These days, we seem to hear the term ‘NGO’ more and more often. Sometimes it is used in a positive, and sometimes in a negative context. Although it is a bit of a hot topic, as all points of controversy usually are, this text should try and explain what is it that NGOs are supposed to be, as well as what their purpose is.
What are NGOs, anyway?
NGO is short for a non-governmental organization, that is, an organization that is free of the influence of the government of a country. Although they are free from the influence, non-governmental organizations can still be funded (or partially funded) by the government of a country. They usually function as clubs or associations that provide services, both educational and otherwise, to both their members and outside people. Although they do not have a limited field of work, they are most commonly based around doing humanitarian work, as well as social science or psychology. There is very little difference between NGOs and non-profit organizations (NPOs), as most non-governmental organizations function in such a way. The World Bank also makes a difference between two types of NGOs, operational and advocacy. Operational NGOs focus on projects of development, while advocacy NGOs are dedicated to promoting a particular cause. Although these organizations might sound relatively new to you, they have quite a bit of history behind them.
The history of NGOs
As previously mentioned, the term NGO can refer to any civic organization that is not funded by the government, which is why we can observe many organizations in history that functioned in such a way, and which were mainly concerned with women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and other problems. However, the term itself became used only after the founding of the United Nations in 1945. The United Nations Charter, in Article 71, officially recognizes the existence of such organizations and defines them as entities that operate on a nonprofit basis, which are not opposition political parties, and which are free of any influence of the government of the country they operate in. NGOs, by that definition, can be local, national, or international.
How do they work?
Due to the fact that they are mostly nonprofit organizations, an issue of funding is crucial for their existence. They are mostly funded by donations, but there are cases in which NGOs are (partially) funded by the government. Due to these ways of funding, most NGOs operate as volunteer groups, as there are not enough funds for paid staff. However, due to controversies about their funding, some organizations, like Greenpeace, decline any donations that are government-related.
What is the purpose of NGOs?
NGOs’ primary goals are connected to humanitarian work –they usually work to help people who are impoverished, or who suffered some sort of natural disaster. This is usually done by collecting resources, or by engaging with other organizations in common projects for resolving these types of situations. They can also run smaller-scale projects which are directly focused on helping communities that are underdeveloped.