The GEF-CSO Network or NGO Network of the Global Environment Facility was established in May 1995 following the GEF Council’s decision to establish a formal relationship between the NGOs and the GEF Secretariat, Council Assembly and partner agencies. The decision tasked the Network with the responsibility of disseminating information on the GEF to the NGO community and other stakeholders at the national, regional and international levels. The GEF-CSO Network was subsequently launched as a volunteer structure of GEF-accredited organizations.
From the GEF’s inception, during its Pilot Phase, the NGOs have been active in shaping its policies and projects. Subsequent GEF documents and decisions have reaffirmed and expanded that role. Section VI of the “Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured GEF” — the document creating the permanent GEF structure — titled “Cooperation with Other Bodies”, allows for the role of NGOs and other members of civil society in “GEF project preparation and execution”.
In addition, the New Delhi statement of the First GEF Assembly noted:“The GEF should increase consultations with NGOs and local communities concerning GEF activities; GEF should develop and implement an action plan to strengthen country-level coordination and promote genuine country ownership of GEF-financed activities, including the active involvement of local and regional experts and community groups in project design and implementation.”
The GEF’s policy paper of June 1996, “Public Involvement in GEF-Financed Projects”, further solidified the NGO role in the GEF activities. The paper observes that “the GEF Council approved the principles presented herein as a basis for public involvement in the design, implementation, and evaluation of GEF-financed projects”. Paragraph 15 refers specifically to NGOs by stating: “In collaboration with the Implementing Agencies, explore ways in which roles of NGOs and other stakeholders can be strengthened in project preparation, design, implementation, and evaluation…” That paragraph concludes: “Ensure that funding is available to recipient governments, Executing Agencies, and as appropriate, NGOs for conducting effective public involvement.”
During the GEF’s Pilot Phase in the early 1990s, NGOs informally but actively shared their views with “Participants” (Participating governments who subsequently made up the Council and Assembly) and IAs about GEF project and policies. In May 1991, the participants established official NGO consultations prior to each semi-annual Participants Meetings among NGOs. The consultations would “provide an opportunity for NGOs to express their views about GEF activities and to have a substantive dialogue with Implementing Agencies about GEF projects and policies” (from “Technical Note on NGO Relations”). Participants were invited to also attend these consultations. The NGOs subsequently were able to present their views at the Participants’ Meetings.
Based on the recommendations of a tripartite task force formed in May 1993, the NGO consultations would evolve from a forum of NGOs and IAs discussing GEF projects and policies, to one that would promote “a dialogue among Participants, NGOs and Implementing Agencies”. The task force, for example, concluded that there should be advanced preparation and circulation of written NGO views; in turn participating governments prepare “their position and responses to NGO concerns” (from “Technical Note on NGO Relations”).
The GEF Council document, “Technical Note on NGO Relations” of July 1994, concluded that “…While the GEF during its Pilot Phase had few formal rules on NGO participation, NGOs were involved in a broad range of GEF activities from general policy discussions to project development at the local level. “With the restructuring of the GEF, it is timely to consider a more systematic relationship between the GEF and NGOs.”
The Council subsequently approved the first NGO consultation to take place prior to its January 1995 session. At its January 1995 session, the GEF Council agreed to invite NGOs to be a part of its biannual deliberations. They would be chosen from the GEF’s Network of accredited NGOs. The GEF would invite five NGO reps to attend and participate in Council meetings and five to observe the Council session. The latter observed the proceedings on closed circuit television.
The Council adopted criteria that the NGOs would take into account in choosing which NGOs would attend the Council, pursuant to the principles of self-selection and independence of the Network. The criteria, drawn up by the Secretariat with NGO input, include: the principle of broad-based geographic representation; experts on the GEF thematic scopes; those NGOs most suited to address Council agenda items at any given session; a “balance of international, national and local (including indigenous) representation”, NGOs representing a “broad base of interests”; and rotation among NGOs at Council sessions, while taking into account the importance of continuity.
Initially, Network representatives focused their energy on influencing the Council proceedings, facilitating the participation of those NGOs most suited to address specific issues at the Council and NGO consultations. The RFPs, thus, did not always automatically attend each Council meeting. The network has increasingly played a role in disseminating information on GEF to the global NGO community and participating actively in the regional and glonal metings related to GEF such as the Regular GEF Assemblies.
The Network has played a strategic role in contributing to and shaping many key policies of GEF as well as acting as a mechanism to monitor and provide feedback on the the implementation of GEF programmes. Information materials such as the A-Z guide on GEF were developed to enhance understanding among civil society on GEF and opportunities for involvement. Since 2006, the role of the network has evolved further. The Network has prepared a Strategic and Operational plan to guide the network in its future activitiy and examine ways to enhance the role of the member organisations in directly contributng to GEF programmes at the regional and country level.