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Social Movements and Campaign Networks: A Report by the High-Level Panel on UN-Civil Society addressing the diversity of actors within the UN System defines Social Movements as ” Mass and loose associations of people who share common experiences or "framings" and who elect to work together to redress identified wrongs. Examples include the landless peasant movements, the anti-globalization movement, the Tobin-Tax movement, the feminist movement[1].  The report also concedes that there is overlap in this category with mass organizations and NGOs.

Stakeholder: Believed to have originated as a legal term, a broad definition of the term is proposed in the context of sustainability governance, referring to “those who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group. This includes people who influence a decision, or can influence it, as well as those affected by it”. [2] Stakeholders do not have a rigid classification but can include governments, businesses, non-profits, youth, women and international organizations. The UN has partnered with and consults with stakeholders broadly on issues that they have an expertise in[3].

Stakeholder engagement: Stakeholder engagement is being described across the UN system as absolutely crucial for sustainable development. UNEP for example, recognises as a fundamental prerequisite for the achievement of sustainable development, broad public participation in decision-making through the engagement of stakeholders and Major Groups[4].  In the UN system numerous  methods of  stakeholder engagement have been employed, ranging from government ‘consultations’ with stakeholders to the creation multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships as part of official decision-making and implementation[5].

There is a certain amount of grey area surrounding the term ‘stakeholder engagement’ however,  as it is often used interchangeably with “stakeholder dialogue”, as in the context of the WBCSD. Its document entitled The WBCSD’s Approach to Engagement in summarising its approach declares, “Dialogue is about communicating with stakeholders in a way that takes serious account of their views...about giving stakeholders a voice, listening to what they have to say, and being prepared to act or react accordingly.” [6] Similarly, the UNCSD, regarded as being at the forefront of developments in this domain, holds multi-stakeholder dialogues for Major Groups within the UN each year on different topics of sustainable development. [7]

State: This definition used by the UN includes, in addition to central Governments, “various related components of the State mechanism of relevance to the United Nations, especially elected representatives, including parliaments, international associations of parliamentarians, local authorities and their international associations”[8]. Only these actors have a formal representational mandate through electoral processes.

United Nations System. This is defined by the UN itself as “the array of operational funds and programmes, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Development Programme, whose heads are answerable to the Secretary-General, as well as technical and specialized agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which have separate governance structures and independent chief executives. The Secretary-General of the United Nations chairs the system’s coordinating mechanism — the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, but neither he nor the General Assembly has formal authority over the specialized agencies”[9].




[2] Hemmati, M. (2001). Multi-Stakeholder Processes for Governance and Sustainability - Beyond Deadlock and Conflict, Pg. 2. Available at



[3] The United Nations and Civil Society, Issues, (<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:state w:st="on">New York</st1:state></st1:place>), 2005. Date of Access: <st1:date year="2008" day="25" month="7" w:st="on">25 July 2008</st1:date>. Available at




[5]UN System and Civil Society – An Inventory and Analysis of Practices, Background Paper for the Secretary-General’s Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations Relations with Civil Society, (May 2003).




[8] Ibid


[9] Ibid