The World Bank defines non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) as “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development” (Duke University, n.d.). A broader definition will refer to NGOs any organization that exists on voluntary contributions and private funds and pursues some social, non-commercial issue (Wikipedia, 2006). The appearance and proliferation of NGOs is a sign of increased public participation in decision-making at various levels of government. NGOs are an important vehicle for the self-expression of civil society that lays the foundation for true democracy with the public involvement.
Background of NGOs
Mansbach & Rhodes (2005) ascribe four functions to the NGOs (pp.197-199):
Setting Agendas – determining matters they want to reveal to policy makers
Negotiating Outcomes – direct participation in negotiations
Conferring Legitimacy – they serve as a channel to express the opinion of the public
Implementing Solutions – participating in providing solutions to the issue in place of a government-aligned actor whose actions could be suspicious.
NGOs have come a long way to reach their present stage of development. Their growth has been dramatic in both industrialized and third world, and “from 1970 to 1985 total development aid disbursed by international NGOs increased ten-fold” (Duke University, n.d.). They have become especially important in developing nations, promoting sustainable development by channeling aid funds that reached $7.6 billion in 1992 (Duke University, n.d.). As of present, the total number of NGOs in the developing world is estimated in the range between 6,000 and 30,000 organizations that account for the distribution of approximately 15% of development funds (Duke University, n.d.).
Examples of NGOs
Two of the best-known NGOs include Oxfam and Amnesty International. The first organization is working to overcome poverty. Its methods include the provision of “needy people with the equipment and skills they need to find food and clean drinking water” (Wikipedia, 2006). Although in theory, the term “NGO” excludes government support, this organization received one-fourth of its income of US$162 million in 1998 from the British government and EU authorities.
Amnesty International, along with another famous NGO, Human Rights Watch, is one of the best-known human rights organizations of the world. It campaigns for human rights, seeking to find and eliminate cases of human rights abuse around the globe. Amnesty International has formed a large network of supporters in over 150 nations, including 1.5 million people.
Contemporary State of NGOs
As stated above, the role of NGOs becomes increasingly more important. NGOs will often handle the provision of food and supplies in the zone of conflict where government resources fall short or governmental interference proves undesirable. They will also lobby for interests of specific groups that take this or that position on a controversial issue. In this way, they work for the people and on behalf of people.
Although NGOs are not entirely free from evils associated with government structures such as lobbying, corruption, and inefficiency, they are often seen as a viable alternative. Environmental efforts organized by NGOs, for instance, the Trickle-Up Program, have advantageously distinguished themselves with low cost and high impact. They are often more successful in conflict resolution, being seen as the alternative to government organizations. This preference is demonstrated by the fact that in 2005, there were over 13,000 registered NGOs compared to “3443 international intergovernmental organizations and roughly 200 nation-states” (Stephenson, 2005).
The diversity of NGOs are another proof of their popular, democratic character. They are in no way a homogeneous group. Instead, NGOs are representing various economic sectors such as farmers, miners, etc.; environmental groups, women’s NGOs, community-based NGOs, etc. This variety allows NGOs to capture a wide diversity of opinions and interests existing in society and give voice to different groups, often with conflicting positions and clashing arguments. NGOs have supplied evidence that governance can be a matter for broad folk masses and need not be equated with the government. In this way, NGOs have created a ground for civil society as a counterweight for state-dominated nations.
NGOs are a broad term that embraces a diverse range of organizations with different structures, methods, and agendas. Their ultimate purpose is to influence decision-making at different government levels and find and implement solutions to social problems. The rise of NGOs over the past decades demonstrates that modern society does have a place for this kind of organization. Deriving its power and financial base from a variety of sources, NGOs serve as an important way of raising public participation in governance, a prerequisite for the existence of civil society.
Duke University. (n.d.). Categorizing NGOs. Retrieved May 24, 2006, from http://docs.lib.duke.edu/igo/guides/ngo/define.htm
Mansbach, R. W., & Rhodes, E.J. (Eds.). (2005). Global Politics in a Changing World: A Reader. Houghton Mifflin.
Stephenson, C. (2005, January). Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs). Retrieved May 24, 2006, from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/role_ngo/
Wikipedia. (2006). Non-governmental organization. Retrieved May 24, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-governmental_organization