A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by private organizations or people with no participation or representation of any government. In the cases in which NGOs are funded totally or partially by governments, the NGO maintains its non-governmental status insofar as it excludes government representatives from membership in the organization.
The number of internationally operating NGOs is estimated at 40,000. National numbers are even higher: Russia has 277,000 NGOs. India is estimated to have between 1 million and 2 million NGOs.
International non-governmental organizations
have a history dating back to at least the mid-nineteenth century. They were important in the anti-slavery movement and the movement for women's suffrage, and reached a peak at the time of the World Disarmament Conference
. However, the phrase "non-governmental organization" only came into popular use with the establishment of the United Nations Organization
in 1945 with provisions in Article 71 of Chapter 10 of the United Nations Charter
for a consultative role for organizations which are neither governments nor member states – see Consultative Status
. The definition of "international NGO" (INGO) is first given in resolution 288 (X) of ECOSOC on February 27
: it is defined as "any international organization that is not founded by an international treaty". The vital role of NGOs and other "major groups" in sustainable development
was recognised in Chapter 27 of Agenda 21
, leading to intense arrangements for a consultative relationship between the United Nations
and non-governmental organizations.
Globalisation during the 20th century gave rise to the importance of NGOs. Many problems could not be solved within a nation. International treaties and international organizations such as the World Trade Organization were perceived as being too centred on the interests of capitalist enterprises. Some argued that in an attempt to counterbalance this trend, NGOs have developed to emphasise humanitarian issues, developmental aid and sustainable development. A prominent example of this is the World Social Forum which is a rival convention to the World Economic Forum held annually in January in Davos, Switzerland. The fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2005 was attended by representatives from more than 1,000 NGOs. Some have argued that in forums like these, NGOs take the place of what should belong to popular movements of the poor. Others argue that NGOs are often imperialist in nature and that they fulfill a similar function to that of the clergy during the high colonial era. Whatever the case, NGO transnational networking is now extensive.
Types of NGOs
Apart from 'NGO' often alternative terms are used as for example independent sector, volunteer sector, civil society, grassroots organisations, transnational social movement organisations, private voluntary organisations, self-help organisations and non-state actors (NSA's).
Nongovernmental organisations are a heterogeneous group. A long list of acronyms has developed around the term 'NGO'.
- BINGO is short for business-oriented international NGO, or big international NGO;
- CSO, short for civil society organization;
- ENGO, short for environmental NGO, such as Global 2000;
- GONGOs are government-operated NGOs, which may have been set up by governments to look like NGOs in order to qualify for outside aid or promote the interests of the government in question;
- INGO stands for international NGO;
- QUANGOs are quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). (The ISO is actually not purely an NGO, since its membership is by nation, and each nation is represented by what the ISO Council determines to be the 'most broadly representative' standardisation body of a nation. That body might itself be a nongovernmental organisation; for example, the United States is represented in ISO by the American National Standards Institute, which is independent of the federal government. However, other countries can be represented by national governmental agencies; this is the trend in Europe.)
- TANGO, short for technical assistance NGO;
There are also numerous classifications of NGOs. The typology the World Bank uses divides them into Operational and Advocacy:
The primary purpose of an operational NGO is the design and implementation of development-related projects. One frequently used categorisation is the division into 'relief-oriented' or 'development-oriented' organisations; they can also be classified according to whether they stress service delivery or participation; or whether they are religious or secular; and whether they are more public or private-oriented. Operational NGOs can be community-based, national or international.
The primary purpose of an Advocacy NGO is to defend or promote a specific cause. As opposed to operational project management, these organisations typically try to raise awareness, acceptance and knowledge by lobbying, press work and activist events.
USAID refers to NGOs as private voluntary organisations. However many scholars have argued that this definition is highly problematic as many NGOs are in fact state and corporate funded and managed projects with professional staff.
NGOs exist for a variety of reasons, usually to further the political or social goals of their members or funders. Examples include improving the state of the natural environment, encouraging the observance of human rights, improving the welfare of the disadvantaged, or representing a corporate agenda. However, there are a huge number of such organisations and their goals cover a broad range of political and philosophical positions. This can also easily be applied to private schools and athletic organisations.
NGOs vary in their methods. Some act primarily as lobbyists, while others conduct programs and activities primarily. For instance, an NGO such as Oxfam
, concerned with poverty alleviation, might provide needy people with the equipment and skills to find food and clean drinking water
Non-governmental organizations need healthy relationships with the public to meet their goals. Foundations and charities use sophisticated public relations campaigns to raise funds and employ standard lobbying techniques with governments. Interest groups may be of political importance because of their ability to influence social and political outcomes. At times NGOs seek to mobilize public support such as the by the NGO Global Warming Alliance.
