Nongovernmental Organizations and Foundations

views updated May 11 2018


Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are entities, usually international nonprofits, which work in an independent fashion yet complement the work of governments for the benefit of constituencies in civil society. The nature of NGOs runs the gamut from lobbying and advocacy to operations and project-oriented organizations. Their mandates often but not always include working to complement the efforts of state and local governments. Since becoming players in the international economic development world in the early 1980s, NGOs have proliferated in both developed and developing countries.

Foundations are institutions through which private wealth is contributed and distributed for public purposes. They are institutions financed by charitable contributions or endowments and can either be for-profit or nonprofit entities depending on the manner in which their money is invested and managed. Foundations generally grant funds to certain causes in keeping with their mandate and mission. In the case of education, foundations often supplement the public provision of financing for education, many times specifically channeling funds to needy or underserved populations. The board of a given foundation establishes the grant-making policies from which the programming agenda is then derived. Foundations provide grant money to a variety of types of organizations, including nonprofits and NGOs, as well as to universities and schools. The programming agenda is periodically revised to keep abreast of changes in society. For example, following the 2000 U.S. presidential election controversy, the Carnegie Foundation changed its programming agenda to include strengthening U.S. democracy as one of its four main programmatic areas.

Although the work of foundations may be regarded collectively, several people have written scholarly pieces on the work of specific foundations (Robert F. Arnove on the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations; Jeffrey Puryear on the impact of the Ford Foundation's programs in Chile; and James S. Coleman and David Court on the Rockefeller Foundation's impact in Africa). The debate about foundations includes the position that foundations promote the causes that the elite and powerful determine worthwhile (Arnove) versus the argument that they facilitate institution building (Puryear, Coleman, and Court). Although these two positions may seem diametrically opposed, they both start with the premise that social change and developmentas a result of the planning, research, expertise, and leadership of people interested in particular social causesbecomes more viable with funding from private charitable contributions. It is frequently NGOs that are conduits or tangential beneficiaries of the programming decisions or internal policies of these very foundations. Without trying to resolve the debate, it is imperative to recognize the role in international development that both foundations and NGOs play, together with the multilateral development banks, bilateral aid agencies, and governments. The descriptions that follow provide details on the individual organizations, their mandates, objectives, programming agendas, and target populations.

Nongovernmental Organizations

CARE. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) is a nonprofit, nonsectarian federation of agencies and NGOs devoted to channeling relief and self-help materials to needy people in foreign countries. Originally organized in the United States in 1945 to help war-ravaged Europe, CARE soon expanded its program to include developing nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Famous for its "CARE packages" of food and other necessities, CARE in now also involved in population, health care, land management, and small economic activity. It is an international organization with ten member countries and headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

CARE's goal is to build self-sufficiency by helping families meet three basic needs: income, education, and health and population services. Its work in education includes promoting literacy, numeracy, and school attendance, particularly among girls who are often denied schooling. Programs improve education for all children, with an emphasis on keeping girls in school. Groups are created so parents and teachers can discuss traditional educational barriers, such as housework or baby-sitting, which keep girls from attending school. CARE also provides economic incentives to help parents cover the cost of keeping their daughters in school.

CARE first began its education program in 1994 with pilot projects in Peru, Guatemala, India, and Togo. Within four years of its inception, it expanded this number to twenty-nine projects in eighteen countries.

Education International. Located in Brussels, Belgium, Education International (EI) has become an important organization for many NGOs, such as teachers unions, in their advocacy work at the national and international level. As an international association of teacher unions, with local teacher associations or unions as members, EI's mission is based on a growing conviction that basic education is a key factor in the eradication of poverty and a cornerstone of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development. Education also plays a role in eliminating the worst forms of child labor.

Through the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), this NGO brings together organizations working in 180 countries and seeks to hold governments accountable for the fact that 125 million children are denied an education. Education International, Action Aid, Oxfam International, and Global March Against Child Labor jointly launched this program. In terms of teacher evaluation, EI advocates a type of evaluation that is perceived by teachers as being affirmative and supportive as well as balanced and fair and that can contribute to promoting quality in education.

Education Trust. Located in Washington, D.C., the Education Trust is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. Established in 1990 by the American Association for Higher Education as a special project to encourage colleges and universities to support K12 reform efforts, in the early twenty-first century it strives to promote high academic achievement for students at all levels from kindergarten through college (K16). The organization functions on the premise that in order to achieve significant change in K12 it must simultaneously change the way that postsecondary education does business. Similarly, the Education Trust maintains that postsecondary education needs as much improvement as the K12 level.

The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students. It abides by the tenet that all children taught at high levels will learn at high levels. The students and institutions most often left behind in plans to improve education are its focus, in particular those institutions serving low-income Hispanic, African-American, and Native American youth. Education Trust strives to close the achievement gaps that separate poor and minority students from their more advantaged peers. Efforts to improve elementary and secondary education must be undertaken in conjunction with postsecondary education. The organization places emphasis on high standards, rigorous curriculum, good teaching, and accountability for results. Participating in education debates at the national and state policy level, the Education Trust works alongside policy-makers, parents, education professionals, and community and business leaders in communities across the United States to transform schools and colleges into institutions that genuinely serve all students.

Oxfam International. Oxfam International is an international confederation of eleven autonomous NGOs committed to working together to fight poverty and injustice around the world. Each shares the commitment to end waste and the injustice of poverty, in long-term development work and during times of urgent humanitarian need. The common mandate for all of the Oxfams is to address the structural causes of poverty and related injustices and create lasting solutions to hunger, poverty, and social injustice through long-term partnerships with poor communities around the world. The organization has an advocacy office in Washington, D.C., which lobbies the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations on issues agreed upon by the eleven member organizations. As a privately funded organization, it strives to speak "with conviction and integrity to challenge the structural barriers that foster conflict and human suffering and limit people from gaining the skills, resources, and power to become self-sufficient."

Oxfam invests privately raised funds and technical expertise in local organizations around the world that hold promise in their efforts to help poor people move out of poverty. These projects are characterized by partnerships with local organizations, a unique and highly successful approach that ensures lasting change. Through the local partnerships, Oxfam listens to the local needs and works jointly toward solutions that enable communities to prosper and organize for economic stability and democratic opportunity. Oxfam is committed to these long-term relationships in search of lasting solutions to hunger, poverty, and social inequities. As part of this commitment, Oxfam is dedicated to educating the public worldwide on the realities of poverty and the universal obligation to establish a future that is equitable, environmentally sustainable, and respectful of the rights of all peoples.

In education, Oxfam plays an active role in ensuring that aid resources are channeled to education, which plays a vital role in poverty reduction, economic growth, and democracy. The organization plays an advocacy role, regularly issuing policy and position papers that react to the policies of G8 countries, large donor organizations, and international summits.

Save the Children. Save the Children is an international nonprofit child-assistance organization (or NGO) based in Westport, Connecticut, which works in forty-six countries worldwide, including the United States. Its mission is to make lasting, positive change in the lives of children in need. Save the Children is a member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a worldwide network of twenty-six independent Save the Children organizations working in more than 100 countries to ensure the wellbeing of children everywhere.

Nearly seventy years of experience working alongside families and communities in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Eurasia, Africa, and Asia has convinced Save the Children that poverty "need not be a life sentence." To help children get the best possible start in life, Save the Children promotes locally appropriate programs in education, health care, environmentally sound agriculture, and economic productivity.

In a world where the majority of illiterate adults are women, improving access to education for girls is urgent. At the outset of the twenty-first century, nearly two-thirds of the 125 million children not attending primary school are girls. The cycle of illiteracy traps millions of girls and women throughout the developing world. But with education, this cycle can be broken. Studies show that an educated mother is more likely to provide her children with adequate nutrition, seek needed health care, and send her girls, as well as boys, to school. Save the Children focuses on education as a critical means of improving the quality of life for both mothers and their families.

In an effort to address the lack of access to quality education experienced by more than one billion people, Save the Children's programs support communities in the development of quality education programs. Working with communities, the organization explores initial concepts to bring Strong Beginnings programs to the area. The programs include research and project development in each community, which leads to the implementation of active intergenerational-learning programs for all ages, early childhood development, primary education, and youth and adult nonformal education.

Save the Children's education programs have produced many dramatic results in the lives of women and girls around the world. In Afghanistan, where prior to 2002 girls were kept in seclusion and not allowed to attend formal school, the program has established home-based classrooms to provide basic education that would otherwise be denied. More than 20,000 girls in remote villages of Mali, where schools were once rare, are learning to read and count. And women participating in literacy programs in Guatemala are learning to manage their lives and take on leadership roles in their communities.

World Vision. Based in the United Kingdom, World Vision is an international Christian relief and development NGO, which works to promote the wellbeing of all people, especially children. World Vision strives to enable families and communities to transform their conditions and gain self-reliance in a sustainable manner. It achieves this by working with the poor in their communities; it helps them gain access to clean water, better agricultural production, improved health care, and primary education.

World Vision's advocacy initiatives draw on the expertise and experience of staff throughout the world who work in countries and communities that are afflicted by poverty. World Vision works to raise their concerns in the United Kingdom, with ministers and members of Parliament, through meetings, briefing papers, a discussion paper series, and special reports. World Vision has policy staff working on the areas of child rights, conflict, peace building, and also global economic issues. Each of these advocacy themes has the potential to bring real benefits to ordinary communities in developing countries.

Although World Vision is a Christian organization, the organization has child-focused projects that are offered freely, regardless of belief, ethnic background, or gender. The organization's literature claims that "faith fuels our work and supplies our staff with wisdom and ability, our donors with the resources they share, and enables our recipients to work toward the fulfillment of their dreams."


The Broad Foundation. Located in Los Angeles, California, and established in 1999, the Broad Foundation supports innovative efforts to strengthen local, state, regional, and national initiatives to improve governance, management, and labor relations in large urban school systems. The foundation is dedicated to building K12 educational leadership capacity, strengthening union-management relations, and supporting aggressive, systemwide strategies to increase student achievement. It aims to infuse a new kind of school system leadership in order to strengthen the state of public education.

The Broad Foundation's investments are targeted toward the following five program areas: (1) support for entrepreneurial and nontraditional leaders;(2) leadership training; (3) recruitment and selection strategies; (4) visibility for high performers; and (5) venture philanthropy.

