Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as we know them today are generally thought to have come into existence around the mid-nineteenth century. It was only about a century later that the importance of NGOs was officially recognized by the United Nations. At the UN Congress in San Francisco in 1968, a provision was made in Article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations framework that qualified NGOs in the field of economic and social development to receive consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.
The development of modern Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) has largely mirrored that of general world history, particularly after the Industrial Revolution. NGOs have existed in some form or another as far back as 25,000 years ago. Since 1850, more than 100,000 private, not-for-profit organizations with an international focus have been founded. The growth of NGOs really took off after the Second World War, with about 90 international NGOs founded each year, compared with about 10 each year in the 1890s. Only about 30 percent of early international NGOs have survived, although those organizations founded after the wars have had a better survival rate. Many more NGOs with a local, national or regional focus have been created, though like their international counterparts, not all have survived or have been successful.
International non-governmental organizations have a history dating back to at least 1839. It has been estimated that by 1914 there were 1083 NGOs. International NGOs were important in the anti-slavery movement and the movement for women’s suffrage, and reached a peak at the time of the World Disarmament Conference. However, the phrase “non-governmental organization” only came into popular use with the establishment of the United Nations Organization in 1945 with provisions in Article 71 of Chapter 10 of the United Nations Charter for a consultative role for organizations which are neither governments nor member states-see Consultative Status. The definition of “international NGO” (INGO) is first given in resolution 288 (X) of ECOSOC on February 27, 1950: it is defined as “any international organization that is not founded by an international treaty”. The vital role of NGOs and other “major groups” in sustainable development was recognized in Chapter 27 of Agenda 21, leading to intense arrangements for a consultative relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
Rapid development of the non-governmental sector occurred in western countries as a result of the processes of restructuring of the welfare state. Further globalization of that process occurred after the fall of the communist system and was an important part of the Washington consensus.
Globalization during the 20th century gave rise to the importance of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Many problems could not be solved within a nation. International treaties and international organizations such as the World Trade Organization were perceived as being too centered on the interests of capitalist enterprises. Some argued that in an attempt to counterbalance this trend, NGOs have developed to emphasize humanitarian issues, developmental aid and sustainable development. A prominent example of this is the World Social Forum, which is a rival convention to the World Economic Forum held annually in January in Davos, Switzerland. The fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2005 was attended by representatives from more than 1,000 NGOs. Some have argued that in forums like these, NGOs take the place of what should belong to popular movements of the poor. Others argue that NGOs are often imperialist in nature, that they sometimes operate in a racialized manner in third world countries, and that they fulfill a similar function to that of the clergy during the high colonial era. Whatever the case, NGO transnational networking is now extensive.