Many international NGOs have a consultative status with United Nations agencies relevant to their area of work. As an example, the Third World Network
has a consultative status with the UN Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD) and the UN Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC). While in 1946, only 41 NGOs had consultative status with the ECOSOC
, by 2003 this number had risen to 3550.
There is an increasing awareness that management techniques are crucial to project success in non-governmental organizations.
Generally, non-governmental organizations that are private have either a community or environmental focus. They address varieties of issues such as religion, emergency aid, or humanitarian affairs. They mobilize public support and voluntary contributions for aid; they often have strong links with community groups in developing countries, and they often work in areas where government-to-government aid is not possible. NGOs are accepted as a part of the international relations landscape, and while they influence national and multilateral policy-making, increasingly they are more directly involved in local action.
Not all people working for non-governmental organisations are volunteers
. The reasons people volunteer are not necessarily purely altruistic
, and can provide immediate benefits for themselves as well as those they serve, including skills, experience, and contacts.
There is some dispute as to whether expatriates should be sent to developing countries. Frequently this type of personnel is employed to satisfy a donor who wants to see the supported project managed by someone from an industrialised country. However, the expertise these employees or volunteers may have can be counterbalanced by a number of factors: the cost of foreigners is typically higher, they have no grassroot connections in the country they are sent to, and local expertise is often undervalued.
The NGO sector is an important employer in terms of numbers. For example, by the end of 1995, CONCERN worldwide, an international Northern NGO working against poverty, employed 174 expatriates and just over 5,000 national staff working in ten developing countries in Africa and Asia, and in Haiti.
Large NGOs may have annual budgets in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. For instance, the budget of the American Association of Retired Persons
(AARP) was over US$540 million in 1999.. Funding such large budgets demands significant fundraising efforts on the part of most NGOs. Major sources of NGO funding include membership dues
, the sale of goods
and services, grants from international institutions or national governments, and private donations
. Several EU-grants
provide funds accessible to NGOs.
Even though the term "non-governmental organization" implies independence from governments, some NGOs depend heavily on governments for their funding. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Nobel Prize winner Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (known in the USA as Doctors Without Borders) gets 46% of its income from government sources.
Monitoring and control
In a March 2000 report on United Nations Reform priorities, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote in favor of international humanitarian intervention, arguing that the international community has a "right to protect"
citizens of the world against ethnic cleansing, genocide, and crimes against humanity. On the heels of the report, the Canadian government launched the Responsibility to Protect project, outlining the issue of humanitarian intervention. While the R2P doctrine has wide applications, among the more controversial has been the Canadian government's use of R2P to justify its intervention and support of the coup
Years after R2P, the World Federalist Movement, an organization which supports "the creation of democratic global structures accountable to the citizens of the world and call for the division of international authority among separate agencies", has launched Responsibility to Protect - Engaging Civil Society (R2PCS). A collaboration between the WFM and the Canadian government, this project aims to bring NGOs into lockstep with the principles outlined under the original R2P project.
The governments of the countries an NGO works or is registered in may require reporting or other monitoring and oversight. Funders generally require reporting and assessment, such information is not necessarily publicly available. There may also be associations and watchdog organizations that research and publish details on the actions of NGOs working in particular geographic or program areas.
In recent years, many large corporations have increased their corporate social responsibility departments in an attempt to preempt NGO campaigns against certain corporate practices. As the logic goes, if corporations work with NGOs, NGOs will not work against corporations.
In December 2007, The United States Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) established an International Health Division under Force Health Protection & Readiness Part of International Health's mission is to communicate with NGOs in areas of mutual interest. Department of Defense Directive 3000.05 , in 2005, requires DoD to regard stability-enhancing activities as a mission of importance equal to warfighting. In compliance with international law , DoD has necessarily built a capacity to improve essential services in areas of conflict such as Iraq, where the customary lead agencies (State Department and USAID) find it difficult to operate. Unlike the "co-option" strategy described for corporations, the OASD(HA) recognizes the neutrality of health as an essential service. International Health cultivates collaborative relationships with NGOs, albeit at arms-length, recognizing their traditional independence, expertise and honest broker status. While the goals of DoD and NGOs may seem incongruent, the DoD's emphasis on stability and security to reduce and prevent conflict suggests, on careful analysis, important mutual interests.
NGOs are not subjects of international law
, as states are. An exception is the International Committee of the Red Cross
, which is subject to certain specific matters, mainly relating to the Geneva Convention
The Council of Europe in Strasbourg drafted the European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organizations in 1986, which sets a common legal basis for the existence and work of NGOs in Europe. Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of association, which is also a fundamental norm for NGOs.
