Building a New Role for U.S. NGOs as Active Global Citizens

In a meeting with a group of international nonprofit CEOs, one organization recently stated that all of its programs frequently impact 100 million people per year worldwide. This is indicative of the significant influence one large U.S. NGO has amongst thousands. So what is the role of U.S. NGOs in addressing critical global challenges over the coming decades? This summer at our annual Forum, I addressed the broader community with a set of overarching recommendations. I have since published a more detailed white paper to expand the conversation.

In the past 15 years, U.S. NGOs have made significant contributions to advancing the lives of millions of people by delivering emergency aid in conflict zones, stemming hunger, and strengthening civic participation. For U.S. NGOs to remain a transformative force and contribute to achieving the 2030 sustainable development agenda, we must evolve and realign our work within six strategic areas:

First, look beyond our thematic sectors – humanitarian, development, democracy and governance, climate change, etc. – and view our role within the broader development ecosystem. Many areas of work are, in reality, intertwined.

Second, take collective action to amplify the NGO voice and shape how individual nations and global institutions fight poverty worldwide.

Third, adopt a common narrative among NGOs that encourages more Americans to join our movement.

Fourth, protect civil society’s space to effectively operate at the local, national, and global levels without fear of reprisal.

Fifth, create a global NGO infrastructure that links international decision-making to local civil society organizations. This will strengthen the ability for civil society at all levels to hold nation states and the private sector into account.

Sixth, support more inclusive markets and help shape private businesses so that they are contributing to developing more equitable societies.

Our work as NGOs is not over. What role can we play in creating stability and jobs in failed or fragile states? How can we further strengthen the rights of marginalized people? Read my take on how we must strengthen civil society’s collective work across borders to help advance the lives of people who are marginalized everywhere.

Samuel A. Worthington is president and CEO of InterAction, the nation's largest alliance of U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations working internationally. InterAction leads, supports, and mobilizes its members to take collective action, improve the impact of their programs, increase their global reach, and advocate for efforts that advance human well-being around the world.

Follow Samuel A. Worthington on Twitter: @SamInterAction