Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

New Governing Actors

As WEF makes clear in Step One, a crucial transformation is to have governments, international organizations, civil society bodies, and opinion-makers recognize that the nation-state and UN system is only one part of the global governance system. 1

The nation-state has long seen itself as the only Actor in global governance. It has formed bilateral, regional, and multilateral agreements with other nation-states. In all the major multilateral state-to-state agreements, governments carefully insured that any international organization created would have limited functions and that only nation-states would sit on the governing bodies of these organizations. Other bodies from international professional associations to local small community organizations could, in the language of the UN charter, be ‘non-governmental organizations in consultative status' to the Economic and Social Council.

The WEF challenge is to introduce the new Actors in global governance to governments and the UN system as ones required by 'reality', and ones that the nation-states recognize as necessary and legitimate. WEF knows that it must get the Northern governments to recognize that these new governors will help them meet their own self-expectations and international goals.   

Currently the debate within the formal international system regarding non-state Actors focuses on the question of how to provide access for non-state Actors to witness intergovernmental meetings, to address global conferences, and to lobby representatives of nation-states and the international secretariats more easily. In the current structure, governments and the UN system are the core of the international governance system. Civil society organizations, multinational corporations, media, and religious bodies are external Actors who seek to influence these key players.

WEF takes a sharply different view, namely that these non-state Actors are, in reality, already part of the global governance system. It is only that the intergovernmental community has not yet formally recognized this transformation. This message has many implications. To delegates from nation-states, WEF is saying that they should recognize that the global media, international firms, scientific bodies, and international CSOs are or are becoming their peers in global governance. To executives in the corporate world, WEF is saying that their global economic power has in fact become a global governance power and that they need to make a change in their corporate mindset in order to accept this idea. To the staff at international organizations, WEF is saying that the formal ‘only-governments-decide’ approach is antiquated, as non-state Actors are actually making many of the crucial decisions. 2  And to leaders of civil society organizations, WEF is saying that they should move from seeing themselves as lobbyists of a weak inter-state system to active participants, along with the corporate sector, in the globalization governance process.

While this new approach to global political governance is in line with Davos practice, it is not widely accepted by governments, "non-state actors" themselves, the political science community, or, indeed, with the broader public.


Related Ideas: Arrangements out of step; Redefinition; Strengthen UN with non-state resources

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

  • 1. ^ Samans, Schwab, and Malloch-Brown introduction, pg 12 &13. “The first step is for governments and international organizations to conceive of themselves more explicitly as constituting part of a much wider global cooperation system that has the potential to overcome the limitations of scale, information and coherence from which they currently suffer.”
  • 2. ^ Piot, Bloom, and Smith, in their introductory essay on health, address this UN skepticism directly: “International health-related governance is no longer adapted to the new ecosystem, as it largely excludes non-state actors (be they NGOs or businesses), is disconnected from financial, trade and economic decision-making, and lacks the power to broker binding accords promoting global health. . . .. However, the time has come for national, multilateral and bilateral institutions to welcome and embrace this pluralism of health actors, in contrast to lamenting about it as we can read in statements by international development agencies and public health experts. This diversity can be a formidable force if brought together by strong political and policy leadership working for a common agenda.” Peter Piot, David E. Bloom, and Peter Smith, Ensuring Health for All: Towards a New Paradigm for Health for All, (World Economic Forum: 2010), , pg 411.  Piot is a Professor and Director, Institute of Global Health, Imperial College London, United Kingdom; Bloom is the , Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography, Harvard School of Public Health, USA, and  Smith is a Professor, Health Policy, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
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