."

On the page below, GPF distinguishes between the two types of events and follows the involvement and achievements of NGOs in major global conferences.

Parallel and Participatory Summits | Self-Organized NGO Conferences | General Articles


Parallel and Participatory Summits


UN Climate Change Conference

Millennium Summit and Its Follow-Up

Nearly every head of state in the world was present at the Millennium Summit in 2000 and the Millennium+5 Summit in 2005. NGOs lobbied for more participation and influence at the official Summits, but were ultimately denied access to the events. In lieu of participation, NGOs made their voices heard by issuing statements, and attending the formal, UN-organized NGO/DPI Conference.

World Summit on Sustainable Development

The WSSD, also called the Earth Summit or Rio+10, took place in South Africa in late August 2002. The Summit was a ten-year follow up to the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. While NGOs were, as a whole, disappointed with the official outcome, they successfully used the Earth Summit as a tool for networking, and created many new worldwide NGO partnerships.

Financing for Development

Held in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, the Financing for Development conference marked the first time that NGOs were involved in a major UN conference. However, the NGOs who were invited expressed dismay that they were "heard, but not listened to." Meanwhile, thousands of grassroots NGO representatives protested outside the conference.

World Summit on the Information Society

The WSIS in Geneva in 2003 followed the same disappointing pattern of sparse NGO participation that most major global conferences have. However, at the WSIS in 2005, some NGOs became more hopeful about the use of a "multi-stakeholder process," which included NGOs in the preparatory events. Other NGOs are wary of this process, which they see as self-defeating in its dilution of NGO influence.

Other Parallel and Participatory Summits

This page tracks smaller and less prominent summits, including the Summit of the Americas and summits related to UN General Assembly Special Sessions.

Self-Organized NGO Conferences


World Social Forum

The World Social Forum has been held annually since 2001. The Forum began as a civil society response to the business-dominated World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Thousands of NGO representatives meet at the World Social Forum, to discuss global social and economic justice.

European Social Forum

Modeled after the World Social Forum, the European Social Forum is one of the most widely-recognized regional conferences.

Other Self-Organized NGO Conferences

This page follows other NGO conferences, including the Boston Social Forum, the Americas Social Forum, and the Asia Civil Society Forum.

General Articles


Global Civil Society Events: Parallel Summits, Social Fora, Global Days of Action (2004-2005)

The text, tables, and graphs in this report detail the specific growth of NGO conferences since the 1990s. While data on parallel summits has existed for many years, data on NGO-organized Social Fora and Days of Action is comparatively new. (London School of Economics)

Parallel Summits of Global Civil Society: An Update (October 7, 2002)

This article from Global Civil Society 2002 tracks the evolution of parallel summits and independent gatherings of global social movements. This research includes many charts and graphs describing information such as the location, strength, growth and types of parallel summits. (London School of Economics)

NGOs and Global Conferences (May 18, 2001)

Beginning with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, this report provides detailed information on formal rules for NGO involvement in UN conferences, focusing on the issues of NGO accreditation, modalities of participation, and relations with Member States. (Office of the President of the General Assembly of the UN)

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