The questions about globalization today owe their salience, shape, and content to non-governmental organizations, often described as “civil society” groups. What are they? Why have their numbers increased to a level that none had anticipated a quarter century ago? How may their energies and passions be harnessed to produce a yet better globalization?
Lester Salamon of Johns Hopkins University has called the spread of NGOs in recent years the global “association revolution”:
The upshot [of this “striking upsurge” in “organized voluntary activity and the creation of private, nonprofit, non-governmental organizations”] is a global third sector: a massive array of self-governing private organizations, not dedicated to distributing profits to shareholders or directors, pursuing public purposes outside the formal apparatus of the state. 1
Writing in 1994, Salamon estimated the NGOs at levels as high as 275,000 in the United Kingdom alone and roughly 20,000 in the poor countries. Besides, the numbers were growing rapidly: in France, 54,000 “private associations” had been formed just in 1987, whereas 11,000 had been formed during the 1960s.
As it happens, this growth has been sustained and perhaps has even accelerated. Writing in the aftermath of the Seattle riots that disrupted the WTO's ministerial meeting in November and December 1999, The Economist reported an estimate of the NGOs in India at a million and of NGOs worldwide at two million: a proportion that could not have been guessed