The area of support for entrepreneurial and nontraditional leaders provides funding to current innovators, such as superintendents, school boards, union presidents, and other leaders in the K12 public education system, through rewards for high performance, grants for specific district and union projects, and funding for ongoing networking and assistance. A leadership training area provides grants for the support and development of training for aspiring and current innovators. The area of recruitment and selection strategies provides assistance to districts and to business and community organizations interested in securing the next generation of entrepreneurial educational leaders and managerial talent. Visibility for high performers is an area that permits the foundation to engage in public visibility campaigns that showcase the results of systemwide improvements in urban districts. The foundation also supports research and dissemination projects that actively communicate the results of high-potential endeavors. Finally, the venture philanthropy area funds entrepreneurial ideas from inside and outside the current system that offer high-leverage opportunities to improve K12 education.

Carnegie Corporation of New York. Founded in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie for the "advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among people of the United States," the Carnegie Corporation is a general-purpose, grant-making foundation. Charter amendments made subsequent to its founding permit the corporation to channel close to 7.5 percent of its income for the same purpose in countries that are currently or have been members of the British Commonwealth. Most such grants are in British Commonwealth Africa. As a grant-making foundation, the corporation seeks to carry out Carnegie's vision of philanthropy, which he said should aim "to do real and permanent good in this world."

The focus of the corporation's work has evolved over time, adapting its program areas to changing circumstances as Andrew Carnegie wished. Although current program directions have been designed to correspond with the corporation's historic mission and legacy and to maintain the continuity of its work, they are also intended to serve as catalysts for change. A current challenge facing the Carnegie Corporation is how to support the development of a global community in an age when both isolationism and nationalism seem to be fostering a fractured view of the world. This raises the question of how to use the current glut of information to foster a sense of community, rather than letting it disintegrate community.

After a review of the foundation's management structure and grant programs under the leadership of Vartan Gregorian, the corporation refined its programmatic focus, which in the early twenty-first century includes education, international peace and security, international development, and strengthening U.S. democracy. In addition, a new program, Carnegie Corporation Scholars Program, strives to support fundamental research by young scholars with outstanding promise and also by established expert who stand to contribute significantly to the corporation's mission.

In education, the Carnegie Corporation dedicates a large majority of its funds to education reform ranging from early childhood education to higher education. The education program focuses on three key areas: early childhood education, urban school reform, and higher education. Within these areas, the corporation's goals are to promote the creation of high-quality early learning opportunities on a large scale; accelerate urban school reform; strengthen the education of teachers; and stimulate an examination and strengthening of liberal arts education. In education, the corporation has traditionally had a significant impact on public policy for children, teachers, and other stakeholders in the educational process. Through its focus on education, Carnegie has successfully convened special bodies of experts and opinion leaders to study related issues and publish several key reports.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is a national and international center for research and policy studies about teaching and is an ancillary philanthropy of the Carnegie Foundation. With a focus on the scholarship of teaching, the foundation seeks to generate discussion and promulgate sustainable, long-term changes in educational research, policy, and practice. Foundation programs are designed to foster deep, significant, lasting learning for all students and to improve the ability of education to develop students' understanding, skills, and integrity.

The Ford Foundation. Established in 1936 by Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, and his son Edsel, the Ford Foundation is one of the most important and prominent foundations in the field of education. From 1936 to 1950 the foundation made grants mostly to organizations in its home state of Michigan. In 1951 the foundation moved to New York City and began its focus on national and international giving.

The Ford Foundation is a private philanthropic institution, which seeks to improve the well-being of people around the world by funding "experimental, demonstration, and developmental efforts that give promise of producing significant advances in various fields."

The foundation is governed by a board of trustees and administered by a professional staff. The board of trustees includes CEOs, senior officials in higher education, and people involved in Native American interests. The trustees determine general policies and budgets. The staff evaluates grant applications, identifies institutions to administer programs, and makes recommendations for grants.

The foundation has identified certain program areas in which it is interested in funding projects. It generally does not make grants for normal operating costs of an organization, construction of buildings, or for strictly religious activities.

The foundation has identified six broad categories of programs in which it is interested: urban poverty, rural poverty and resources, human rights and social justice, governance and public policy, education and culture, and international affairs.

The type of work the foundation funds is equally diverse. The foundation funds projects, which involve direct assistance to the needy, and grants to organizations, which seek to influence public policy. Over the years the foundation has provided grants to establish new organizations, found new academic departments at universities, fund demonstration projects, and assist other philanthropies. The foundation has organized coalitions with other philanthropies, government, and nonprofit organizations to work on projects. It also administers its own projects.

In some cases the foundation has funded programs on an ongoing basis, which over time become established institutions, such as community development corporations (CDCs). Since the late 1960s it has made grants of nearly $200 million to CDCs in depressed urban areas, which initiate economic development projects; raise additional funds; offer job training, day care, and credit; and advocate for improved government services.

The Ford Foundation has sixteen offices overseas. Approximately 35 percent of the annual budget is allocated for overseas projects. Programs include agricultural development in Latin America, Africa, and Asia; a training program for judges in China; international studies in Chile; and philanthropy in Egypt.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The William H. Gates Foundation (founded in 1994 with a focus on health issues in developing countries) and the Gates Learning Foundation (founded in 1997 but renamed the Gates Library Foundation) merged in August 1999 to become the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which encompasses those two foundations and the Gates Center for Technology Access. The Gates Foundation ranks as one of the wealthiest private foundations in the world. Established by the Microsoft cofounder and chief executive officer, the Seattle, Washington-based foundation is led by Bill Gates's father, William Gates Sr., and supports initiatives in education, technology, global health, and community giving in the Pacific Northwest.

Although many benefit from the linking of the globe in a digital web of communications and information flow, the foundation strives to pay attention to those who have not shared in the promise of the digital age. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to sharing the promise of new technologies with all citizens. The foundation is focusing its efforts in three critical areas: (1) U.S. education; (2) libraries; and (3) public access to information.

In its work on education, the foundation perceives the education system as an immensely important strategic front for forging a future in which all children can participate in the opportunities of the digital age. In March 2000 the foundation announced a $350 million, three-year investment in a series of education grants designed to help all students achieve at high levels by improving teaching and learning and enhancing access to technology.

In 1999 Bill and Melinda Gates made a defining gift of $1 billion to establish the Gates Millennium Scholars program, which will provide scholarships for academically talented minority students (African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) who would otherwise not have the financial resources to attend college. Additional scholarships are available for minority scholars pursuing graduate degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, education, or library science.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Based in Flint, Michigan, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation was the brainchild of the sailor, automotive engineer, industrial pioneer, banker, educational innovator, and community leader by the same name. In addition to these attributes, Mott was also a philanthropist.

The grant-making activities of the foundation focus on four main areas: civil society; the environment; development in Flint, Michigan; and pathways out of poverty. In addition, the Exploratory and Special Projects program permits the foundation to explore new opportunities. About 20 percent of the foundations grants are international in scope.

Of particular interest to educators are the program for civil society and the efforts to decrease poverty. The mission of the civil society program is to "strengthen citizen and nonprofit-sector engagement in support of free and pluralistic democratic societies," with primary geographic focus on the United States, central and eastern Europe, Russia, South Africa, and at the global level. In the United States the efforts focus on strengthening the fabric of civil society in the face of public apathy and cynicism, extremist forces, and an economically and racially divided society.

Within the program area of Pathways Out of Poverty, efforts include improving community education, expanding economic opportunity, building organized communities, and special initiatives. The mission for the programmatic area of improving community education is to "ensure that community education serves as a pathway out of poverty for children in low-income communities by building a continuum of quality learning opportunities that stretches from the preschool years through preparation for higher education and the work force." This includes promoting school readiness, success in school, and learning that spans beyond the classroom.

Lilly Endowment. Founded in 1937 by pharmaceutical manufacturer Josiah K. Lilly, this foundation, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, grants funds for religious, educational, and charitable purposes. Of special interest to the foundation are programs designed to foster the growth and development of Christian character.

Its endeavors in education include aid to Protestant theological seminaries, other colleges, and elementary and secondary education. Most of the foundation's work in education focuses on raising the educational-attainment level of citizens of the state of Indiana. The endowment also provides grants to private, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) throughout the United States. In addition, the endowment focuses on positive development of youth by providing support to direct-service organizations, building the capacity of intermediary organizations, and providing professional development for staff members in such organizations.

The Pew Charitable Trusts. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy, and religion. The trusts consist of seven individual charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. Though the trusts are separate legal entities, their grant-making activities are managed collectively and guided by a single set of program priorities. The trusts make strategic investments that encourage and support citizen participation in addressing critical issues and effecting social change.

The work of this foundation in education seeks to raise the performance of students at all levels of education, especially the capabilities of students to learn for understanding and to acquire the types of literacy necessary for productive employment and effective citizenship in an increasingly complex society. The foundation's broad efforts in education include an interest in publicly funded preschool education programs, standards-based reform in K12 education, other K12 reform efforts, and support to higher education. In higher education, the foundation is interested in issues of access to higher education, the quality of higher education, and the means for keeping the United States competitive in the emerging global and technology-intensive economy.

Rockefeller Foundation. Based in New York City, the Rockefeller Foundation is a knowledge-based, global foundation with a commitment to enrich and sustain the lives and livelihoods of poor and excluded people throughout the world. The foundation seeks to identify, and address at their source, the causes of human suffering and need. The foundation's approach to current global challenges focuses on poor people's daily existence, and how the process of globalization can be turned to their advantage. Program funding is focused on grant-making areas that reflect the interconnections between people's health, food, work, creative expression, and the impact of globalization on the poor. The Rockefeller Foundation's central goal is to "give full expression to the creative impulses of individuals and communities in order to enhance the well-being of societies and better equip them to interact in a globalized world."

Within the unit that encompasses education, knowledge, and religion, the foundation seeks to enhance educational opportunity, especially for low-income and chronically disadvantaged groups, and to address the challenges of pluralism and diversity using interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches. Through education reform, the foundation seeks to enhance the capacity of schools and higher education institutions to broaden access and increase levels of student achievement, particularly for historically unserved populations. In higher education and scholarship, the foundation seeks to build fields of knowledge that deepen scholarship and public understanding of pluralism and identity. The foundation emphasizes the importance of social science training as a means to educate a new generation of leaders and scholars who can be more effective in their civic roles.

Smith Richardson Foundation. H. Smith Richardson, son of the founder of Vicks Family Remedies, and his wife, Grace Jones Richardson, created the Smith Richardson Foundation in 1935. Located in Westport, Connecticut, the Smith Richardson Foundation seeks to "help ensure the vitality of our social, economic, and governmental institutions," and "assist with the development of effective policies to compete internationally and advance U.S. interests and values abroad." This mission is embodied in its international and domestic grant programs.

