Accountability is a buzz word of the 21st century. It is controversial and the source of much debate.  While accountability was originally thrust upon businesses by civil society organizations, today the tables may be turning.  NGOs are now subject to the same scrutiny as businesses vis-à-vis their integrity, independence and impact.

Estimated to be worth over $1 trillion globally and as much as 15% of GDP in North America and Western Europe, it is clear that NGOs play a major role in society. Today, NGOs are crucial players in tackling environmental, social and economic challenges. From education and humanitarian relief to microfinance and health, NGOs are influential agents of change shaping agendas and developing potential solutions on a global scale.

Yet, along with this growth in scale and influence, NGOs are becoming more visible and it could be said that that the stakes are being raised. In other words, the very organizations who play a vital role in driving accountability across governments and business, are being pushed to be more accountable themselves. There are calls for greater transparency in use of funds, and the need to demonstrate and measure impact more effectively.

Today, NGOs continue to benefit from the extraordinary high levels of public trust gained during the 80s and 90s. In an era of hyper-connectivity and transparency offered by the Internet, could international NGOs be vulnerable to an erosion of trust? What does this mean for NGOs in the 21st century?

In today’s volatile economic environment, it is critical for NGOs to take a hard look at their mandates and their role. Like all other sectors, NGOs should be challenged to achieve their objective and look for new models to demonstrate and enhance the value they generate from the funds they raise.

I believe that moves towards greater accountability such as the iNGO Accountability Charter will restore the confidence of the general public and hopefully enable NGOs to fulfil their missions faster and with greater efficiency.

Come and join us for the NGOs debate at the Open Forum 2013 in Davos on the 23rd of January to hear what panellists including David Nabarro, Jim Roth, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Kumi Naidoo and Amit Garg have to say about the matter and consider what new NGO models might look like in the 21st Century.

Author: Selima Benchenaa is Senior Programme Manager, Global Leadership Fellows Programme, at the World Economic Forum. Tiffany Misrahi is Senior Associate, Global Agenda Councils, at the World Economic Forum.

 Image: Food relief bound for Somalia is loaded in a port in Kenya REUTERS/Joseph Okanaga