Civil Society Organizations

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have been actively participating in GEF operations since the institution’s inception. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in particular have been involved in a broad range of GEF activities, from general policy discussions, to project design, implementation and monitoring. Civil society organizations are key partners to the GEF, as they support the achievement of the GEF’s objectives through their actions on the ground and ability to leverage partnerships and resources.

A CSO is defined as a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that represents different major groups as defined by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 (Agenda 21, Chapter 23). This term includes various and diverse types of organizations, including NGOs, farmers, women, the scientific and technological community, youth and children, indigenous peoples and their communities, business and industry, workers and trade unions and local authorities.

Effective involvement of civil society at all levels of endeavor, from local to national to global, is a key in achieving the GEF’s mission and objectives of the programs and projects. CSOs have a pivotal role to play in advocating within their respective national and regional governments on behalf of determined action to protect and enhance the environment. And the grass-roots experience they have gained in actually implementing these programs has proven extremely beneficial in guiding negotiations over future programs.

The GEF has approved several policies that enhance participation of civil society in the GEF’s operations.

A more formal role for CSOs was established with the creation of the GEF NGO Network in 1995 (now renamed as the GEF CSO Network). Since then, the Network has been the main mechanism for involvement with CSOs. In 2005 an independent review of the Network was undertaken and some recommendations were made. The GEF Secretariat implemented some of those recommendations and there has been an improvement in the functioning of the network.

The portfolio of projects where CSOs have been the executing partners are testament to a significant investment of the GEF in civil society led effort.  According to the Fifth Overall Performance Study (OPS5) conducted by the GEF’s Independent Evaluation Office, the combined full and medium-sized projects and the Small Grants Programme (SGP) portfolios totaled a GEF grant volume of $1.1 billion. The co-financing raised by the CSO-executors ($3 billion) is one of the proofs of CSO added value to the GEF enterprise in pursuit of global environmental benefits.

The GEF CSO Network

The GEF CSO Network is an independent global alliance of Civil Society Organizations working to address global environmental challenges in areas linked to the six GEF focal areas. This Network acts as a bridge between civil society and GEF, and its goal is to strengthen civil society partnership with the GEF by enhancing public participation, contributing to policy implementation and stimulating action on the ground. For more info please visit

Enhancing Civil Society participation in the GEF

Reforms implemented under GEF-5 sought to increase country ownership, an effort that gives civil society organizations an important role to play. CSOs help set priorities for GEF resources in the recipient countries through their participation in the National Portfolio Formulation Exercises. They exchange valuable information at the Expanded Constituency Workshops (ECWs), where one representative of CSOs per country is sponsored by the GEF to participate.

Through the Pilot Project on Broadening the GEF Partnership approved by Council, three NGOs (IUCN, WWF-US, CI) are have been accredited as GEF Project Agencies to fulfill most of the roles of the current GEF Implememting Agencies.

At a policy level, the Secretariat engages actively with civil society organizations, particularly in connection with Council Consultations.  This semiannual consultative meetings and discussions are organized and held between civil society representatives, the GEF CEO, Council members and the GEF Agencies.

The GEF Small Grants Program (GEF SGP), launched in 1992, the year of the Rio Earth Summit and implemented by UNDP has significantly supported CSOs and local and regional communities by providing financing for innovative projects.  GEF SGP has made a long term commitment to local and community sustainable development that produces global environmental benefits, taking “local action, global impact” as its core mission.

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