The foundation has two grant programs: the International Security and Foreign Policy Program, which supports research and policy projects on issues central to the strategic interests of the United States; and the Domestic Public Policy Program, which supports research, writing, and analysis on public policy issues and strives to help inform policymakers and the public on domestic issues. Education policy and school reform are two of the foundation's most important areas of grant making. Such grants support research at universities, think tanks, and research organizations on important education policy issues, such as charter schools, school choice, teacher training and pay, class size, and educational standards. This grant making is focused on policy debates in the United States. Although the grant-making efforts do not include a particular focus on certain levels of education, research on higher education is not supported.

Soros Foundation. American stock trader and philanthropist George Soros has used his wealth to create a network of foundations, most of which are intended to aid former Communist countries in creating an "open society." Other Soros foundations fund health initiatives and aid immigrants in the United States.

In the parlance of the Soros foundations network, the term national foundation refers to an autonomous nonprofit organization founded by George Soros in a particular country to promote the development of open society in that country. National foundations are located primarily in the countries of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, although there are some in other parts of the world. A local board of directors comprising distinguished citizens from different ethnic, geographic, political, and professional backgrounds determines the specific priorities and activities of each foundation. Given the diversity of social, political, and economic conditions in the countries of the network, programs vary greatly in nature and urgency from one foundation to another. Yet all of the foundations' activities share an overarching common mission: to support the development of an open society. The local nature of the decision-making process at the foundations is one of the distinctive features of George Soros's approach to philanthropy.

In promoting an open society, education plays a role in the work of most of the foundations; however, the focus varies from country to country. For example, the Soros Foundation provided education to 300,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand, India, and Bangladesh, serving otherwise underserved populations. In Armenia the Internet and National Education programs, redesigned in 1999, increased school outreach and community involvement in education. A network of schools and organizations provided the training and support required to develop the idea of community schools. The aim is not only to strengthen community participation but also to improve the quality of the education system by introducing modern methodology and criteria for curriculum development.

In other countries such as Latvia, the Soros Foundation emphasizes the importance of raising critically thinking, tolerant, and creative young people. In such countries the foundations provide continued support to primary and secondary education while simultaneously devoting efforts to the strengthening of higher education, especially in terms of the study of law and pedagogy.

Stuart Foundation. Based in San Francisco, California, the Stuart Foundation's overarching purpose is to help the children and youth of California and Washington states become responsible citizens. The foundation's approach is to help strengthen the public systems and community supports that contribute to children's development. Three grant program areas exist: (1) strengthening the public school system; (2) strengthening the child welfare system; and (3) strengthening communities to support families.

The Stuart Foundation employs a systemic approach to change. The following themes characterize the foundation's approach to strengthening public systems and communities in all three grant-making programs: (1) making public policies more effective by supporting efforts to improve statewide or local policies so that public systems and communities can support the development of children and youth more effectively; (2) policy analysis and policy development by supporting projects that examine the effectiveness of policies for children and youth; that improve the quality of information available to policymakers, stakeholders, and the public; and that provide a nonpartisan forum for discussion and dialogue to build understanding and consensus for improvements; (3) standards or accountability through support to the development of standards and systems for measuring results that promote greater accountability and program improvements, and that can gain the support of policymakers, practitioners, communities, and business leaders; and (4) making connections and building understanding to solve social problems by uniting people and organizations with different perspectives (e.g., educators, parents, policymakers, business people, and service providers) to build a shared understanding and reach agreement on what needs to be done.

The foundation seeks to foster stronger connections among policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to foster information exchange, fresh thinking, and creative solutions. It promotes collaboration across agencies and disciplines in which closely related programs integrate their work to achieve greater benefits for children and youth. It strives to build public understanding of key issues in education, child welfare, and community well-being, and to secure a more supportive environment for effective policies and practices. It seeks to improve practice through the development and dissemination of more effective practices, through the promotion and dissemination of successful innovations, and through effective methods to promote widespread improvements in practice.

Spencer Foundation. Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Spencer Foundation was established by Lyle M. Spencer, founder of the educational publishing firm Science Research Associates. The foundation investigates "ways in which education, broadly conceived, can be improved around the world." A basic research foundation with both international and domestic interests, the foundation supports high quality investigation of education through its research programs by promoting scholarship through various grant programs for research, postdoctoral fellowships, predissertation research, conferences, and training. Such grants are open to people from an array of backgroundsresearchers, practitioners, and young professionals.

The foundation's programs are organized within three divisions: Research, Fellowships, and Training. In addition, a handful of programs are also operated out of the office of the vice president. Programs in the research division support work that shows promise of contributing new knowledge, understanding, and improvement of educational thought and practice. Programs in the fellowship division support educational researchers at different stages of their professional careers, providing resources to both beginning and senior researchers to pursue concentrated intellectual activity. Programs in the training division are aimed at improving the work and performance of agencies and institutions, mainly universities and graduate schools of education at universities, which hold a mission of training and apprenticing educational researchers. Funding programs within the vice president's office are experimental or developmental, spanning and augmenting the other divisions' programmatic objectives. The majority of the programs administered within the training division and the office of the vice president are invitational.

See also: International Development Agencies and Education.


Arnove, Robert F. 1977. "The Ford Foundation and 'Competence Building' Overseas: Assumptions, Approaches, and Outcomes." Studies in Comparative International Development 12 (fall):100126.

Arnove, Robert F., ed. 1980. Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Boston: G. K. Hall.

Arnove, Robert F. 1981. "Foundations and the

Transfer of Knowledge: Implications for India." Social Action, New Delhi, India (April).

Arnove, Robert F. 1982. "The Ford Foundation and the Transfer of Knowledge: Convergence and Divergence in the World System." Compare 13:724.

Clotfelter, Charles T., and Ehrlick, Thomas, eds. 1999. Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector in a Changing America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Coleman, James S., and David Court. 1993. University Development in the Third World: The Rockefeller Foundation Experience. New York: Pergamon.

Puryear, Jeffrey. 1994. Thinking Politics: Intellectuals and Democracy in Chile, 19731988. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

internet resources

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 2002. <>.

Broad Foundation. 2002. <>.

CARE. 2002. <>.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2002. <>.

Education International. 2002. <>.

Education Trust. 2002. <>.

Oxfam International. 2002. <>.

Pew Charitable Trusts. 2002. <>.

Rockefeller Foundation. 2002. <>.

Save the Children. 2002. "Education." <>.

Smith Richardson Foundation. 2002. <>.

Soros Foundation. 2002. <>.

Spencer Foundation. 2002. <>.

Stuart Foundation. 2002. <>.

World Vision. 2002. <>.

Katherine Taylor Haynes

Nongovernmental Organizations

views updated May 29 2018

Nongovernmental Organizations

There is a vast diversity among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in respect to composition, methods of working, membership, and purpose. If there is a common denominator to be found, it is less in what NGOs are but rather in what they are not. As Deborah Spar and James Dail have noted, NGOs are not "states or firms; not elected or appointed" (2002, p. 173). Some have argued that this creates a "democratic deficit," meaning NGOs are self-appointed representative agencies that may not be accountable to those they represent. NGOs differ in size, focus, wealth, and working methods, as do their clientele and target groups. NGOs may be local (working within a single state), regional (working across national borders), or international. They range from one-person operations to organizations with large numbers of workers and with offices in numerous countries. Some, like Amnesty International, are membership-driven and supported largely by donations from its constituent members. Others, such as Human Rights Watch, rely primarily on foundations or single donors for the funds needed to pay operating costs. The degree to which an organization's membership base is drawn from civil society provides some clue as to what extent the organization suffers from the "democratic deficit" attributed to these "unelected" bodies.


Given the rather fluid nature of the composition of the NGO community, it can be difficult to provide a precise definition of this type of organization. The Encyclopedia of Public International Law defines NGOs as:

private organizations (associations, federations, unions, institutes, groups) not established by a government or by an international agreement, which are capable of playing a role in international affairs by virtue of their activities, and whose members enjoy independent voting rights. The members of an NGO may be individuals (private citizens) or bodies cooperate. Where the organization's membership or activity is limited to a specific state, one speaks of a national NGO and where they go beyond, of an international NGO.

In contrast, the Oxford Dictionary of Law defines an NGO as:

A private international organization that acts as a mechanism for cooperation among private national groups in both municipal and international affairs, particularly in economic, social, cultural, humanitarian, and technical fields. Under Article 71 of the United Nations Charter, the Economic and Social Council is empowered to make suitable arrangements for consultation with NGOs on matters within its competence.

This more limiting definition reasserts the notion that NGOs are international in character and serve to facilitate national organizations.

The World Bank has defined NGOs more narrowly yet, 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" (Operational Directive 14.70). This definition is specific to developmental NGOs, the partner community of the World Bank.

What characterizes NGOs and makes them distinct is their nongovernmental character. They may operate within a target state or across state boundaries, or indeed internationally, but they are independent from states, and ostensibly, from state influence.

Categories of NGOs

The World Bank places NGOs into three primary groupings. There are community-based organizations (CBOs), which serve a specific population in a narrow geographic area; national organizations, which operate in individual developing countries; and international organizations, which are typically headquartered in developed countries and carry out operations in more than one developing country.

Such distinctions are useful, but each of the categories subsume a rather disparate group of NGOs. To further identify the various strands of the NGO community, Spar and Dail offer a useful typology of NGOs. They divide the NGO community along ten focus topics: health services, infrastructural services, development assistance, education, commercial services, refugee assistance, basic needs, social development, the environment, and human rights. Undoubtedly, these topics and subtopics could be expanded or subdivided further, but the typology's usefulness is twofold. First, the diversity of groups and topical areas of interest highlights just how expansive the umbrella under which NGO groups are housed actually is. Second, the typology helps to categorize NGOs by function and, flowing from this, facilitates assessment of how well they fulfill their functions.

As well as their specific focus, NGOs may also be categorized according to their modus operandi. NGOs can be divided into two groups—those that are primarily advocacy oriented and whose work is to promote a particular cause or position, and operational NGOs, mainly found in the development field, whose primary purpose is to design and implement projects. Advocacy orientated groups use lobbying or public campaigns and education to influence policies and promote action. Development organizations, which include such groups as CARE, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity undertake projects, such as building housing for the poor, designing and implementing well systems for clean drinking water, and building irrigation systems for crop development, to name but a few.

Role of NGOs among Global Institutions

The significance, whether global or regional, of NGOs in shaping discourse at the international level and in the development of international law is undeniable. Often nonpolitical and unencumbered by the influence of governments, NGOs have become both the conscience and the voice of international civil society. Nongovernmental organizations, whether domestic or international, figure prominently in both the creation and implementation of international law. Accordingly, the development and increasing influence of NGOs somewhat mirrors the development and influence of the international legal regime. Historically, the rise of NGO activities parallels the growth in intergovernmental organizations starting at the end of the nineteenth century and especially after World War II.

