Satellite accounts show true contribution of civil society

The release in March of the first-ever French satellite account on the non-profit sector marks the latest stage in the implementation of the recently issued United Nations Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts (NPI Handbook).

The preparation of such NPI satellite accounts is one of the specific recommendations of this Handbook. In addition to France, some half dozen other countries – Belgium, Canada, Australia, the US, Israel and Italy – have now produced such NPI satellite accounts and Belgium and Canada have just published their first updates. Since the last report in Alliance a year and a half ago, 15 more countries have committed to implementing the NPI Handbook, bringing the total to 26.

Developed jointly by the UN Statistics Division and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies (JHU/CCSS), the NPI Handbook is designed to put the civil society sector, philanthropy and volunteering on the economic map of the world. Released by the UN in December 2003, the Handbook calls on national statistical offices to prepare regular ‘satellite accounts’ on civil society organizations, volunteering and philanthropy as part of their regular social and economic data.

At the invitation of the UN Statistics Division, JHU/CCSS has been spearheading an effort to promote implementation of the NPI Handbook in cooperation with partners around the world, including UN Volunteers, the OECD, the European Commission, the Ford, Skoll, Sasakawa Peace, and Kellogg Foundations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the UN economic commissions for Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. This is being carried out in consultation with an International Advisory Committee which includes Rien van Gendt of the Van Leer Group Foundation, Gerry Salole of the European Foundation Centre, John Samuel of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Amani Kandil of the Arab NGO Network.

Recent findings and developments

Completed NPI satellite accounts in a number of developed countries are already demonstrating the value of the NPI Handbook in increasing the visibility and credibility of civil society and philanthropy. The decision to produce updates in two countries suggests that the statistics authorities in those countries see it as important to their portrayal of the structure of the economy. We now know, for instance, that:
· The Belgian NPI sector is actually six times larger than previously reported in national economic statistics and has been growing at a faster rate than overall Belgian GDP.
· Canada’s NPOs, including volunteers, account for nearly 8 per cent of the country’s GDP. Indeed, measured in terms of their ‘value added’ to Canadian GDP, volunteer inputs to the Canadian economy exceed those made by the country’s entire agriculture sector.
· Excluding volunteers, French NPOs account for nearly 3 per cent of the country’s GDP, and employment in the sector has grown by one-third over the past decade.
· The gross value added of the NPI sector in Australia exceeds that of utilities (electricity, gas and water supply); accommodations and restaurants; and communications.
· In the United States NPIs account for nearly 5 per cent of value added, more than agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; mining; utilities; construction; transportation and warehousing; information; and other services, except government. 

Work is now under way to produce comparable data for Africa, Latin America and Asia. Regional workshops and implementers’ training sessions have recently been held in Buenos Aires, Bangkok and Maputo and commitments to proceed with the NPI Handbook have been secured from, among others, Japan, India, Mali, Mozambique and Uganda. In addition, the UN Foundation has agreed to administer an NPI Handbook Implementation Fund to assist countries with implementation costs.

Lester Salamon is Director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. Email

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UN Handbook implementers

The current list of NPI Handbook countries includes: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Ghana, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Slovakia, South Africa, Uganda, United States, and Zimbabwe.

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