One of my friends called recently and in the course of our conversation I told him that I was on internship with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the United Nations in New York. He was very surprised and wanted to know what the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur do at the United Nations. “I thought you are nuns. What business do you have at the UN?” he asked. I explained to him that though we are a Religious Order, we also are a non-governmental organization (NGO) by virtue of our service to humanity. It is through the capacity of our NGO status that the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are present at the UN. I further explained to my friend that as an NGO, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur possess consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of the organs of the United Nations system. My friend sounded even more surprised and wanted to know more about consultative status of NGOs at the UN. “What contributions do NGOs with consultative status make at the UN?” he asked further. I believe that, like my friend, some people may appreciate gaining a little insight concerning the roles non-governmental and civil society organizations play at the United Nations.
The United Nations has maintained partnerships with non-governmental organizations and civil society since its inception in 1945. Though non-governmental organizations relate with the UN system in several ways, my particular focus here is on the NGOs’ relation with ECOSOC. ECOSOC, one of the five organs of the UN, is charged with the responsibility for all the economic and social and development issues that the UN systems encounter. NGOs with ECOSOC consultative status are those engaged in activities related to economic and social development.
The modality for this relationship is clearly provided for in the UN Charter, Chapter X, Article 71. It reads:
“The Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organizations which are concerned with matters within its competence. Such arrangements may be made with international organizations and, where appropriate, with national organizations after consultation with the Member of the United Nations concerned.”
The above Article of the UN Charter makes collaboration between the UN and NGOs possible. The number of NGOs with consultative status with ECOSOC has significantly increased from 45 at the foundation of the UN to approximately 3,400 currently. These NGOs affiliate with the UN Secretariat, programs, funds and agencies, as well as consulting with member states of ECOSOC. This relationship is mutually beneficial to both parties.
I am very aware that this article is only a scratch on the surface of the work of NGOs and civil society at the UN. You can read and learn more about UN-NGO relationship from some of the sources I listed below. In the meantime, I will continue this discussion with my friend when we meet. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience life at the UN as an NGO intern. The experience has given me a deeper appreciation of the presence of my Religious Order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at the United Nations. It has also given me great appreciation for the UN system. Though the UN may not be perfect, I still believe it is one of the greatest global achievements of the 20th century!
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