Article 71 of the UN Charter expressly acknowledges the role of NGOs in international law and development:

The Economic and Social Council [hereafter referred to as ECOSOC] may make suitable arrangements for consultation with nongovernmental organizations, which are concerned with matters within its competence. Such arrangements may be made with international organizations and, where appropriate, with national organizations after consultation with the Member of the United Nations concerned.

The impact of this measure is twofold. First, it recognized the formalized consultative relationship that NGOs had assumed with national and international bodies, both inside and outside the League of Nations, during the period 1919 to 1934. Second, and more confining, are two conditions set forth under Article 71 that, in contrast to the previous and non-formalized period of engagement, actually place limits on NGO participation. The provisions of Article 71 confine the consultation areas to those that fall within the mandate of ECOSOC. As stipulated, the relationship between NGOs and the UN is limited to one of consultation.

This distinction, [of consultative status] deliberately made in the Charter, is fundamental and the arrangements for consultation should not be such as to accord to non-governmental organizations the same rights of participation as are accorded to States not members of the Council and to the specialized agencies brought into relationship with the United Nations.

Thus, the position of NGOs and their representatives is in marked contrast to that of representatives of UN agencies, for the latter are able to "participate without vote" in ECOSOC deliberations. It is also worth noting that Article 71 specifies that engagement with national NGOs is to be made only on an exceptional basis.

The initial arrangements for consultation with NGOs were set out in ECOSOC Resolution 1296 (XLIV) on May 27, 1968. Resolution 1296 reaffirmed the international requirement of consultative status for NGOs, and noted that this status could be waived for national NGOs only when the participation of the national NGO was necessary to reflect a "balanced and effective representation of NGOs," or where that NGO had specific or "special" experience or expertise useful to the Council. ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 subsequently amended resolution 1296 on July 25, 1996, enumerating the requirements for obtaining consultative status, as well as delineating the duties and responsibilities of NGOs in consultative status. Of note, the organization must demonstrate:

  • Its activities are relevant to the work of ECOSOC;
  • It has a democratic decision-making mechanism;
  • Is of recognized standing within the particular field of its competence or of a representative character;
  • It has been in existence (officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO or non-profit agency) for at least two years; and
  • Its basic resources are derived primarily from contributions of the national affiliates, individual members, or other non-governmental components.

Significantly, Resolution 1996/31 appears to lower the bar for national NGOs to obtain consultative status, because the key requirement for the status is that the organization "is not established by a governmental entity or intergovernmental agreement." However, as noted above, the organization must still be of "recognized standing," which may serve to exclude national NGOs that fail to meet that criterion. Currently there are 2,350 NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, and some 400 NGOs accredited to the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), a subsidiary body of ECOSOC.

Status within International Law

There is some debate regarding the legal personality of NGOs. An entity possesses an international legal personality when it bears rights and duties under international law. Traditionally, the notion of bearing rights and responsibilities has rested primarily within the domain of states. The question is whether international law has evolved enough to recognize the role of nonstate actors. The answer may well be both yes and no. Clearly states remain the primary rights-and-duty holders in international law. Nonetheless, the evolution of international law, combined with the increasing role of NGOs in the international playing field, suggests that NGOs have obtained some form of legal personality. This would most certainly apply to the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose position is recognized in international humanitarian law treaties.

NGO Effectiveness

Spar and Dail reasonably posit that the categorization of NGO functions goes some way in assessing an individual NGO's effectiveness. For example, it is possible to audit NGOs that are largely operational, in that they provide a particular service to a particular community, as is true of many development-oriented NGOs. It then becomes possible to assess how well that service has been provided, and how many in the target community are served. Such an audit may calculate how many planned projects were successfully executed and, further, what mechanisms were used for follow-up (e.g., was there training of local staff).

Measuring the effectiveness of advocacy-oriented groups, however, is a much more difficult task. Certainly, such groups might be assessed according to their success of changing a piece of legislation or government policy. Alternatively, effectiveness might be measured by an NGO's success in providing expertise and effective lobbying that culminates in a new treaty or undertaking, or a change in legislation, as happened in the Landmines Campaign (which led to the Landmines Treaty), the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC), and the worldwide move toward abolition of the death penalty. However, the tangibles are often harder to codify when assessing the effectiveness of human rights NGOs. Worldwide campaigns to stop the use of child soldiers, to stop torture and extra judicial killings, to establish transitional justice processes that demand accountability for gross violations of human rights (including genocide and crimes against humanity), to free political prisoners and to secure socio-economic and cultural rights often operate on the principle of "one step forward and sometimes two steps back."


Although NGOs have increased in both numbers and professionalism, and have assumed a significant role as players within the international arena, they still are limited in a number of areas. They can only engage on the international legal level when invited to do so by states, or when allowed by provisions within an international treaty. Some international instruments and regional instruments do allow for third party interventions before courts, which allow NGOs to directly participate in the proceedings. In their work, international, and indeed some national human rights, NGOs principally draw upon the so-called International Bill of Rights, comprised of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. These primary human-rights instruments are supplemented by thematic mechanisms—such as treaties that specifically focus on the rights of women or children, or on specific forms of violations, such as torture or discrimination—and other instruments of international law to serve as guiding mechanisms for human rights NGOs. Although international human rights NGOs and some national NGOs rely on international law and are active in more than one country, the term has also been applied to national NGOs that may work only in one country and may rely on a domestic, rather than international legal framework.

Despite the rather broad sense in which the term has been applied, there are fundamental criteria that human rights organizations must meet in order to qualify for NGO status:

  • It must not be established by a government or have officers or board members appointed by a government;
  • It must not be funded by one government, and if the organization accepts donations from states, the donor countries must not have an influence on the decision making of the organization;
  • It must be a not-for-profit organization; and
  • It must have the promotion and protection of human rights as its fundamental objective.

Beyond these essential criteria, the operations, support, advocacy, research methodology, funding, and structure can differ profoundly. There are many established and respected international human-rights NGOs that merit some specific mention in the campaign against impunity.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International (AI, at was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a lawyer and activist from the United Kingdom. The organization's mission has evolved from its initial focus on specific issues within the civil and political rights arena to a broader scope, which now encompasses social, economic, and cultural rights. Although it still "concentrates on ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination," its mandate has been expanded to include investigating abuses by non-state actors, addressing issues that arise from conflict, and striving for accountability for human rights violations "in the home or community where governments have been complicit or have failed to take effective action."

The organization states that it currently has over 1.5 million members from more than 150 countries. AI's 2002 report describes its operation and structure as follows:

Its nerve center is the International Secretariat in London, with more than 410 staff members and over 120 volunteers from more than 50 countries around the world. The AI movement consists of more than 7,800 local, youth, specialist, and professional groups in over 100 countries and territories. There are nationally organized sections in 58 countries, and pre-section coordinating structures in another 22 countries and territories worldwide.

Amnesty International is a democratic movement, self-governed by a nine-member International Executive Committee (IEC) whose members are elected every two years by an International Council representing sections.

The organization distinguishes itself from other international human rights NGOs in that it is membership-based and membership-driven. During 2002 and 2003, its international budget was listed as £23,728,000 ($43,809,006 in U.S. dollars), which comes from membership fees as well as donations from trusts, private individuals, foundations, and corporations. Amnesty International does not accept money from governments.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR, at was established in 1978. According to its mission statement, the organization works

in the U.S. and abroad to create a secure and humane world by advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law. We support human rights activists who fight for basic freedoms and peaceful change at the local level; protect refugees in flight from persecution and repression; promote fair economic practices by creating safeguards for workers' rights; and help build a strong international system of justice and accountability for the worst human rights crimes.

The LCHR, now known as Human Rights First, has offices in both New York City and Washington, D.C. The organization is funded exclusively by private donations and does not accept government funding. Its 2001 annual budget was listed as $6.1 million. The organization is strongly supported through pro-bono work done by the legal community, which, according to their annual report was valued at $15 million in 2001.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW, at is the largest United States–based international human rights organization. Its organizational headquarters is in New York City and it has thirteen other offices worldwide. As of 2002, the organization employed 189 staff members as well as short-term members and fellows. In the past, HRW has distinguished itself from Amnesty International in that it had a broader mission statement. Its work includes

not only prisoner-related concerns but also many abuses that do not involve custody, such as discrimination, censorship, and other restrictions on civil society, issues of democratisation and the rule of law, and a wide array of war-related abuses, from the indiscriminate shelling of cities to the use of landmines. Human Rights Watch prides itself on aggressively expanding the categories of victims who can seek protection from our movement. Since the late 1980s, we have gradually added special programs devoted to the rights of women, children, workers, common prisoners, refugees, migrants, academics, gays and lesbians, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Amnesty International's refocus on thematic rather than country specific issues, and the broadening of its work to include more civil and political as well as social, economic, and cultural rights, has blurred the distinction between AI and HRW, at least with regard to their individual missions. In terms of function and membership, however, HRW is very different from Amnesty International. HRW does not have a mass-membership base, whereas such a base serves as the core of Amnesty's advocacy work. For HRW, a smaller membership base, together with staff and consultants, undertakes the organization's "principal advocacy strategy." HRW's total operating revenues during 2001 and 2002 have been noted to be $21,715,000. Like its counterparts, HRW does not accept government contributions.

All Groups Not Equal?

As the sheer number of NGOs have grown, so too has their level of professionalism, earning them a role as influential actors in an increasingly globalized international community. However, the broad universe of human rights NGOs has also come to include organizations that do not fit some of the basic NGO criteria. This has prompted some within the human rights field to note, "not all human rights groups are equal." In a letter to the New York Times, Aryeh Neier, the former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch argued that there has been a "proliferation of groups claiming to speak in the name of the human rights cause, but actually engaged in efforts to promote one or another side in a civil conflict" (Steiner and Alston, 2000, p. 945). Neier's concerns are not without merit. The credibility and effectiveness of the human rights movement rests on its ability to work impartially—in fact as well as in appearance.

Neier suggests that, in addition to the criteria previously outlined, the work of groups claiming to be human rights focused should be scrutinized to ensure that both their methodology and advocacy are of a consistently high standard. Fieldwork must be systematic and carried out in as transparent and impartial a manner as possible. When abuses occur, the organization must be willing to apply legal standards to critique and hold actors accountable for all violations—whether these arise from state or non-state actors. Language used to describe the violation must have legal determinacy and must accurately reflect the level and extent of abuse. Finally, when opposing or contradictory evidence or statements are documented and are found to be credible, they should be noted.

