A non-governmental organization is a non-profit group, which operates without any interference or influence from the government. They are known by different terms such as civil society, non-profit, and voluntary organizations. They can be formed at the local, international, or national level, by individuals or groups of individuals with common interests. Different groups such as church based, and other religious groups have been involved in the role of non-governmental organizations for a long time. Many individuals and institutions formed groups to oppose the use of slaves and forced labor. The World Alliance of Young men’s Christian Association and the International Committee for the Red Cross came into being in the nineteenth century (Blackburn, 2007). However, it was not until the UN charter after the Second World War in 1645, that people began using the term non-governmental organizations. Initially, the term referred to specific international non-state organizations, with consultative status in the activities of the UN (Lewis, 2009). Since then, the number of NGOs increased at both local and international level. As the NGOs increased in number, their role and mandate also increased, and they began serving different sectors.
Types of NGOs
NGOs are of different types, and they cover different social issues. They include developmental organizations, whose main task is initiating development programs at different levels. Environmental groups work in raising awareness of different environmental concerns, and they develop programs that help in conserving the environment. Other NGOs include religious groups, groups concerned with healthcare, education, human rights, emergency relief and disaster management, and gender based groups among others. NGOs work for the social benefit of the community, and they are involved in humanitarian activities. NGOs receive funding from volunteers, and they do not depend on support from the government, although they may receive it. The volunteers work in determining the different ways of sourcing funds from the well-wishers. NGOs organize public campaigns in an effort to raise awareness of their policies as they seek social transformation, in addition to their main role of providing different services to the people in need.
Role and Function of NGOs
NGOs have different roles within the communities they serve. They develop their own agenda and objectives, and they determine the operations they are going to undertake. NGOs mobilize the resources they need to ensure that they have delivered to the people in need, based on their main agenda. The nature of NGOs has changed over the years. Many of them have increased in their sophistication, and they have become more specialized, choosing to focus on one area. Although volunteers are a major element of the NGOs, many people working for the large internationally recognized NGOs have high credentials, in terms of their academics and experienced gained working in different sectors. This has changed the way that the organizations deliver their services as they have become more strategically aligned (Blackburn, 2007). They conduct independent research on their area of interest, analyze the results, and produce reports. This enables them to give expertise on the issue of their concern.
NGOs have increased their significance over the years. They have increased their power and authority. This is mainly because of the information they have. The different types of research they conduct on different issues have enabled them to provide services to other entities, including government agencies and multinational organizations. They have gained the power to influence the decisions made. Because NGOs are involved with the community, they are closer to the people, and this has enhanced their public opinion. They offer suggestions on different issues, and they recommend the steps that organizations and governments can take to ensure that they improve the services they give to the people. For instance, they offer recommendations on how to improve health and sanitation in different areas. They act as government watchdogs, and they observe to ensure that the government is working on behalf of the people.
NGOs have different roles. Some act as implementers and their work involves mobilizing the resources needed to provide goods and services. Most NGOs undertake this role. Other NGOs act as a catalyst, a role that involves inspiring people and changing their thought pattern and actions with the aim of promoting social transformation (Lewis, 2009). NGOs involved in eradicating poverty, in different communities take this role more seriously, compared to those involved in providing emergency relief. Other NGOs act as partners, and they work with governments and other individuals. Previously, many NGOs depended on private donor funding, and they did not want to involve the government. However, many NGOs have realized the importance of involving the government at a certain level because this will enable them to fulfill their long-term objectives.
NGOs have become more diverse in their delivery of services and their organizational structure. NGOs do not have to be large multinationals. Some NGOs, especially those dealing with local issues, are small. Some NGOs are composed of professionals who have different levels of expertise. Other NGOs are small, and they depend on volunteers who do not have any credentials. Some NGOs have been there for a long time, and they have served people with different needs. Other organizations are formed as a need arises. Such organizations are only operational when there are funds available. They take advantage of highly publicized disasters to ask for donor funds. Some NGOs exist to serve the founders personal gain and not for the interest of the people (Lewis, 2009).
NGOs operate differently, depending on whether they are in industrial and developed countries or the developing countries. NGOs working in the developing countries are more involved in implementing strategies. Many NGOs in developing countries undertake development programs in the poor urban centers and the rural communities. They are more involved with the communities, and have a better understanding on the needs of the community. NGOs in developed countries have slightly different roles. This is because many of the people in these areas have fewer problems, and the governments take the initiative of providing basic services to the people, irrespective of where their location. Governments in industrial countries consult the NGOs in the strategic planning process (Dalal-Clayton et al., 2012).
