CoNGO president Levi Bautista, in his opening remarks, commemorated the 75th anniversary of CoNGO, taking stock of accomplishments and envisioning future work.
“The United Nations was only three years old when CoNGO was born,” he said, and one could even say the two organizations grew up together in the same neighborhood. “Neighborhoods bring us back to a more general understanding of our global challenges.”
The Sustainable Development Goals are genuinely about people and the planet, he added. “We’ve borrowed our present from our future—and our future is our children,” he said. “Today CoNGO is a solid and a visible presence at the United Nations, thanks to the power of doing and acting as co-NGOs,” he added, stressing the importance of NGOs acting collectively.
CoNGO 75th anniversary year is marked by four commemorative celebrations at UN centers in Vienna (April), Bangkok (May), New York (October), and Geneva (December).
As the conference in New York opened, greetings and statements by high-level United Nations officials expressed appreciation to non-governmental organizations for, among other initiatives, helping many communities across the world strive for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Peter Prove, director of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, looked ahead at multilateralism amid the world’s extreme challenges. “
He opened by congratulating the CoNGO on its 75th anniversary—an anniversary that is shared with the WCC—recalling the days when the WCC worked very directly in the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, among many other roles.
Prove then summarized how the WCC has called for a global ceasefire, and for greater investment by governments and other actors for promoting peace and preventing conflict.
“We encouraged renewed efforts to reform and improve the effectiveness of the United Nations and other instruments for promoting peace and security,” he said.
CoNGO vice president Cyril Ritchie offered a history of UN-NGO relations, and emphasized the many issues NGOs bring before the UN. “They are the frontline soldiers with both advocacy and cooperation with the UN system,” he said. “It is well-established that close cooperation in the field is vital to several UN agencies in carrying out their missions.”
Leaders of NGO committees also shared their inspirations and challenges.
Ivy Koek, co-chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, reflected that she often hears about how civil society space is shrinking at the UN. But, she added, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about the necessity and the opportunity to expand that space. “We moved virtually and in that virtual space we were then opening it up to our global audience, and though this is a New York-based committee, it became a global conversation,” she said. “We—the people—also lead the UN and lead countries, so let’s start with ourselves.”
Margo LaZaro, president of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, described how the committee engages with the UN. “It’s just always looking into working in partnership with everyone,” she said. “One of the things we are dedicated to is making sure we are inclusive with everyone.”
Sylvie Jaqueline Ndongmo, president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, shared how signifiant voices from civil society are missing because they cannot obtain visas to travel to New York. “The visa issue is a very, very big challenge especially for women from the Global South,” she said. “The shrinking of civic space—it is a problem.”
She recommended making sure women’s voices are heard. “We should also make sure that we care about one another—that is very important as we do this work,” she said. “We should always remind ourselves that the change we want to see, starts with us.”