Working against Impunity

International human rights NGOs are primarily advocacy organizations, although some national human rights groups may also have caseworkers or operate clinics that provide legal support in the domestic courts systems. Both domestic and international human rights organizations produce reports or memoranda which detail the organizations' concerns regarding an issue or practice in one or more countries. Reports are often supplemented by updates or alerts on specific countries or issues. Amnesty International, for example, produces Urgent Actions, which are bulletins used to mobilize its membership on cases that require immediate attention. Members are requested to lobby their local representatives on these issues and to engage in letterwriting campaigns to the relevant government or international actor.

Although human rights NGOs may differ slightly in their methods of collecting and disseminating information, there are some standard research procedures that can be noted. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will routinely send staff into individual countries to investigate human rights conditions there. These field missions are normally undertaken by a specific researcher from the country or region being investigated. The reasearcher may be accompanied by independent consultants who offer specific expertise in either the region or in a specific field (e.g., forensic pathology, military, or munitions experts). Field work may involve site visitations where violations have been alleged to have occurred, interviews with witnesses and victims, collection of medical or forensic evidence (where appropriate), photo or video documentation, interviews with both state and non-state actors (where violations are said to have been undertaken by state military or opposition groups), and interviews with all appropriate other parties.

The duration of the field visitations vary significantly, and depend on the scale of the work and the breadth of topics that are to be covered. Collection and dissemination of materials to a wider audience are a large part of the advocacy work undertaken by human rights groups. As these groups do not comprise political actors and are nongovernmental, the emphasis is on the use of documentation collected as part of its public education and advocacy missions. HRW stresses that a large part of its work focuses on lobbying and its "principal advocacy strategy is to shame offenders by generating press attention and to exert diplomatic and economic pressure on them by enlisting influential governments and institutions." These claims are true for other international human rights NGOs as well. Amnesty International, on the other hand, uses its membership base as an effective means of disseminating reports and fieldwork findings and mobilizes its members to lobby.

Additionally, most international human-rights NGOs use their materials for human rights education, providing online databases of their reports and summaries for use by locally based NGOs as well as others in the field and the general public. One important aspect of the work of international human rights NGOs is the use of mass media. Although organizations approach the question of media contact differently, with some groups putting large resources toward its media work, virtually all human rights groups at local or international levels depend on the media to assist in disseminating its findings and not just as a means to further public education on a given issue. Through the use of the media, these groups reach an audience that would fall outside of the human rights advocacy networks but might be motivated to apply pressure to governments to answer questions and create the impetus for appropriate action.

Human rights NGOs are increasingly becoming players at the international level. They are no longer limited to monitoring and advocating for the respect of international law and legal mechanisms, but are now active participants in the formulation of legislation. One recent example has been NGO involvement in the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was held in Rome, Italy between June 15 and July 17, 1998. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights were among the hundreds of international and national NGOs in attendance. NGO contributions ranged from the technical and prescriptive to the aspirational. This conference was the result of General Assembly Resolution 52/160 of December 15, 1997, which authorised the participation of selected NGOs in the preparatory work for the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

As part of its work, the Preparatory Committee for the International Criminal Court, which included a significant number of NGOs, established a Victims' Trust Fund. Article 75, paragraph 2 of the Rome Statute allows the ICC to direct a convicted person to pay compensation to a victim. NGO participation in the drafting of the guidelines for the Victims' Trust Fund ensured that it would operate independently of the court and would be the body to distribute financial awards. The Victims' Trust Fund is supported by a Victims' Trust Fund Campaign, based in the United States and coordinated by an organization called Citizens for Global Solutions. The Victims' Trust Fund Campaign has a number of United States–based participating organizations, including a number of national and international human rights NGOs. The conference, together with NGO participation in the preparatory work of the ICC, highlights a trend toward increased NGO participation at an almost quasi-state level.

Investigating War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Genocide

International human rights legislation and humanitarian law remain the primary framework of human rights organizations when investigating and reporting on allegations of violations. Investigations undertaken by local and international human rights organizations into allegations of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and crimes against humanity and war crimes in Israel and the Occupied Territories (to name but a few) have provided critical and independent sources of information. Moreover, these organizations have often played central fact-finding roles that the international community was unable to fulfill.

In cases where the UN has been slow to react to gross human rights violations or has been seen to be ineffective, particularly in the case of Rwanda, international human rights NGOs have spearheaded the research and public dissemination of information, and in calling to hold alleged perpetrators accountable. The work of international NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in documenting the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina not only provided a historical record of the events, but moved the campaign against impunity further by pressing for the establishment of the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia. A brief look at a 2002 investigation by international human rights organizations in Israel and the Occupied Territories serves to highlight the sometimes pivotal role of human rights NGOs.

Israel and the Occupied Territories

There have been a number of reports issued by international as well as locally based human rights organization that have alleged grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories. However, one particular series of events merits review. In March 2002, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a new offensive, Operation Defensive Shield, in Palestinian residential areas. An Amnesty International report stated that this offensive

followed a spate of killings of Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups during March. According to the IDF, the purpose of the offensive—like the incursions into refugee camps, which preceded it in March and the occupation of the West Bank, which followed in June—was to eradicate the infrastructure of "terrorism."

Enormous speculation and concern was raised with regard to the Jenin refugee camp (although this concern was not to the exclusion of other areas in the West Bank). Both the city of Jenin and the camp of the same name had been designated controlled military areas, and those who had fled the fighting that followed the IDF's incursion into the camp were suggesting that the situation within the camp was quite grave. On April 5, 2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights ordered a UN fact-finding mission be undertaken in the Occupied Territories. However, the mission was not allowed to enter Israel and was therefore disbanded. A high-level fact-finding mission that had been agreed upon by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and which had been authorized by the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council was also barred from entering Israel and was forced to disband after weeks of negotiations.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as several locally based human rights NGOs dispatched teams of investigators to the West Bank. Because the UN investigating team was not allowed into the areas of concern, the burden fell upon the international and locally based human rights organizations to undertake research and make public their findings on events surrounding the IDF operation. Human rights NGOs in the areas most affected provided critical information regarding the conditions within the camp and in Jenin, as well in other parts of the West Bank that were under Israeli military control. Moreover, using international legal instruments to guide their research and public comment, groups such as AI and HRW, were able to make preliminary assessments as to whether the IDF had operated within the laws of war and the applicable human rights framework.

Two significant reports were published as a result of these investigations. HRW released a report in May 2002, focused solely on Jenin, shortly after the IDF withdrew from the Jenin refugee camp. The report alleged grave breaches of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and suggested that a prima facie case existed for the charge that war crimes were committed. HRW listed several recommendations calling for investigations and accountability, and specifically called upon the Government of Israel to undertake a full investigation into these allegations. Further, HRW recommended that, should Israel fail in this undertaking, the international community should hold accountable those found to have violated human rights.

Amnesty International's report followed in November of that same year, and included a section on the West Bank city of Nablus. For the most part, AI's conclusions and recommendations mirrored those of HRW, but the AI report posited their findings in the wider context of its work in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Amnesty International concluded that some of the reports findings revealed part of a pattern in which many of the violations

have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner, and in pursuit of government policy (some, such as targeted killings or deportations, were carried out in pursuit of a publicly declared policy). Such violations meet the definition of crimes against humanity under international law.

These reports, together with findings from locally based human rights organizations, remain the only independently researched historical record of these events.

NGO Work-Product

International human-rights organizations use existing international legal frameworks as an important guide when evaluating and presenting their research findings. Additionally, some local as well as international human-rights groups have begun to use different mediums for presenting their research findings. For example, Witness, previously a project component of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, uses videography as its primary campaigning medium. Nonetheless, the main substantive tool for research dissemination for most human rights organizations remains a written report or informational booklets, which are often preceded by report summaries and press alerts. For international human rights organizations, there is a general format to these reports.

In a 1996 article, Stanley Cohen noted that the standard report format employed by human-rights organizations contains seven fixed elements. According to him, these include expressing concern, stating the problem, setting the context, enumerating the sources and methodology employed, detailing the allegations, citing relevant international and domestic law; and calling for the required action. This outline does, in fact, capture the layout of most international human-rights organizations reports. Neither the format nor the methodology used in compiling such reports differ significantly among the larger international human rights NGOs. However, there is a great deal of variance among national and thematic international human-rights organizations regarding the quality of research and the degree to which international legal frameworks play a role in determining findings.

The Challenges Ahead

The challenges that face human rights NGOs in large part mirrors the broader challenges facing internal human-rights and humanitarian legal mechanisms. The attempt to sideline, ignore, or challenge the relevance of human rights and humanitarian law, under the guise of state security and the need to combat the global threat of terrorism has gathered momentum. The adversarial relationship between the protection of human rights and the question of state sovereignty, traditionally fought between human rights NGOs and repressive state regimes, has now been extended to democratic or quasi-democratic states, which view the interference of international legal regimes as an impediment to state security and the fight against terrorism. The very public unpacking and demoting of international legal protections is particularly evident, although not unique to, the events that followed September 11, 2001.

SEE ALSO Documentation; Evidence; Humanitarian Intervention; Human Rights; International Committee of the Red Cross; United Nations


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Kathleen Cavanaugh

Nongovernmental Organizations

views updated May 29 2018


Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as independent of both governments and corporations, are the major components of an international or global civil society. The term first came into official use in the Charter of the United Nations (1945), Chapter 10, Article 71, in order to acknowledge a consultative role for non-state actors in the Economic and Social Council. Since then the term has broadened to include, in the World Bank definition, "private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, to undertake community development" (Operational Directive 14.70). In common usage, NGOs are simply non-profit organizations that, even as they have become increasingly professionalized, remain dependent on donations, voluntarism, and appeals to ethical ideals.

Although it is difficult to provide exact numbers, in 2000 there were certainly more than 25,000 NGOs operating worldwide. The rapid development of NGOs since the 1970s has been stimulated in part by scientific and technological developments, especially in communication, while NGOs also play increasingly significant roles in promoting the ethical uses of science and technology.

Classifications of NGOs

NGOs can be divided into different overlapping categories according to both form and content. Formally it is useful to distinguish between operational NGOs that seek to realize various projects, and advocacy NGOs that seek to raise consciousness about some particular cause. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent is an example of an operational NGO; Amnesty International an example of an advocacy NGO. Of course, many NGOs include both operational and advocacy activities, for example the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which promotes both professional development within the technical community and seeks to educate the general public about the importance of science.

NGOs may also be classified in terms of their interests. From the perspective of interests, NGOs may focus on humanitarian relief such as the Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) or humanitarian development such as Habitat for Humanity; emphasize human rights or environmental issues; exhibit religious or secular bases; and promote professional, trade, or social developments. NGOs are also sometimes distinguished as primarily community-based, national, or international organizations.

