Frequently asked Questions about our Presence at the UN

Photo by Cecile Meijer rscj
Photo by Cecile Meijer rscj

1.  What is an NGO?

NGO stands for ‘non-governmental organization’. The United Nations (UN) describes an NGO as a “not-for-profit, voluntary citizens’ group, which is organized on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good.” The Society of the Sacred Heart fits this description because it is made up of ordinary women with a common interest and conviction that education holds the key to systemic change in the world. We are not part of a government or business and work at the local, national and international level.

2.  Who are the members of the NGO?

The members of the NGO are primarily the members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, all the RSCJ wherever they work and live. Through our ministries and relationships the circle expands and encompasses students, faculties, alumni, co-workers, associates, in other words the larger Sacred Heart family. As a member of the NGO, the NGO Representative represents the NGO at the United Nations but is not the NGO itself.

3.  Did we create a new entity as NGO?

No, we did not create a new NGO because the congregation as such, the Society of the Sacred Heart, is the NGO. Because we didn’t create anything new, we also didn’t need any new official documents such as statutes or by-laws. Therefore, our NGO has no governing rule other than our own Constitutions.

4.  What is the DPI?

DPI stands for ‘Department of Public Information’, and is a part of the United Nations Secretariat. It is headed by an Under-Secretary-General. The Department of Public Information is responsible for communicating the complexity of the work of the UN to the world. The Society of the Sacred Heart requested and received associative status with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) as an NGO in 2002.

5.  Why does the UN want NGO participation?

NGOs provide the United Nations with valuable links to people around the world and are a vital source of energy and expertise in articulating and defining global issues.  In this time of increased interdependence through globalization, there is a need for ever more cooperation and participation. Former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan once expressed it this way: “The United Nations once dealt only with Governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving Governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. In today’s world, we depend on each other.” 

Take for example the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular goal 2, the pledge to achieve universal primary education. As RSCJ we have some schools in places where primary education is not yet a universal reality for all - in that sense we already cooperate with the United Nations because our work on the ground contributes to the way the UN (governments) implement the commitments they made at the policy level in the United Nations.

6.  Do NGOs only exist at the UN?

No. There are thousands of NGOs around the world and not all of these choose to work at the United Nations. Each NGO has its own mandate and area of expertise, and NGOs have different goals. They can be task-oriented and are often centered around a common area of interest, such as performing services or humanitarian functions. Some NGOs focus on policy, analysis and/or research. There are currently more than 1,500 NGOs associated with the Department of Public Information (DPI) at the United Nations.

7.  Why did the Society of the Sacred Heart choose to be an NGO at the UN?

During the last 18 years, we as a congregation have heard a call that became increasingly loud, to work more closely and insert ourselves more concretely with the poor so as “to let the world set our agenda.” In 2000 we decided to pursue NGO status at the United Nations because we felt that as an international congregation of educators with a presence in 44 countries around the world, we have something to contribute at the international scene. We live and work alongside people in many countries for their well-being. It is these experiences of working together that we want to bring to the United Nations, especially as they relate to our educational work with the poor, women, children, youth, migrants, refugees and care for the earth. Aware that our mission is one of transformation, we want to use our experience and prayerful reflection as a tool to contribute, in no matter how small a way, to shaping a different world through influencing international policy making.

8.  Are we different now that we are present at the UN?

No, being at the United Nations has not changed who we are as Society of the Sacred Heart. We still have the same spirituality and charism. We still are educators in all that we do, also at the United Nations. What is different is that in furtherance of General Chapter directives we want to bring our spirituality and charism to bear on global issues that are being addressed at the UN. We want to make our voices and those of the people with and among whom we minister heard at the UN.

9.  Is the Society of the Sacred Heart the only religious congregation at the UN?

No, there are many congregations represented at the United Nations but some 25 of them have an NGO representative in New York, while others have a presence in Geneva. Our group of NGO Representatives in New York meets once a month to support each other and share information. The international community generally values the presence and contributions of religious congregations because they are all over the world, including some very difficult places; they do a lot with a little in terms of resources; when the situation gets difficult, they do not leave the place or the people; they have a long history of being with those who are poor; and they come to the international policy table with interests not their own.

10.  What is our main commitment to the UN?

In accepting associative status with the Department of Public Information (DPI) we undertake to disseminate information about the UN and UN issues/activities to our members and networks at the grassroots level around the world. In fact, the commitment and means to conduct an effective information program was one of the criteria to become associated as an NGO with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). So far the NGO Office channels this information primarily through emails to the liaison persons, postings on the web site (, hosting visitors and giving presentations. As religious women we can surely subscribe to the purposes of the United Nations to work for peace and security, economic and social advancement of all peoples, humanitarian affairs, and the promotion of human rights.