Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are key actors in translating the SDGs from international commitments to specific action at the national level. Through the analysis of existing reports (Spitz, Kamphof, van Ewijk, 2015; African Civil Society Circle, 2016) and interviews with experts and representatives of ministries, we identified four roles the NGOs can take up to push forward SDG implementation at the national level:

  • Holding governments to account
  • Communicating the SDGs to a broad audience
  • Implementing projects
  • Holding the private sector to account

Key messages


NGO mobilisation is required to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are implemented at the national level. This study investigates how NGOs mobilise in European countries, with a special focus on France and Germany, in order to encourage action and to identify obstacles and ways forward. It appears that although NGOs are increasingly aware of the SDGs and have started to take dedicated action on them, this mobilisation is still biased towards development organisations and, more generally, towards organisations working on international issues.


NGOs are taking specific action to communicate the SDGs to a broader audience, as well as to hold their governments to account for their domestic implementation. To do so, they are creating new advocacy coalitions involving NGOs from different sectors, partnerships that reflect the integrated nature of the SDGs, but are not always achieved without difficulty. They are also actively participating in official SDG implementation processes, but are beginning to express serious doubts about the credibility and policy impact of these processes.

NGOs can also take specific action to hold the private sector accountable or can contribute directly to the SDGs through projects that they conduct on their own or in partnership with other actors. However, among the NGOs interviewed, many were reluctant to take up these two roles. The SDGs raise fundamental questions about the role of NGOs, their relationships with other actors, and the allocation of responsibilities to make change happen.


If the UN and national governments want to keep up the momentum for the SDGs, it is in their interest to facilitate the advocacy and communication activities of NGOs, as well as their direct contributions and participation in partnerships. Priority should be given to communicating the SDGs to the organisations that know little about them, especially those working on social issues. Governments should also put the SDGs higher on their agenda, as NGO mobilisation is highly dependent on whether or not they consider the SDGs to be politically credible. Furthermore, if governments want to harness action through multi-stakeholder partnerships, they need to address NGO reservations about collaborating with the public and private sectors. This could be achieved by basing these partnerships on clearly identified objectives and on a credible accountability framework.

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