Global Policy Forum

Defining NGOs


GPF Perspectives

NGOs, Civil Society and Global Policy Making (June 1996)

By James Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum.


2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2002 | 2001 | 1996 | Archived Articles


Second Thoughts about NGOs as Representing Civil Society

Many think that NGO participation in the international system is vital, as it promotes accountability of the global governance process. However, some consider NGOs as "unelected," representing "unaccountable special-interests," and disrupting global governance. This article discusses the role of NGOs and their representation in international institutions. It also explores the question - do NGOs represent and strengthen civil society? (Journal of Asian and African Studies)


Global Civil Society 2007/2008

The London School of Economics and Political Sciences has launched the fourth volume of its civil society yearbook. It describes the nature and history of global civil society and includes issue-oriented case studies, important records and data, as well as articles on current issues. See also: Global Civil Society 2006/2007, Global Civil Society 2005/2006, Global Civil Society 2004/2005, Global Civil Society 2003, Global Civil Society 2002 and Global Civil Society 2001.


Somewhere in Between: Conceptualizing Civil Society (December 2007)

This paper describes how scholars from Aristotle to Marx have struggled to define civil society, and concludes that it is a vague concept. The author broadly describes civil society as a social form that harbors diverse interests distinct from, but shaped by, "state" and "market" influence. While some NGOs and citizen groups oppose government and business involvement in their activities, others cooperate closely with such actors. Regardless of their attitude to state and business, the article concludes that civil society creates an area for free public debate. (International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law)

Civil Society in an Uncivil World (October 18, 2007)

This Pambazuka article addresses the problems associated with the term "civil society." The author argues that the popular term sounds progressive, but might hide more than it reveals. Some proponents use the term to include regular citizens, NGOs and even large businesses. Depending on the situation, they can alter the meaning of the concept to fit different situations. The author suggests that this might disguise inequalities and marginalization between the different groups within the so-called civil society.


Civil Society and Political Power: Power Is Finding New Paths (June 20, 2006)

According to this article, the NGO movement has stepped up efforts to dispel the perception many have of NGOs as "dubious do-gooders" with no significant influence. The director general of Inter Press Service argues that NGOs have more courage than politicians to strengthen democracy. While a few governments have embraced NGO initiatives to increase citizen participation in policymaking, others still try to undermine NGOs. (IPS Terraviva)


All This "Civil Society" Talk Takes us Nowhere (January 5, 2002)

Political and economic interests around the world have adopted the vague term "civil society" for their own ends. NGOs must formulate a more precise definition, to ensure that "the institutions and processes we oppose" do not manipulate campaigns and strategies. (GATT Watch)


What is a Non-Governmental Organization? (January 4, 2002)

Professor Peter Willetts of the City University, London asserts in an article for the UNESCO Encyclopedia that the term NGO "carries different connotations in different circumstances." The problems of definition do not overshadow the fact that "collectively, NGOs generate the dynamics of political change."


Background Paper on GONGOs and QUANGOs and Wild NGOs (December 2001)

This World Federalist Movement paper provides a broad background on NGOs, focusing on their relationship with the UN, issues of funding, and problems faced by NGOs.


NGOs and Global Policy-Making (June 2000)

An analysis that provides historical background and emphasizes NGOs' growing contemporary importance, diversity, impact on policy, etc.


Interacting Fruitfully with Un-Civil Society: The Dilemma for Non-Civil Society Organizations (October 1996)

This article reveals different political "games" played when defining NGOs, Civil Society and the like. (Union of International Associations)

The Paradox of Civil Society (1996)

Because the term "civil society" has been applied in many differing circumstances, it raises questions of definition. Beyond this definitional concern, there is the key issue of the relationship between civil society and democratic governance.( Journal of Democracy)

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