Environmental NGOs

One type of NGO that is especially relevant to science, technology, and ethics issues is environmental NGOs, which will be considered here in more detail in order to illustrate relevance, strengths, and weaknesses. Environmental NGOs have formed in direct response to the impact of an increasingly technological world and the increased exploitation of the world's natural resources. Again, although many groups fall under this broad category, environmental NGOS are not uniform in mission, priorities, strategies, or activities. NGOs range from small, grassroots organizations to large nonprofit corporations with boards of directors and professional staffs. Many specialize in particular areas of advocacy or activity and tend to focus their work either geographically or topically. Some are located primarily in North America and work mainly on local or national issues. Others are headquartered in the North, but focus their attention on issues primarily involving developing countries. Still other NGOs have a global focus with affiliated groups active in many different countries.

Local environmental groups are concerned with specific issues such as protection of a local water supply or a site-specific contamination problem. Some of the larger organizations tend to focus on broad areas of national or global concern, such as the Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy, which are concerned with wildlife and habitat protection. Other national groups emphasize the public health threats associated with pollution. Many organizations focus more comprehensively on environmental quality, linking concern for public land and wildlife with pollution and public health issues.

Environmental NGOs attempt to bring about change in a variety of ways. Some engage in public protest marches and demonstrations, civil disobedience, and other participatory public actions and media events to draw attention to specific concerns. Some groups prepare and distribute educational materials and sponsor public educational events. Some environmental NGOs are actively involved in lobbying efforts to ensure appropriate policy solutions to environmental problems. These groups may also act as watchdogs, to ensure that those subject to environmental regulations comply with requirements. Some NGOs pursue environmental remedies through legal action. Other groups work directly on issues such as protecting biodiversity by purchasing land to protect endangered habitats for plants and wildlife. Most NGOs employ a variety of strategies to accomplish their objectives.

Brief History of Environmental NGOs

The conservation movement, in the mid- to late-1800s, gave rise to the first notable environmental NGOs in the United States, many of which remain active in the twenty-first century. This era is often referred to as the "first wave of environmentalism." Influenced by the growth of scientific knowledge that revealed the consequences of more than two centuries of unchecked human exploitation of the environment, Americans began to understand the costs of losing vast expanses of land and resources. Conservationists challenged the notion that America's resources were inexhaustible.

Several influential writers and activists during this period inspired the forming of the first environmental NGOs in the United States. For example, in 1886 George Bird Grinnell (1849–1938) proposed a society for the protection of the nation's birds; this idea gave rise to the Audubon Societies. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and other well-heeled sportsmen, brought attention to the wasteful slaughter of big game animals.

Early conservationists tended to take an anthropocentric or human-centered view of the environment. The underlying philosophy was the efficient use and conservation of resources for human benefit. By the late 1880s, a second strand of thinking emerged. In 1892 John Muir (1838–1914), a Scottish-born immigrant and advocate for the preservation of nature, founded the Sierra Club. While Muir did not dispute the conservationist notions of resource management, he believed that certain natural areas should be treated as sacred realms and protected from all resource exploitation. Muir advocated the preservation of nature for its own sake, and for the preservation of vast areas of land through public ownership.

During the first half of the twentieth century, hunting and fishing organizations, primarily elite organizations of affluent white men, were the most active and influential NGOs. In 1922, a group of Midwestern sportsmen formed the Izaak Walton League of America to advocate for the protection of wildlife habitat. The National Wildlife Federation was formed in 1936 as a clearinghouse for conservation issues.

In 1935, naturalist Aldo Leopold (1886–1948) founded the Wilderness Society based upon a "land ethic" in which humans are viewed as part of nature rather than conquerors of nature. Like Muir, Leopold believed that nature has value in its own right.

The second wave of environmentalism did not emerge in the United States until in the 1960s. For almost 100 years, environmental NGOs were concerned primarily with preserving wilderness or conserving natural resources. The second-wave environmental movement grew out of many concerns. The industrial growth of the United States following World War II produced prosperity, population growth, and pollution. Increased public attention on the problems of pollution, population, consumption, and waste enlarged the environmental agenda

A Representative List of Environmental NGOs and Founding Dates
Environmental OrganizationDate Founded
SOURCE: Courtesy of M. Ann Howard.
Audubon Society —became the New York Audubon Society, the precursor organization to the National Audubon Society.1886
Boone and Crockett Club—"promotes the management of big game and associated wildlife in North America and maintain all aspects of sportsmanship in big game hunting."1887
Sierra Club"encourages the exploration, enjoyment and protection of the wild places of the earth and practices and promotes the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; seeks to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, uses all lawful means to carry these objectives."1892
American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society—no longer in existence.1895
National Audubon Society—"to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity."1905
National Parks and Conservation Association—"to protect and enhance national parks for present and future generations."1919
Izaak Walton League—"to conserve, maintain, protect and restore the soil, forest, water and other natural resources of the United States and other lands; to promote means and opportunities for the education of the public with respect to such resources and their enjoyment and wholesome utilization."1922
The Wilderness Society—"deliver to future generations an unspoiled legacy of wild places, with all the precious values they hold."1935
National Wildlife Federation—"educating and empowering people from all walks of life to protect wildlife and habitat for future generations."1936
Ducks Unlimited—"conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl."1937
Defenders of Wildlife—"the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities; programs focus on the accelerating rate of extinction of species and the associated loss of biological diversity, and habitat alteration and destruction."1947
The Nature Conservancy—"preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive."1951
World Wildlife Fund (now known as WWF) "to stop the degradation of the planet, natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity and ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable."1961
Environmental Defense Fund—"links science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems."1967
Friends of the Earth—"international network of grassroots groups in 70 countries. Defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world."1969
National Resources Defense Council—"safeguard the Earth, its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends; to restore the integrity of the elements that sustain life — air, land and water — and to defend endangered natural places; to establish sustain ability and good stewardship of the Earth as central ethical imperatives of human society."1970
Clean Water Action—"national citizens' organization working for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses, and empowerment of people to make democracy work."1971
Greenpeace—"an independent, campaigning organization that uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and force solutions for a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace's goal is to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity."1971
Zero Population Growth (now known as Population Connection)—"educates young people and advocates progressive action to stabilize world population at a level that can be sustained by Earth's resources."1972
Cousteau Society—"to educate people to understand, to love and to protect the water systems of the planet, marine and fresh water, for the well-being of future generations."1973
Worldwatch Institute—"through accessible, and fact-based analysis of critical global issues, informs people around the world about the complex interactions between people, nature, and economies; focuses on the underlying causes of and practical solutions to the world's problems, in order to inspire people to demand new policies, investment patterns and lifestyle choices."1975
Earth First!—loosely affiliated with the tenets of deep ecology, "seeks to encourage a more harmonious relationship between nature and humans."1980
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—"dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals; operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment."1980
Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (now known as the Center for Health, Environmental and justice)—"provides technical information and training for local citizens to hold industry and government accountable and to work towards a healthy, environmentally sustainable future."1981
Earth Island Institute—"develops and supports projects that counteract threats to the biological and cultural diversity that sustain the environment. Through education and activism, these projects promote the conservation, preservation, and restoration of the Earth."1982
Conservation Fund—"forges partnerships to protect America's legacy of land and water resources. Through land acquisition, sustainable programs, and leadership training, the Fund and its partners demonstrate effective conservation solutions emphasizing the integration of economic and environmental goals."1985
Rainforest Action Network—"campaigns for the forests, their inhabitants and the natural systems that sustain life by the global marketplace through grassroots organizing, education and non-violent direct action."1985
Rainforest Alliance—"to protect ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.1986
Conservation International—"to conserve the earth's natural living heritage, global biodiversity, and to demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature."1987

and gave new impetus to the work of environmental NGOs. During this second wave, national organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society used the new public concern for environmental issues to educate the public and expand membership. In addition, an average of eighteen new NGOs were forming each year during the period 1960 to 1980.

National NGOs were effective lobbying organizations, compelling political action in a variety of areas such as wilderness protection, pollution control, and management of hazardous chemicals. The United States Congress responded to the new public concern through a complex array of statutes. New environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the Clean Air Act (1970), and the Clean Water Act (1972) widened public access to the courts, allowing legal challenges to federal agency actions. A new category of environmental NGOs appeared during this period. Although some of these groups were offshoots of the older, more traditional organizations, these new organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund (1967) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (1970), used the courts to bring attention to serious environmental problems. Many of the new federal environmental laws gave environmental NGOs and their issues standing in the courts, leading to a whole new field of law and environmental advocacy.

Third wave environmentalism emerged in the 1980s and was characterized by the "mainstreaming" of environment issues. The largest national NGOs grew significantly in the early 1980s, in large measure due to growing public pessimism about the state of environment, in spite of the legislative initiatives of the 1960s and 1970s. For example, the Wilderness Society grew by more than 140 percent between 1980 and 1983, and the Sierra Club increased its membership by 90 percent during the same period. Toward the end of the 1980s, most of the larger NGOs experienced additional growth in membership as the public grew more concerned about global environmental problems such as ozone depletion and global climate change.

By the mid 1980s, the national environmental NGOs were shifting their strategies from legal challenges and anti-business lobbying to a more collaborative problem-solving stance working directly with corporate interests. During this time, many of the larger national NGOs began working with government and industry to fashion "market-based" solutions to environmental problems.

Not all NGOs embraced cooperative strategies. More radical environmental activists encouraged "direct action" and more controversial activities. For example, Greenpeace, founded in 1971, was one of the most visible environmental groups in the early 1990s because of its highly publicized protests against polluting companies. Critics often described the actions of some of these groups as "ecoterrorism." Earth First!, a splinter group of the Wilderness Society, practiced tree-spiking, driving nails into trees with the intent of damaging chain saws in opposition to cutting down trees in major forest areas.

Grassroots environmentalism was a significant force during the 1980s and 1990s, and remains so in the twenty-first century. In contrast to the larger national NGOs that tend to be very centralized and led by mostly white, well-educated, middle-class professionals, grassroots organizations are comprised of people who cut across racial, class, and educational lines. Inspired by the efforts of Lois Gibbs at Love Canal in the 1970s, the grassroots movement began as a populist movement against toxic waste. Although most of the grassroots organizations operate independently of the mainstream organizations, a number of national networks, such as the Citizens' Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes, provide organizational skills and technical assistance to local groups.

