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International NGO Groupings


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International Associations 21, 2, February, pp. 89-97.


The number of international NGOs continues to increase. The new edition of the Yearbook of International Organizations lists 2,417 which represents an increase of nearly 10 % on the previous edition two years ago.

The increasing number of NGOs, and the highly specialised areas with which some of them are concerned leads to a problem of coordination when a number want to work together on some programme in a common field of interest. This problem has resulted in the creation of a number of groupings of international NGOs. These are NGOs which have international NGOs as members.

In future issues of this magazine we shall attempt to highlight the current activities of these coordinating groups. First, however, we thought it would be interesting to find out exactly how many such groups were currently operating. It seems that the last time that we made a systematic effort to do this was in 1957, although we have dealt frequently with the activities of individual groupings during each year.

There are a number of different types of NGO groupings. In 1957, G.P. Speeckaert (Les effort syst?matiques de coop?ration entre organisations internationales non-gouvernementales. Associations Internationales 1957, n? 1, pp. 29-36.) found the following: non-specialist groups of NGOs (1); major scientific councils (8); trade union and professional groupings (5); specialist liaison groups, consisting of only international member NGOs (10); principally international but also national member NGOs (7); principally national but also international member NGOs (21); consultative conferences and committees (7); and regional federations of international associations (2). This makes a total of 61 international groupings of various types.

The list of currently operating NGO groupings which is reproduced below, was developed from the 11th edition of the Yearbook of International Organizations. Three major categories of organization were defined. These are :

Some groupings have a complex structure which qualifies them under two or three of the types. In such cases they have been allocated to a type, according to the relative importance of the international, national or dependent member organizations. The reasoning behind such allocations, and some indication of the "coordinative importance" of the grouping may be checked from the three columns of membership figures given after each name in the list.

These indicate :

The case of the International Council of Scientific Unions is even more complex, because the Council itself has dependent organizations which could be considered as Type A organizations is their own right. It also has international members such as the International Union of Biological Sciences which themselves have both independent and dependent members.

Type A

Type B

Type C

National NGO Groupings

Just as the number of international NGOs contnues to increase, so does the number of national NGOs. It is almost impossible to give even an approximate indication of how many national organizations there are in the world. In only a few countries is any attempt made to list them systematically, but comparison from country to country is not very instructive. The definition of a national organization is very broad. In some cases a local association may be recognised nationally, simply because no other equivalent body exists in that particular field at the national level. In the United States a general directory currently lists 13,000, but in the United Kingdom existing directories seem to cite figures between 30,000 and 60,000. Figures, including non-national level organizations, give 66,000 as the number in the Seine (Paris) area of France alone. International organizations, and particularly the United Nations, have to work through this multitude of bodies. It would therefore be useful to get some impression of the number of coordinating national organizations within each country - just as it is necessary to concentrate on the coordinating international organizations to understand the structure of world society at that level. This project would involve a great deal of work if done systematically on a world wide basis - which we are not at the moment in a position to do. We propose, therefore, to try to show for selected countries the number and nature of the national coordinating organizations. This will be done in successive issues of the magazine as the information is obtained.

NGO Groupings in the United Kingdom

Information on NGO groupings in the U.K. has fortunately been collected together by Mr. and Mrs. Ian Gordon-Brown. Since 1961, Mr. Gordon-Brown has been acting as the coordinator for a committee which is setting up an International NGO Centre in London with lowrent office and meeting facilities. He is Executive Director of World Goodwill. The study was originally undertaken during the course of International Cooperation Year (1965) but has unfortunately never been completed. The information obtained has been supplemented with details from a number of other sources and a list of the groupings is reproduced below. The list is not complete and we would welcome information on any additions. Approximately 790 organizations established in the U.K. were found to be members of one or more of the main groupings. Of the 790, 66 were members of 2 groupings, 41 of 3, 12 of 4, 8 of 5, 1 of 6, 1 of 7, 1 of 8 and 2 of 9.

In order to find out whether there was a great deal of overlap in the membership, as has been claimed within the U.K. as an argument against these coordinating bodies, the membership of 14 groupings was analysed to determine what proportion of members belonged to other groupings (of the 14) as well.

The percentage figure given with the membership data of some groupings in the list below indicates the proportion of the membership which is involved with at least two other groupings.

This short study shows that an average of 40 % of the membership of 14 groupings is represented in two other groupings, indicating a certain amount of overlap. This overlap only affects 8 % of the organizations who are members of coordinating bodies, however, 71 % of the organizations attached to coordinating groups are not members of more than one group. This seems to indicate a case of "underlap" rather than overlap, particularly when an unknown number between 30,000 and 60,000 are not even members of one coordinating group.

Membeship/ Observers / % in 2 other groups

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