NGOs employ different methods of raising awareness and publicity of issues, as well as seeking funds. Operational NGOs development and implement different programs that help them get the resources they need. They identify different ways of getting the funds. Campaigning NGOs mobilize the masses in holding demonstrations on identified causes. They gain their publicity in this manner, and they convince different individuals and institutions to support their cause. However, many NGOs do not have an exclusive way of operating. An NGO that mobilizes the masses engages in other activities and programs, which do not involve any mobilization. Although NGOs are free from government interference and influence, some of them do receive funding from the government. This is especially the case with NGOs providing humanitarian relief.
Many NGOs provide humanitarian aid for people who have experienced disasters such as wars, famines, floods and other natural disasters. The main objective of offering humanitarian aid is to ensure that people have access to necessities such as food and water, clothing and shelter. Many humanitarian aid NGOs focus on developmental projects that will help people on a longer-term basis. The NGOs recognize that offering short-term help is necessary, especially during times of natural disasters. However, many of them want to focus on providing services that help people for a long time. The level of humanitarian aid and NGO engagement has increased as different countries have experienced wars. NGOs operate in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Somalia, which have experienced wars. In such cases, the NGOs deal with an ongoing situation. However, some forms of disasters, especially natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes happen without warning, and the NGOs have to mobilize resources on a needs basis. Different NGOs are involved in the provision of humanitarian aid. Some of these NGOs include CARE International, Oxfam, World Vision, and ActionAid International
CARE International offers relief and development with an aim to fight global poverty. It works in more than eighty countries and it has supported more than one thousand projects aimed at fighting poverty. It provides relief during times of emergencies and helps the people affected by the emergencies to rebuild their lives. It works with other NGOs and informal community based organizations. The NGO works with the communities. It learns about the people’s culture and language. In addition, it learns about people’s skills by learning how the local community solves its problems. It introduces new skills and projects to the community members. The NGO works together with government institutions in different sectors such as health and education. The NGO influences policy at the national level. It works with other international NGOs as it solicits funds from donors.
The goal of World Vision is to ensure the wellbeing of children by providing good health and opportunity to get a good education. The NGO works with the understanding that it has to transform entire communities for the children to have better lives. It offers different services such as microfinance and economic development, health and nutrition, sanitation, water, education, and child protection. It educates the members of the community, and it teaches them how they can help each other. The NGO responds to emergencies by offering relief services. It conducts research and identifies risky disaster areas, prepares the resources needed, and teaches the community how to protect themselves before an emergency happens. The NGO works with different UN agencies, governments, and corporations, faith communities, individuals and other institutions.
ActionAid works in more than forty countries around the world to fight poverty and injustice. The organization recognizes different injustices, which include lack of food, the right of people to stay in their land, right to have an education, and the right to have authority and power in decision making. It is involved in the fight for women and youth rights, democratic governance, and climate change. The organization talks with the communities to identify their needs. It uses the experience and influence it has to make people’s lives better, by providing them with the resources and skills they need to end poverty. It identifies different local organizations with the same agenda, and it works with them. In addition, it is involved in relief efforts, in cases of emergencies and disasters. It works with different UN agencies, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department, the European Union, and the Department for International Development
Oxfam is a confederation of seventeen organizations, working towards ending the injustice of poverty. The confederation aims to influence the powerful within communities to take an active approach in helping the poor people within the community. It uses a rights based approach to ensure that everyone within the community secures basic services, is free from harm, is not marginalized, and is heard. It collaborates with local organizations as it works to better the lives of poor people. It provides immediate relief services in times of natural disasters and conflicts, and it helps the people build their lives and prepare for future disasters. It works on different development programs and projects aimed at reducing poverty and ensure an end to injustice. It is involved in advocating for policy changes on the policies and practices that continue to encourage poverty and injustice. It undertakes research and analysis of different issues. It is a global movement for change, and conducts campaigns that aim to help people identify the causes of poverty and ensure that they work towards realizing a fairer world.
