The United Nations Civil Society Conference* is the premier event in the civil society calendar at the United Nations. It typically attracts more than 3,000 participants representing over 700 civil society organizations from over 100 countries. Each Conference focuses on a different UN topic of interest related to the work of civil society and NGOs. This international forum also brings together senior UN System officials, prominent international civil society organizations, academicians, public opinion makers and international media to discuss issues of global concern.
Purpose and Participation
The Conference offers civil society organizations an opportunity to put a global perspective on a specific issue. In recent years the focus has been on climate change, human rights, disarmament, global health, sustainability and volunteerism. This important gathering is also a unique occasion for civil society organizations to network and share best practices at the international level.
Participation at the United Nations Civil Society Conference is open to representatives of civil society organizations associated with the Department of Global Communications and/or in consultative status with ECOSOC. Civil Society organizations not included in these groups are welcome to register for the Conference as well; however, they require an endorsement from a United Nations entity that is familiar with their work and can provide feedback on their eligibility.
The UN Civil Society Conference explores ways and means for strengthening collaboration between local communities and global institutions. The three-day gathering of civil society organizations is organized by the Department of Global Communications (formerly DPI) in cooperation with the NGO/DPI Executive Committee and the participation of its associated civil society organizations and NGOs that have consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. If held outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, then the Department of Global Communications will liaise with relevant authorities of the Host Country, at the local and national levels.
The Conference aims to build on what has already been accomplished by greater civil society participation in many of the debates taking place at the United Nations, including Informal Interactive Hearings by the General Assembly President with civil society and private sector representatives. Speakers at the Conference are being asked to illustrate their work on the ground by real-life examples of effective partnerships to achieve the United Nations agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To ensure the widest possible exchange of views and experiences, all civil society delegations are invited to appoint youth representatives under the age of 32.
As the largest gathering for civil society members taking place at the United Nations, the Conference has become an established forum for networking and exchange of views, opinions, expertise and best- practices on relevant issues. Beyond these, it has moved in recent times towards strategic partnership-building by inviting representatives of Member States to engage in dialogues with Conference participants. The Conference aims to provide a policy-building forum for civil society collaboration with the United Nations.
In addition to the plenary sessions and roundtables, the Conference includes an important number of Workshops featuring the participation of civil society, United Nations, academia, government and private-sector representatives.
*Formerly UN DPI/NGO Conference
Opening Plenary. High-level UN and government officials and influential CSO representatives set the stage for the conference. Typically includes a keynote speaker.
Closing Plenary. The conference Chair leads a reading of the final outcome document which is approved by acclamation.
Thematic Sessions [formerly Roundtable Discussions]. A series of fora where civil society representatives can exchange ideas and experiences with diverse experts from governments, private sector, UN academia, etc.
CSO-led Partnership Workshops. CSOs submit proposals to present their communications and advocacy work in partnership with others. Workshops focus on sharing best practices and building coalitions.
Exhibits. A space to showcase the work of civil society and network with others that share similar interests. Exhibits depend on the space and resources available and can range from a full “conference booth” to a simple shared conversation table, to thematic visual exhibits.
Youth Hub and Youth-led activities. Youth play an integral role in planning the conference and generally hold a co-chair seat on every conference planning sub-committee. Youth may elect to develop their own outcome document or declaration. Additionally, they organize youth-specific caucusing, learning and networking events in a dedicated Youth Hub.
Networking opportunities. Networking spaces and platforms may be used depending on resources and space availability.
Side Events. Additional side events outside of the official conference may be organized by CSOs or other groups independently. The Planning Committee Co-chairs and Conference Chair decide together if unofficial side events should be promoted under the banner of the conference.
In 2008 the conference reached a new level when it celebrated its first edition outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 61st UN DPI/NGO Conference took place in Paris, France under the theme “Reaffirming Human Rights for All”. The following year, the Conference was hosted by the City of Mexico, Mexico where the theme was “For Peace and Disarmament: Disarm Now!” In 2010 the Conference moved to Melbourne, Australia, where the discussion tackled the issue of global health, under the title: “Advance Global Health. Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.” The city of Bonn in Germany hosted the 64th UN DPI/NGO Conference under the banner: “Sustainable Societies. Responsive Citizens,” where the proceedings discussed sustainability and volunteerism.