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The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) is a jointly-financed, interagency programme of the UN system. Its mission, endorsed in 1997 by NGLS’s governing body, the Joint United Nations Information Committee (JUNIC), is “to promote dynamic partnerships between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. By providing information, advice, expertise and support services, NGLS is part of the UN’s efforts to strengthen dialogue and win public support for economic and social development.”

The work of NGLS is supported by some 20 UN agencies, programmes, funds and departments and a number of bilateral donors. NGLS’s UN sponsors in 1999 included UN/DESA, UN/DPI, FAO, IFAD, ILO, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNCHS (Habitat), UNCTAD, UNDCP, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, World Bank and WFP. In recent years, NGLS has also received financial support for specific activities from the governments of Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and from the United Nations Foundation.

NGLS has offices in Geneva and New York. Its core staff of ten includes a coordinator, four programme officers and five support staff, supplemented on occasion by associate experts, consultants and interns. The NGLS programme expenditure for 1998 was around US$900,000. In 1993 the work of NGLS was recognized and endorsed by the UN General Assembly, which approved financial support for NGLS from the UN regular budget. In 1998 NGLS undertook an independent strategic review, involving a large number of both its UN and NGO partners, which reaffirmed NGLS’s unique role and contribution to facilitating cooperation and dialogue between the UN system and NGOs.

NGLS reports to its UN sponsors at its annual Programme and Coordination Meeting and to JUNIC, which subsequently reports on NGLS’s work to the United Nations Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is NGLS’s administering agency, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the lead agency of NGLS.

NGLS was established in Geneva and New York in 1975 by a group of staff in UNDP and the UN Department of Public Information and others, who saw the need to open channels of communication with NGOs, initially in the OECD region, engaged in development education, raising public awareness, campaigning and advocacy work on international development issues. Much of NGLS’s early work focused on supporting NGO activities around UN conferences and fora on development, particularly the UNCTAD conferences of the 1970s and 1980s, and on human rights, gender issues and disarmament. NGLS facilitated and supported NGO participation in the first (1981) and second (1990) UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries and the General Assembly Special Session on Africa, and the resulting Programme of Action (1986-1991). NGLS made a significant contribution to the landmark Arusha UN-NGO Conference on Popular Participation in Africa (1990).

Over its first 15 years NGLS also began developing its information outreach to a growing number of NGOs, largely in OECD countries, interested in the work of the UN system. NGLS also worked to raise awareness of NGOs within the UN system and organized many consultations between UN agencies and NGOs, both in New York and Geneva, and in a number of European countries and North America. In 1990 its sponsors decided to consolidate the autonomous Geneva and New York offices into a single programme, administrative and budgetary operation.

In 1991 during preparations for the Earth Summit (1992), NGLS was requested by the conference secretariat, NGOs and some Member States to manage the process of funding participation of developing country NGOs in the preparatory process and conference. Following the Earth Summit, NGLS played a variety of support roles with regard to NGO participation in the World Conference on Human Rights (1993), International Conference on Population and Development (1994), World Summit for Social Development (1995), Fourth World Conference on Women (1995), Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (1996) and the World Food Summit (1996). This involved support to conference secretariats, information outreach to NGOs, facilitating the participation of NGOs and funding the participation of NGO representatives from developing countries.

Since the UN world conferences of the early 1990s NGLS has maintained an active role in support of NGO work around conference follow-up at the international level, and is currently supporting the NGO dimension of the five-year UN reviews of implementation of conference agreements. NGLS has continued to develop its information outreach capacity in response to growing demand, particularly from NGOs in developing countries, and to support the UN system’s efforts to work constructively with NGOs through the provision of practical and policy advice and guidance based on its knowledge of the NGO community and its extensive UN system-wide experience of UN-NGO relations.



NGLS programme activities deal with the full UN sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian agendas and operate across the entire UN system of agencies, programmes, funds and departments concerned with these issues. NGLS works with national and regional NGOs from developing and industrialized countries, and with international NGO networks and international NGOs, including those grouped under the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO).

Through its information, liaison and networking activities, NGLS:

--         brings UN development-related activities and issues to the attention of NGOs, supports the work of NGOs and NGO networks active on issues and themes under discussion in the UN system, and facilitates NGO activities around UN intergovernmental conferences, events and processes; and

--         supports the UN system, its agencies, programmes and funds in the development of their relations, activities and cooperation with NGOs on global issues through providing strategic information, advice, guidance and opportunities for communication and consultation between UN and NGO representatives.

NGLS executes a broad information outreach, publications and communications programme. The information produced by NGLS both in published form and electronically combines public information on UN and NGO events and issues, practical “how to” guides to the UN system for NGOs, and substantive analysis of issues on the international agenda. Some NGLS publications are published jointly with UN organizations and with NGOs. NGLS publications include the following.

