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close this bookThe Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)
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View the documentAcknowledgments
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Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction
Open this folder and view contentsCulture and development
View the documentKeynote address
Open this folder and view contentsDevelopment and the self
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View the documentEpilogue
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Keynote address

The Place of the Individual and the
Nongovernmental Organization in Sustainable Development
Nafis F. Sadik, United Nations Population Fund

The emerging role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the national and international debate on development is one of the most dramatic stories of recent times. Increasingly, governments and international organizations are realizing that NGOs occupy a unique position and have a singular claim to participation in development at all levels. This was evident at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (September 4-15, 1995), where NGOs organized as never before to ensure a strong platform for action.

NGOs, particularly women's groups, played a decisive part in formulating the program of action at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (September 6-13, 1994). For many years NGOs have pointed out the injustice of assigning status to women solely for their reproductive role and then denying them support in pregnancy and childbirth. Hundreds of millions of women still have no control over the timing of their pregnancies, no care during pregnancy, and no skilled help during childbirth. Half a million women die each year as a result of pregnancy and, for each one who dies, 200 to 300 suffer sickness or injury. All or most of this is preventable, even in the poorest countries, by means that are both well-known and afford able. If the means are not available, it is because the needs of women are given no priority in the allocation of development resources.

More than any other entity, it has been the NGOs who have brought this issue to the attention of governments and the international community. As a result at the conference in Cairo the participants reached the understanding that reproductive rights are human rights and that women must have choices in life. Another result of NGO pressure at the conference was the acknowledgment, for the first time in any international forum, that female genital mutilation is a form of violence against women and must be stopped.

Because of the work of NGOs our entire approach to development is changing starting with a more sophisticated analysis of the content of development. New indicators of the quality of life are refining purely such economic concepts as gross national product. There is much greater appreciation of the value of individual women and men, of their contributions to development, and of what they need to make their contributions most effective: education, health care, and meaningful employment, as well as protection for their human rights, equality, and empowerment. In particular the new approach appreciates the multiple roles of women and what they will need to become full partners in development.

NGOs work daily with people, families, and communities. They have insisted on an individual focus. Through their advocacy they have forged links between the individual and the wider society. But NGOs are also well aware that this human centered development approach can be carried out only with the full involvement of all members of civil society and a dynamic partnership between governments, NGOs, and the private sector.

Because of the work of NGOs our entire approach to development is changing. The new approach appreciates the multiple roles of women and what they will need to become full partners in development - Nafis F. Sadik

There is a consensus that NGOs need to be involved in development at all levels, but their actual place and function in civil society have not yet been precisely defined. NGOs are not substitutes for elected representatives, but they can often claim to represent the interests of the people in their communities and countries. They are often more closely in touch with grassroots opinion than governments are at any level. NGOs cannot be substitutes for the private sector in commercial activities, but they can often meet unfulfilled needs for services. They represent a critical interface between individuals and communities and governments and decisionmakers.

Development policy therefore should encourage the participation of national and community-based NGOs in formulating, carrying out, and monitoring programs. It should encourage NGOs to form national networks to strengthen their participation. International NGOs have only a limited role to play at the national level. They need national counterparts that are strong and involved.

International NGOs play an important role in regional and interregional programs and, as we have seen recently, in assisting decisionmaking at the international level. Means must be found to institutionalize this role so that NGOs will have a recognized place in the governance of international organizations.

As their implementation role becomes more tangible, NGOs should acquire the skills and resources that will enable them to move from advocacy to action. They should also learn to accept the new responsibilities that come with success, including the need to respond positively to significant changes. Many governments are now more open than ever to NGO participation, but this progress could be set back if NGOs do not act constructively.

To maximize their influence, like-minded NGOs should develop common priorities and strategies. Because greater involvement requires more resources, NGOs must find ways of raising more funds from all available sources-starting at the community level-without sacrificing their autonomy. Because financial resources, particularly in developing countries, tend to be controlled by powerful interest groups or foreign donors, it will not always be easy for NGOs to maintain their independence.

At their best NGOs represent the collective needs and desires of the individual members of communities and nations. They can be instrumental in empowering people and in mobilizing their individual energies into a productive, positive force for sustainable development. I hope that governments and international organizations will recognize the value of NGOs and respond by incorporating them fully into decisionmaking. ·