Part of the growth of grassroots environmentalism included the emergence of environmental justice groups. These groups have coupled environmental issues with other social issues associated with poverty, racism, and classism. These organizations are concerned with distributive justice and remedying past injustices (based on race and class) and focus on a variety of issues including waste disposal, worker health and safety, housing, pesticides, and facility siting. Some of the larger NGOs have taken up environmental justice causes; however, most local groups, wary of the larger NGOs, tend to work outside the mainstream organizations.

The International Environmental Movement

The international environmental NGOs emerged in the 1990s, almost a century following the appearance of the first wave of American environmentalism. During the 1970s and 1980s, the global implications of environmental issues became more evident. A growing body of scientific knowledge brought to life the damage caused by worldwide exploitation of natural resources by the relatively few industrialized nations. Most of the serious problems of global air and water pollution were directly attributable to the activities of the developed countries. The watershed was the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—called the "Earth Summit"—held in Rio de Janeiro. While official country representatives met under the auspices of the UN conference, more than 30,000 individuals representing several thousand environmental groups, many from the developing world, held a global forum to draw attention to issues impacting people and the environment around the world. The Earth Summit had a catalytic effect on NGO growth and network building throughout the world. NGOs in developing nations perform somewhat different roles than the NGOs of developed countries. They may fill a void due to ineffective or nonexistent government programs or they may supplement the work of government agencies.


As the history of NGOs suggests, these organizations can be instrumental in organizing public pressure on environmental issues at the local, national, and international levels. NGOs have played an important role in bringing new issues to the public agenda and have sponsored innovative solutions to key environmental issues. The NGO presence heightens public scrutiny of government decision making on critical environmental issues. Historically, NGOs had a different stake in power politics and were able effectively to serve as a counterpoint to other political or economic interests. However, as NGOs have become more mainstream and engaged in working relationships with government and industry, many have observed the changing nature of the NGOs.

Decision-making structures within environmental NGOs vary widely. At the heart of grassroots organizations is a strong commitment to citizen participation. The process within these organizations is often very participatory and direct stakeholders decide upon agendas and strategies. In contrast, mainstream environmental NGOs are often criticized for their undemocratic practices. In many, central staff or the board of trustees has the final say on issues and strategies, often without the advice or consent of members or regional chapters. Some have grown so large that more democratic decision making is not feasible.

The national NGOs must deal with the tensions caused by the conflicts associated with preserving the organization and preserving the environment. Many of the nationals have been criticized for excessive deference to industry in effort to reach collaborative solutions. They also are criticized for abandoning grassroots interests in favor of organizational protectionism.

Most national NGOs rely on member contributions to fund their activities. Some groups hire consultants to determine what issues would elicit the highest donations. Fundraising activities and newsletters often are primarily designed to maximize contributions rather than to inform membership. Some groups have been criticized for exaggerating or overexploiting potentially harmful problems such as asbestos or pesticides, in order to enlarge memberships or increase member contributions.

Most of the larger NGOs must also raise funds from outside sources. Most do not have memberships large enough to be financially autonomous, especially to support professional administrators, lawyers, and scientific experts. NGOs raise funds from foundations, governments, other NGOs, and private corporations. Often funding interests are represented on governing boards. This may lead to questions of cooptation. Critics argue that organizational priorities may be more influenced by the interest of the funders rather than environmental quality. Even large foundations have directed the priorities of mainstream NGOs, favoring cautious reform and noncontroversial strategies such as public education. Some large foundations tend to shut out organizations that take more radical positions such as zero-cut policies in public forests or zero discharge of contaminants.

Some critics note that the largest industrial polluters have become the largest donors to the bigger environmental NGOs. Because of this, some suggest that while national NGOs may be better positioned to influence national policy, grassroots organizations will have a greater impact on industry practices and corporate interests in the future because they are willing to openly confront industry's management of pollution and hazardous waste, the siting of hazardous waste facilities, and private sector exploitation of resources.


SEE ALSO American Association for the Advancement of Science;Bioethics Centers;Professional Engineering Organizations;Sierra Club.


Dowie, Mark. (1995). Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lafferty, William M., and James Meadowcraft, eds. (1996). Democracy and the Environment: Problems and Prospects. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Redclift, Michael, and Graham Woodgate, eds. (1997). The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Shabecoff, Philip. (1993). A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement. New York: Hill and Wang.

Taylor, Dorceta E. (2000). "The Rise of the Environmental Justice Paradigm." American Behavioral Scientist 43(4): 508–580.

Thiele, Leslie Paul. (1999). Environmentalism for a New Millennium: The Challenge of Coevolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nongovernmental Organizations (Ngos)

views updated May 21 2018

Nongovernmental Organizations (Ngos)




The term nongovernmental organization, or NGO, refers to a vast range of nonprofit organizations that are not a part of any government. They vary in size from a few people operating on a shoestring budget to huge globe-spanning organizations. Highlighted below are some crucial questions and controversies that are salient in shaping the political economy of NGOs as social actors, particularly in relation to their often assumed status as expressions of civil society; their relationship to social movements; and the ways they both constrain and enable progressive social change.

The number and visibility of NGOs have expanded dramatically since the 1970s, in part because neoliberal policies have reduced the role of the state in many areas. NGOs commonly work in numerous fields, including humanitarian and other social services; research, monitoring, and information provision; and advocacy around particular issues, such as the environment, health, the empowerment of marginalized communities, human rights, and the status of women and minorities. Many NGOs contract with states and intergovernmental organizations to provide services. During the early decades of NGO growth, they were celebrated as efficient providers of services and deliverers of empowerment. As a result, they became consultants to governmental and international agencies, particularly as representatives of the grass roots.

NGOs are sometimes called voluntary organizations, highlighting a presumption that social values, rather than profit or political power, are the primary motivators in the functioning of such organizations. These notions of values and voluntarism have led observers to see NGOs as expressions of civil society, similar to social movements, and to interpret their increased visibility as a strengthening of the influence of civil society in the affairs of the state and the economy.


Since the mid-1990s, the popular perception that NGOs are potential agents for diffusing development and enabling empowerment has increasingly been subjected to critical scrutiny in academia and in the community spaces where NGOs operate. Critics have pointed out that it is incorrect to assume that NGOs are automatically accountable to the target groups in whose name they work. Indeed, some pseudo-grassroots, or astroturf, NGOs have been set up by business or political interests to provide a misleading impression of grassroots action to advance their own agendas. Often astroturf groups try to hide their status as a vested interest.

More generally, the NGO form itself can blunt its potential for social activism for several reasons. First, NGOs commonly have an organizational hierarchy with paid staff and offices, so they must raise funds, either from donors or through contracting to provide services. This financial dependency frequently renders NGOs accountable to their funders. It also promotes a tendency toward professionalization. These factors often create tensions with movement-based models of social change that rely on mass mobilization.

Second, when NGOs rely on donors for funding, it becomes difficult for them to support alternative visions and local initiatives. For instance, David Hulme and Michael Edwards, in NGOs, States and Donors (1997), ask whether the interests, values, methods, and priorities of NGOs have become so tied with those of northern-government donors and developing country-states that they have now been socialized into the development industry. Have NGOs gained so much leverage, Hulme and Edwards wonder, because they now have the social grace not to persist with awkward questions and the organizational capacity to divert the poor and disadvantaged from more radical ideas about how to overcome poverty? (p. 3).

Third, NGO structures and project funding often lead to increased standardization and constrain the spaces for NGOs to learn in response to local concerns, leading to major gaps between advocacy and practice. As states increasingly outsource their functions to them, NGOs find themselves in a race to do rather than to reflect. As David Lewis and Tina Wallace put it in New Roles and Relevance (2000), Finding ways of becoming learning organizationsas well as finding ways to increase accountability at all levelslargely continue to evade NGOs, yet the successful search lies at the heart of NGOs ability to respond in ways that are truly relevant (p. xiv).

These processes, through which organizations working at the grassroots level lose their connection with their prime constituency and support base, have been called NGOization. There is thus an implicit or explicit critique that NGOs and their ties with the state are significantly reshaping, or even replacing, community-based activism. For Arundhati Roy, such NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in (Roy 2004).

NGOization is by no means confined to the Third World. For example, Sabine Lang argues in The NGO-ization of Feminism (2000) that the NGOization of German womens movements brought with it: (1) a structural emphasis on professionalized but decentralized small-scale organizations; (2) a turn from antihierarchical to more hierarchical structures; and (3) the partitioning of a complex feminist agenda of emancipation and equality into specific single issues with a state-oriented politics. While feminist movement-building prioritized the making of a new democratic counterculture, new feminist NGOs have aimed for issue-specific intervention and pragmatic strategies that have a strong employment focus.

On a global level, gender mainstreaming and poor womens empowerment have been important features of NGOization, with issues such as violence against women, adult literacy, HIV/AIDS, and microcredit being addressed (in isolated forms) as significant priorities. At the same time, issues that had been prominent in womens movements in the prestructural-adjustment era, such as price inflation of basic foods, womens unions, and land reforms, have been pushed aside. Thus, the structure and social location of NGOs can situate them as diffusers of the hegemonic values, ideologies, and knowledge to people at the grass roots, rather than as challengers of existing hierarchies of power that advance broader visions of social change.


In a context in which NGOs have increasingly been called upon to help manage the problems produced by neoliberal policies and to pacify those who have been hardest hit by such policies, many small movements have found it impossible to exist without engaging with donor agencies or local and national NGOs in one form or another. The challenge before such organizations is to find creative ways to support their political work while also maintaining their accountability and transparency before the people they work for and work with. Despite the countless challenges, resistance to NGOization continues in many small organizations.

SEE ALSO Accountability; Feminism; Human Rights; International Nongovernmental Organizations (INGOs); Marginalization; Microfinance; Minorities; Organizations; Poverty; Resistance; Third World; Volunteer Programs; Volunteerism; Womens Movement


Hulme, David, and Michael Edwards. 1997. NGOs, States and Donors: An Overview. In NGOs, States and Donors: Too Close for Comfort?, ed. David Hulme and Michael Edwards, 332. New York: St. Martins.

Lang, Sabine. 2000. The NGO-ization of Feminism: Institutionalization and Institution Building within the German Womens Movements. In Global Feminisms since 1945, ed. Bonnie Smith, 290304. New York: Routledge.

Lewis, David, and Tina Wallace. 2000. Introduction. In New Roles and Relevance: Development NGOs and the Challenge of Change, ed. David Lewis and Tina Wallace, ix-xvii. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press.

Roy, Arundhati. 2004. Tide? Or Ivory Snow? Public Power in the Age of Empire. Speech given in San Francisco, California, on August 16, 2004.