--         Go Between: newsletter published six times a year covering UN and NGO news;

--         NGLS Roundup: in-depth information bulletins on UN events and issues (recent topics include Update on Renewing the UN--Programme for Reform, Build-Up to the Third WTO Ministerial Conference, Promoting People-Centred Economic Growth, the UN and Indigenous People, and Momentum Grows to Address the Problem of Small Arms);

--         E&D File: in-depth briefing papers published several times a year on environment and development activities and issues at the UN, environmental treaties and conventions and follow-up to the Earth Summit (recent topics include Commission on Sustainable Development, Seventh Session; and the GA Special Session to Review the SIDS [Small Island Developing States] Programme of Action);

--         The NGLS Handbook of the UN System: includes profiles of work of the UN Secretariat and around 30 UN agencies, programmes, funds and conventions (now in its third edition);

--         Economic and Social Development in the United Nations System--A Guide for NGOs: lists contact points for NGOs across the entire UN system (now in its ninth edition);

--         Putting Gender on the Agenda--A Guide to Participating in UN World Conferences: co-produced with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), this guide provides specific and practical information on how UN world conferences operate and how NGOs can enhance their participation in them (revised and updated in 2000);

--         @t Ease with E-mail--A Handbook on Using Electronic Mail for NGOs in Developing Countries (now in its second edition);

--         Voices from Africa: written by African NGOs and development activists, the most recent edition (1998) in the series covers the theme of Conflict, Peacekeeping and Reconstruction; and

--         Development Dossiers: booklets that consider substantive issues on the UN-NGO agenda, the latest (1999) being The Development of Capacity by Alan Kaplan of the Community Development Resource Association in South Africa.

NGLS’s publications are distributed to some 6,000 NGOs worldwide, around 50% based in developing countries, and to over 1,000 development professionals in the UN system, governments and bilateral agencies. NGLS also disseminates briefings and updates on a range of activities on the UN agenda to NGO electronic mail networks and listservs. In 1999 these included the UN report Towards a New International Financial Architecture; information on the preparatory process for the UN high-level meeting on Financing for Development; information on work of the preparatory committee for the five-year review of the World Summit for Social Development; and the April 1999 meeting between ECOSOC and the Bretton Woods Institutions. Many NGLS publications are available on its website (http://ngls.tad.ch).

In addition to its information outreach and publications work, NGLS organizes and/or supports different types of meetings and consultations involving the UN system and NGOs, such as the 1999 UNCTAD/NGO Consultation and the informal inter-agency discussion held with NGOs in 1999 on human rights-based approaches to international development cooperation. From time to time NGLS also organizes informal consultations between UN agencies on policy-related issues concerning cooperation with NGOs; examples include the inter-agency meeting held in November 1997 in collaboration with the UN’s Consultative Committee on Programme and Operational Questions (CCPOQ) on “Operational Collaboration with NGOs,” and the inter-agency consultation held in April 1999 on “NGO/Civil Society Participation in National Development Frameworks.” NGLS also jointly sponsors and organizes the annual Geneva North-South Media Festival, an international competition of television documentaries on development issues.

NGLS plays a multifaceted role around the major conferences and other meetings organized by the UN and works to support the NGO dimension of follow-up to UN conferences. This involves information outreach; providing official documentation, briefing and orientation materials; and organizing meeting sessions for participating NGOs. NGLS also engages in training and capacity-building support for developing country NGO representatives attending UN meetings. In addition, NGLS uses the opportunity provided by these major events to facilitate briefings and dialogue sessions between NGOs and government and UN representatives. In these activities, NGLS seeks to establish a framework for more meaningful interaction and dialogue between NGOs and the UN system by providing an environment that enables NGOs from both the developing and industrial countries to work more effectively with the UN system, and with each other. Since its work in support of the Earth Summit in 1992, NGLS continues to manage modest amounts of funding to assist developing country NGOs to participate in some of the major UN fora and meetings.



NGLS’s mandate and mission is to foster and promote greater cooperation between the UN system and the NGO community on global issues on the international agenda. Over its 25 years of existence, NGLS has built close collaborative relations with organizations from diverse sectors of the NGO community worldwide, with organizations and bodies of the UN system working for economic and social development, women’s equality, human rights and humanitarian objectives, and with many governments. Within the UN system, NGLS is distinguished by its interagency, system-wide character, its focus on national and regional NGOs and NGO networks, and its support for NGO work in development information, education, campaigning and policy advocacy.

NGLS does not enter into formal relationships or agreements with NGOs. While it cooperates closely with many international NGOs in consultative status with the UN, NGLS has no responsibilities or procedures for official registration or recognition of NGOs with the UN system. NGLS does not fund projects, provide scholarships, make available official UN sales publications or distribute publicity materials. Rather NGLS provides information, advice, guidance and various forms of support to NGOs that wish to be more involved in the work of the UN system. It contributes to strengthening the capacity of the UN system to work creatively with NGOs, and creates opportunities for dialogue, meaningful interaction and increased mutual understanding and cooperation between the UN system and NGOs.



Tony Hill, Coordinator, NGLS, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, telephone +41-22/917 2076, fax +41-22/917 0049, e-mail <ngls@unctad.org>, website (www.unsystem.org/ngls).


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