There is a very wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs are groups of concerned citizens who are independent of the government and business, and are thus nominally non-political and non-profit organisations. NGOs typically have charity status and raise funds through a combination of voluntary donations from the public, but also grants from governments and other international development institutions.
Many NGOs are tiny, focusing on development in one region and specializing in one area, others, however, are global institutions, have huge budgets and work in several countries on numerous types of development project. This section focuses on these larger ‘aid organisations’ with an international focus – such as Oxfam and Action Aid. Although such organisations have an international focus, they still have a tendency to divide their attention so they focus on hundreds of different micro-level projects at one time.
Commentators generally point to four functions of NGOs in development
- The development function – Probably the most obvious – This typically involves focusing on small scale aid projects such as local irrigation schemes, or developing rural health and education schemes in conjunction with local communities.
- The Empowerment Function – More so than with private companies and Governments – NGOs aim to ‘empower’ local communities – This involves striving to give local communities a role in how aid projects are developed, but also lobbying International institutions like the European Union to establish trade rules which do not unfairly advantage Western companies and farmers. (We’ll come back to this point later).
- The Education Function – Oxfam is a good example of an NGO that puts a lot of money into developing education for schools and advertising to keep developing world issues in the public consciousness.
- The ‘emergency aid function’ – when natural or social disasters occur – Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Famines for example – NGOs are often the front line in the delivery of emergency aid.