What is a NGO?

NGONGO stands for non-governmental organization. It is any non-profit or voluntary citizensí group organized on local, national or international level. NGOs are driven by people with a common interest and they perform a variety of services. For example, they bring citizen concerns to the attention of government, they advocate and monitor policies and they encourage political participation. Some NGOs are organized around specific issues, such as health, environment or human rights.


Non-governmental organizations have a history dating back to the late eighteenth century. Around that time, it was estimated that there were about 1083 NGOs. Non-governmental organizations played a vital role during the movements against anti-slavery and women’s rights. They represented the voices of the people and advocated for slavery and women’s suffrage to be prohibited. Nevertheless, it was only until 1945 the term “non-governmental organizations” became popular. The establishment of the United Nations and the United Nations Charter gave rise to the high number of NGOs. Article 71 of the United Nations Charter states the importance of the consultative role organizations play that are neither governments nor member states. The definition of an “international NGO” was first mentioned in the ECOSOC Resolution 288 from 1950. In this document it is states that an international NGO is any international organization that is not founded by an international treaty.

The importance of NGOs continued to rise during the 20th century due to globalization. Many problems could not be solved by governments. International organizations and treaties were mainly focusing on the interests of capitalists enterprises rather than improving the well-being of citizens. This led to NGOs developing strategies to emphasize development aid, humanitarian aid and sustainable development. With regards to the topic of environment and sustainable developed, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was a peak for the work of NGOs. During this conference, over 2,400 representatives of NGOs played a crucial role in deliberations and negotiations. Since citizens are not invited to attend these international conferences and voice their opinions, some scholars argue that NGOs represent the interest of the poor.

Types of NGOs

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) describes NGOs to be private voluntary organizations. This description has been criticized and considered to be highly problematic since NGOs are in fact funded by states or corporations, they have professional staff and they manage projects. Apart from the term non-governmental organizations, there are many alternative or overlapping terms used. For example, non-profit organization, voluntary organization, civil society organization, grassroots organization, social movement organization, non-state actors and third sector organization.

NGOs exists for different reasons. It can be to further political goals, or social goals. There are NGOs that want to improve the encourage the observance of human rights, others that want to improve the welfare of disadvantaged communities or improving the state of the environment. The types of NGOs can be distinguished by orientation or by their level of operation.

NGO by orientation

NGOs have different orientations. These orientations can be distinguished in four different sorts, namely charitable orientation, service orientation, participatory orientation and empowering orientation. Charitable orientations mainly focus on meeting the needs and interests of the poor population of society. Also, it is often a top-down paternalistic approach that is adopted with little participation from its beneficiaries. Service orientated NGOs involve in activities such as education services, helping families with family planning, etc. The programs NGOs design require communities to participate. Participatory orientation implies that local people are involved in implementing projects. They contribute by providing tools, land, materials or labor. The last form of orientation is empowering orientation. This type of orientation aims to help poor communities develop a clear understanding of the social, political and economic factors affecting their lives. Also it aims to strengthen their awareness regarding these factors. With form of orientation NGOs usually act as facilitators.

NGO by level of operation

Similarly to orientation, there are also different levels of operation NGOs focus on. These different levels of operation can be distinguished in international NGOs, national NGOs, city-wide organizations and community-based organizations. International organizations work in multiple countries and provide support to local NGOs and help them implement projects. Some of the most well-known NGOs are Amnesty International, Oxfam, CARE International and Save the Children. National NGOs often assist local NGOs and can range from professional associations to national voluntary groups. City-wide organizations include organizations such as educational groups, business coalitions and community organizations. Community-based organizations, also known as CBOs, are organizations started by people’s own initiatives. CBOs can be responsible for helping communities understand their rights or raising awareness among poor urban populations.


NGOs are organized around specific issues. While some focus on human rights, others predominantly engage in the fields of health and environment. They help monitor and implement international agreements and they provide analysis and expertise on situations on the ground. NGOs vary in their method of working. While some act as lobbyists on international level, others implement program and activities. For example, the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy helps to document human rights abuses and provides victims with legal assistance. A NGO like Oxfam, on the other hand, focuses on poverty alleviation and provides communities with skills and equipment to produce food and access clean drinking water.
Community-based NGOs often aim to achieve small-scale changes through projects and engaging communities as much as possible. They often hold fundraising events and apply to governments and big organizations for funding, since they usually have limited resources. There are also NGOs that aim to achieve large-scale change through influencing the political systems. These NGOs mostly engage with campaigning activities. Campaigning NGOs need an effective group of professionals who organize demonstrations and events that will keep their motives in the media. Also, they have a large network of supporters who mobilize for events, attract media attention and influence policies.

Problems experienced by NGOs

Due to their limited resources, non-governmental organizations often face challenges. One of the main problems is capacity building. Since NGOs rely on government funds, grants or donations to implement their activities, they often have no stability when it comes to hiring staff, creating new programs or sustaining facilities. Additionally, low pay, unreliable funding and long working hours can result in employee retention problems. This often results in competition with the public and private sector. Employers in the public and private sector can often offer higher wages, more comprehensive benefit packages and less tedious work. It is often the case that NGOs attract individuals that are mission-driven and want to contribute to society. Nevertheless, many young and driven employees would still favor more stable employment compared to instability with a non-governmental organization. Currently, however, NGOs are trying to adopt methods used by their competitors to retain employees and attract qualified workforce.


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 2104x
Added: 12-02-2016 18:43
Last modified: 01-03-2016 22:14

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