NGOs working in developmental programs have adopted a partnership approach. They have realized the importance of working in collaboration with the community. They have avoided a top down approach, which does not involve the community. In addition, they have not left the communities to work alone. The NGOs realize that the communities need assistance, even though they want people to be independent. They have equipped the communities with the skills they need to ensure that they are able to take care of themselves. World Vision, ActionAid and CARE, work together with the local communities. They seek to understand the needs of the communities, and they give the people the resources they need to solve their problems. They provide the people with skills and knowledge by educating them concerning different issues. The NGOs realize the importance of collaborating with other institutions as this ensures more effectiveness in service delivery. NGOs realize the importance of alliances, especially with grassroots organizations. These alliances put them in a better position to fight for their cause. Working with different alliances makes the NGOs more powerful and they are able to have a greater impact with the government and other institutions (Rugendyke, 2007).
Differences and Similarities in Approach
NGOs use different activities to create awareness. World Vision, ActionAid, and CARE educate the communities concerning different issues. They lobby governments and involve other stakeholders as they try to raise public awareness regarding different issues. Oxfam has campaigns that involve informing people about the different injustices around the world. Many NGOs believe in cooperating with other NGOs in order to achieve common advocacy goals (Rugendyke, 2007). The three NGOs work with different international and regional NGOs, as they seek to realize their goal of ending poverty. All the NGOs are involved in conducting research concerning different issues, and this helps them in making informed decisions and offering their expertise to different entities. The NGOs may have different development agendas, but they all provide relief services in times of emergencies.
World Vision takes a different approach in deciding the people to collaborate with in their work. This is because it adopts a Christian approach and Christian principles, and this limits the individuals and institutions that it can work with in delivering its objectives. NGOs can choose to be confrontational in their advocacy, or they can cooperate with the different stakeholders. However, many NGOs use both approaches at once. Organizations, which seek to influence certain policies and projects choose to cooperate with the different stakeholders rather than to confront them. NGOs that try to influence ideologies, structures, and policies tend to be more confrontational. This feature distinguishes ActionAid from the other organizations. Its objective concerning dealing with injustices in different approaches means that it adopts a confrontational approach in dealing with issues. Oxfam differs from the other NGOs in that it is a confederation of NGOs. Its work involves the participation of other NGOs, without which it would not exist. The NGOs have different agendas although they all seem to be directed at the same objective of ending poverty and improving people’s lives. The focus of World Vision is on children, but this has made it work with the communities. It realizes that it cannot work with the children in isolation.
Level of Influence
The different NGOs highlighted may be different, but they focus on the same agenda; that of addressing the root causes of poverty, and finding solutions to the problems that people face. The level of commitment of the different organizations has enabled them to make positive changes in their areas of operation. Each organization has been able to address the pressing needs of the communities they serve, by educating the people and by giving them opportunities through the provision of resources. Therefore, the organizations have influenced public opinion in their areas of service. In addition, the more branches the NGO has, the more it gains prominence and recognition. Organizations such as World Vision and other religious affiliated organizations may not make the same impact as other organizations. This is because they are limited in the areas they operate. Although the organizations may not impose their beliefs on the individuals and communities that they are assisting, some people may have reservations about their involvement with the organizations, and they may not get the full support they need. The organizations differ in their influence of government policies
Many organizations work with the community, and they have varying levels of government influence. Governments recognize the importance of NGOs in their countries, especially those offering assistance to the less advantaged and marginalized communities. Oxfam has managed to work and influence positive changes within the communities, while at the same time raising awareness of different injustices that people suffer. The organization has ensured that it has marked levels of success in influencing government policies. Oxfam has been able to influence government policies because of its affiliation with other NGOs, which have given it a stronger voice concerning different issues. It has been able to influence policies on human rights in different capacities such as ensuring fair trade practices (Aaronson & Zimmerman, 2005). Through the organization’s efforts, the UK government promised to uphold its promise of maintaining aid and the Arms Trade Treaty agreed to control global sales of arms (Oxfam, 2013)
There are many NGOs, and they each serve different purposes. NGOs differ in their functions and roles, size, and credentials of the workforce. Some NGOs have an international presence, while others are based locally. They deal with a wide variety of issues including health, education, environment, development, and other social problems affecting the communities. Many NGOs have chosen to collaborate with the communities they serve to deliver the services. They have understood the problems facing the communities, and they have invested heavily into providing long-term projects and programs. NGOs have become more influential, and this has enabled them to influence government policies.
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