Most analysts say non-governmental organizations play an important role in world affairs -- ranging from resolving civil conflicts to safeguarding the environment.
Most foreign policy experts refer to leading transnational NGOs as "non-state actors," acknowledging their growing clout in the international arena. One such organization is Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights monitoring group based in the United States.
"Our job is to try to defend human rights around the world," says Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York. He says his organization documents human rights abuses of governments and rebel groups.
"And these reports are used to pressure governments to respect human rights through stigmatizing them or shaming them before their public and their peers, through generating economic or diplomatic pressure on abusive governments and, in extreme cases, by trying to prosecute officials who have been responsible for the most serious human rights crimes," says Roth.
Human Rights Watch works with partners in 70 countries. In the United States, it monitors issues of race discrimination, and the status of immigrants and prison inmates. Roth says the biggest challenge his organization faces is the disrespect for human rights that sometimes accompanies efforts to fight terrorism.
"Governments have recognized that if they simply wave the flag of counterterrorism, that that gives them latitude to ignore international human rights requirements. The human rights movement has been able to push back and insist that respecting human rights is not only the right thing to do in fighting terrorism, but is also the more effective way to go about combating terrorism," says Roth.
In recent years, economic globalization has given more weight to NGOs dedicated to promoting market-oriented reforms. John Sullivan is Executive Director of the Center for International Private Enterprise, or CIPE. He says volunteer organizations like his believe democratic and economic reforms are two sides of the same coin.
"In all of Eastern Europe, it was the political reforms that led to the economic reforms in the sense that the political process was totally closed," says Sullivan. "You couldn't do anything. So getting that open was the first step. In other countries, Afghanistan, for example, getting some of the fundamental economic laws in place is what enables people to have the ability to participate in the political process."
John Sullivan says CIPE tries to team up with like-minded organizations around the world. "We go to a country and try to find a partner that we can work with. And they are the ones that lay out the agenda of what needs to be done and where the reform process needs to go." He says that in an ever more globalized world, NGOs like his will play increasingly important roles in transferring knowledge and expertise.