Nonprofits a global force

Nonprofits represent a major social and economic force in the world but still lack clout as a player in civic society, a new report says.

Nonprofits engage nearly 40 million people and spend $1.3 trillion a year, more than the gross domestic product of all but the six biggest countries, says the report by the Center for Civil Society Studies at The Johns Hopkins University.

Nonprofits represent 5 percent of the gross domestic product of 35 countries studied by 150 researchers, and are a powerful presence not only in the developed countries of Europe and North America but also in the developing countries of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the report says.

“Once considered to be present only in a handful of countries, these organizations turn out to be a significant presence in virtually every country and region,” the report says.

If the nonprofits in 35 counties studied were a single nation, they would have the world’s seventh-largest economy, larger than those of Italy, Brazil, Russia, Spain and Canada.

Nonprofits in the countries studied employ 21.8 million paid staff and 12.6 million full-time volunteers, equal to 46 percent of public-sector employment in those countries and 10 times the employment in their utilities and textile industries.

“Despite their growing presence and importance, however, civil society organizations have long been the lost continent on the social landscape of our world,” says the report.

As a result, it says, the nonprofit sector’s “ability to participate in the significant policy debates now under way has been seriously hampered and its potential for contributing to the solution of pressing problems too often challenged or ignored.”

The challenges facing the nonprofit sector “are often enormous,” the report says, involving issues “of basic visibility and legitimacy, of sustainability, of effectiveness, and of forging the workable partnerships with other sectors that real progress on complex social and economic problems increasingly requires.”

Coping with those problems, it says, will require “concerted efforts: rooted in a “better base of knowledge.”

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