There is a growing movement within the “non”-profit and “non”-government sector to define itself in a more constructive, accurate way. Instead of being defined by “non” words, organizations are suggesting new terminology to describe the sector. The term “civil society organization” (CSO) has been used by a growing number of organizations, such as the Center for the Study of Global Governance. The term “citizen sector organization” (CSO) has also been advocated to describe the sector — as one of citizens, for citizens. This labels and positions the sector as its own entity, without relying on language used for the government or business sectors. However some have argued that this is not particularly helpful given that most NGOs are in fact funded by governments and business.
- Terje Tvedt, 19982/2003: Angels of >Mercy or Development Diplomats. NGOs & Foreign Aid, Oxford: James Currey
- Steve W. Witt, ed. Changing Roles of NGOs in the Creation, Storage, and Dissemination of Information in Developing Countries (Saur, 2006). ISBN 3-598-22030-8
- Cox, P, N Shams, GC Jahn, P Erickson and P Hicks. 2002. Building collaboration between NGOs and agricultural research institutes. Cambodian Journal of Agriculture 6: 1-8.
- Ann Florini, ed. The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Japan Center for International Exchange, 2001).
- Rodney Bruce Hall, and Biersteker, Thomas. The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance (Cambridge Studies in International Relations, 2003)
- Dorthea Hilhorst, The Real World of NGOs: Discourses, Diversity and Development, Zed Books, 2003
- Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).
- Ian Smillie, & Minear, Larry, editors. The Charity of Nations: Humanitarian Action in a Calculating World, Kumarian Press, 2004
- Simon Maxwell and Diane Stone. (eds) Global Knowledge Networks and International Development: Bridges Across Boundaries (Routledge, 2005: I-xix; 1-192).
- Sidney Tarrow, The New Transnational Activism, New York :Cambridge University Press, 2005
- Thomas Ward, editor. Development, Social Justice, and Civil Society: An Introduction to the Political Economy of NGOs, Paragon House, 2005
- H. Teegen, 2003. ‘International NGOs as Global Institutions: Using Social Capital to Impact Multinational Enterprises and Governments’, Journal of International Management.
- S.Goonatilake. Recolonisation: Foreign Funded NGO's in Sri Lanka, Sage Publications 2006.
- Teegen, H. Doh, J., Vachani, S., 2004. “The importance of nongovernmental organisation in global governance and value creation: an international business research agenda“ in Journal of International Business Studies. Washington: Vol. 35, Iss.6.
- K. Rodman, (1998)."‘Think Globally, Punish Locally: Nonstate Actors, Multinational Corporations, and Human Rights Sanctions" in Ethics in International Affairs, vol. 12.
More useful are regional histories and analyses of the experience of NGOs. Specific works (although this is by no means an exhaustive list) include:
- T. R. Davies, The Possibilities of Transnational Activism: The Campaign for Disarmament between the Two World Wars, Brill, 2007. ISBN 3-598-22030-8
- H. Englund, Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights & the Africa Poor, University of California Press, 2006
- Carrie Meyer, The Economics and Politics of NGOs in Latin America, Praeger Publishers, July 30, 1999
- Chhandasi Pandya. 2006. Private Authority and Disaster Relief: The Cases of Post-Tsunami Aceh and Nias. Critical Asian Studies. Vol. 38, No. 2. Pg. 298-308. Routledge Press: Taylor & Francis Group
- Maha Abdelrahman, Civil Society Exposed: The Politics of NGOs in Egypt, The American University in Cairo Press, 2004. Al-Ahram Weekly has done a review of the book
- Sangeeta Kamat, Development hegemony: NGOs and The State in India, Delhi, New York; Oxford University Press, 2002
- Adama Sow, Chancen und Risiken von NGOs – Die Gewerkschaften in Guinea während der Unruhen 2007 – EPU Research Papers: Issue 03/07, Stadtschlaining 2007
- Lyal S. Sunga, "Dilemmas facing INGOs in coalition-occupied Iraq", in Ethics in Action: The Ethical Challenges of International Human Rights Nongovernmental Organizations, edited by Daniel A. Bell and Jean-Marc Coicaud, Cambridge Univ. and United Nations Univ. Press, 2007.
- Lyal S. Sunga, "NGO Involvement in International Human Rights Monitoring, International Human Rights Law and Non-Governmental Organizations" (2005) 41-69.
- Werker & Ahmed (2008): What do Non-Governmental Organizations do?
- Steve Charnovitz, "Two Centuries of Participation: NGOs and International Governance," Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 18, Winter 1997, at 183-286.
The de facto reference resource for information and statistics on International NGOs (INGOs) and other transnational organisational forms is the Yearbook of International Organizations, produced by the Union of International Associations.