Sangtin Writers, and Richa Nagar. 2006. Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

David R. Faust

Richa Nagar

Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

views updated May 18 2018

Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

Collaborative efforts among the public have played an important role in shaping the political and social values and hence public policy of the United States. Organizing with others who share a similar vision enhances the potential for change. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accomplish just that. Established outside of political parties, NGOs are aimed at advocating the public's

conservation international1987$50,000,000to preserve and promote awareness about the world's endangered biodiversity.working with the cambodian government to create a one-million-acre protected area. sponsored scientific research of coral reefs off indonesia. helped create the world's largest national rain forest.
izzak walton league of america1922$3,000,000to protect and promote sustainable resource use.helped create the land and water fund. were instrumental in the protection of the boundary waters canoe area wilderness, everglades national park, and isle royale national park.
national audubon society1905$44,000,000to restore and protect the natural habitat of birds and other wildlife for the benefit of human interest and biodiversity.involved the public in bird counts across the united states to track populations. has opened nature centers to promote understanding of birds.
national wildlife federation1936$96,000,000the largest member-supported conservation group working to protect wildlife and ecosystems.function in forty-six states to promote the protection of species and their environments. worked in the western united states to prevent urban sprawl and sustainable forestry.
natural resources defense council1970$30,632,992using science and law to protect the planet's wildlife and wild places.worked with the epa to restrict pesticide use, prevented the development of a large airport near the florida everglades, and have helped design a plan to restore yosemite.
nature conservancy1951$245,000,000to protect aquatic and terrestrial habitats for the survival of biodiversity.own over a thousand preserves and have protected more than fourteen million acres of land in the united states.
wilderness society1935$14,700,000protect the remaining wilderness in the united states by keeping roads, loggers, and oil drilling efforts out of wilderness areas.helped block oil exploration near arches national park, created the wilderness act, which was passed in 1964, and the conservation act which was passed in 1980.
wildlife conservation society1895$95,000,000support international survival strategies as well as habitat conservation projects.formed jackson hole wildlife park in 1956, led the national campaign to reintroduce bison to the kansas grasslands, and created the bronx zoo.
world wildlife fund1961$60,000,000protect and preserve endangered species.launched wildlands and human needs projects to address the needs of people living in fragile ecosystems.
sierra club1892$43,000,000to educate and enlist people to protect the environment through lawful means, and address key issues including commercial logging, urban sprawl, and water quality.assisted in preserving the north grove calaveras big trees, fought to return yosemite to federal management, and worked to create the national park service.
environmental defense fund1967$39,000,000create solutions to environmental problems including policies to reduce fossil fuels.won a ban on ddt use, prevented the development of a resort on former state park land that would endanger native species.
greenpeace usa1971$19,266,530nonviolent direct action to expose environmental threats.drew attention to ocean incineration of toxic waste, resulting in a ban of the practice; also, won an end to sperm whale hunting, halted the testing of nuclear arms off florida.
friends of the earth1969$3,000,000to protect earth from environmental disaster through toxic waste cleanup and groundwater protection.conducted lab tests proving that genetically altered food not approved for human consumption was being sold, won a federal court case that prevented army corps of engineers from illegally issuing permits for developers to fill in wetlands.

concerns and pressuring governments to do a better job. These organizations may range from a handful of local citizens enacting recycling in their community to a million-member-strong organization with a budget of $20 million.

Agents of Information and Action

NGOs are often nonprofit groups that employ a variety of tactics for achieving awareness among the public and the government. The very nature and structure of NGOs has been advantageous in dealing with pollution issues for several reasons. First, membership within NGOs consists of people with a strong personal commitment to their cause. Second, the focused efforts of NGOs allow their leaders to become specialized. Third, the loose structure of NGOs enables them to respond with greater speed and flexibility than the government.

Throughout the forty years of the modern environmental movement, NGOs have been crucial in bringing visibility to pollution problems affecting both the local and international communities. According to Peter Willets, "Information is the currency of politics, and the ability to move accurate up-to-date information around the globe has been a key factor in the growing strength of environmental groups" (Willets, p. 114). The communication of information has been accelerated through the use of the Internet. In addition, NGOs also rely heavily on publications, media coverage, and conferences to collaborate with one another and to educate the public.

Although reformers of the Settlement House era of the late 1800s and early 1900s organized efforts for change within city neighborhoods, the formation of prominent mainstream organizations such as the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club are widely considered to be the first major environmental NGOs. Rooted in early-twentieth-century debates over the exploitation of land, these early NGOs lobbied the government by talking with local officials and publishing works on the importance of wilderness. One of the most notable efforts to drum up public support was a series of full-page advertisements taken out by the Sierra Club from 1965 to 1968 in the New York Times vilifying the prospects of building hydroelectric dams in and flooding the Grand Canyon.

Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are two NGOs with international status that have fought to keep the public informed about pesticides and toxics pollution through direct action techniques. Their practices of physically obstructing or protesting industry has made them popular in the media since the groups' inception in the 1970s. In one particular instance, Friends of the Earth amassed a collection of Schweppes bottles and subsequently dumped them on the company's front steps. Their efforts to send a clear message to the beverage company about waste pollution attracted media coverage and brought about a rise in membership. Similarly, Greenpeace employed confrontational tactics by sailing the vessel Phyllis McCormack towards a French nuclear testing site to halt testing. In another campaign, Greenpeace members put themselves in small boats between whalers and whales.

The Rise of International Networks

By the mid-1980s there were thousands of NGOs. Their success across the globe was encouraging to environmentalists and it was encouraging to a publicboth national and internationalthat had begun to see the importance of NGOs in environmental issues. Danish NGOs won a complete ban on throwaway beverage packaging while Australian NGOs won concessions on mining in their national parks. The use of phosphates in detergents was banned in Switzerland with the help of NGOs. But as pollution became a major factor in the global debate of acid rain, global warming, and ozone depletion, NGOs saw a great need to collaborate internationally.

The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica provoked furious action among American NGOs. Apparent disinterest shown toward the issue by European NGOs prompted several U.S. NGOs to send representatives to Europe to discuss the consequences of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the atmosphere. As a result of their meeting, the U.K. branch of Friends of the Earth drew up a campaign to publish its own guide to pollutants. In 1986 Aerosol Connection was a resounding success in communicating to the public how to support non-CFC products. Thousands of people were eager to get their hands on a copy. Raising public awareness weakened the position of the chemical companies in the United Kingdom, because they had controlled most public information about CFCs. The scientific information that NGOs supplied for the debate over CFCs helped speed negotiations on the Montréal Protocol, which called for a ban on CFC use. The experience clearly illustrated the power of NGOs to successfully lobby internationally.

NGOs experienced greater inclusion in the political arena throughout the 1990s. NGO pressure on World Bank policy set a precedent for collaboration by the World Bank with NGOs in the international realm. By challenging the World Bank to support environmentally viable water projects, NGOs exposed an array of existing problems to the media, to the U.S. government, and to congressional staff. Just a week after collaboration with the World Bank, NGOs from across the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the 1992 Earth Summit. Twenty years earlier, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm was a major turning point for NGOs. Because only government officials were invited to the conference, NGOs gathered around the conference site to debate their own positions. To help clarify confusion surrounding conference issues, NGOs published a newspaper which they delivered to the media, embassy, and hotels where attendees were staying.

The 1992 Earth Summit

Having learned from the 1972 UN Conference, the planners of the 1992 Earth Summit coordinated a parallel conference for NGOs. Known as the Global Forum, this satellite conference enabled NGOs across the world to network, share research, and evaluate their collective role in protecting the environment. Together, NGOs drafted an extensive collection of treaties including the Earth Charter, a document meant to parallel the Summit's Rio Declaration, an agreement defining the rights and responsibilities of countries. Five years after the 1992 Earth Summit, five hundred NGOs met in New York to judge their progress and push for a redrafting of the Earth Charter. By 2000 a new draft was finalized to express the renewed vision NGOs hoped to fulfill.

By the mid-1990s NGOs had secured an important position in the environmental movement's crusade against pollution. Organizations large and small, striving to eradicate pollution, raised the public's level of awareness. Because pollution is at the same time a local and international problem, NGOs have been essential on all levels. Their dedication to issues and their multifaceted approaches to disseminating information makes them an important asset to the cause they represent and to the legislation they are hoping to influence. International NGO networks only serve to improve the environmental movement as receptivity to NGO work continues to expand worldwide.


fox, jonathan, and brown, l. david. (1998). the struggle for accountability: the world bank, ngos, and grassroots movements. cambridge, ma: mit press.

gottlieb, robert. (1993). forcing the spring. washington, d.c.: island press.

hays, samuel p. (2000). a history of environmental politics since 1945. pittsburgh: university of pittsburgh press.

hedblad, alan, ed. (2003). encyclopedia of associations, 39th edition. detroit: gale group.

markham, adam. (1994). a brief history of pollution. new york: st. martin's press.

willets, peter. (1982). pressure groups in the global system. london: st. martin's press.

internet resources

ciesin. "a summary of the major documents signed at the earth summit and global forum." available from

citizens campaign for the environment. "coalitions and affiliations." available from

global policy. "ngos." available from

environmental defense fund. "notable victories." available from

natural resources defense council. "environmental legislation." available from

transformational movement. "earth charter." available from

united nations. "un conference on environment and development (1992)." available from

worldwatch institute. "wto confrontation shows growing power of activist groups." available from

Christine M. Whitney

Nongovernmental Organizations

views updated Jun 08 2018

Nongovernmental Organizations

The term nongovernmental organization (NGO) gained widespread use beginning in 1945, when it was used in the United Nations Charter to clearly distinguish between governmental and private organizations. To be considered an NGO, an organization must be free from government control, non-profit, not considered a political party, and not involved in criminal activity.

While NGOs are, by definition, independent from government, they often engage in political activities and work closely with governments. NGOs are involved in activities related to international development, including relief work, provision of health and human services, advocacy for human rights, and environmental protection. There are several types of NGOs, such as charity organizations, churches, research institutes, community-based organizations, and lobbying groups. Those whose primary focus is on the development and implementation of projects and programs are referred to as operational NGOs, and those whose primary focus is on defending or promoting a certain cause or influencing policies are called advocacy, or campaigning, NGOs. However, both operational and advocacy NGOs have to mobilize financial resources, needed materials, and volunteers in order to achieve their goals and purposes.

NGOs can be divided into three broad categories based on the scope of their work: community-based organizations (CBOs), national organizations, and international organizations. CBOs are usually established by members of a local community to serve their own needs. National organizations are formed to serve people within an entire country, and international organizations are usually headquartered in a developed country and provide services to more than one developing country. CBOs, national organizations, and international organizations may interact and work together. Since the mid-1970s the number of NGOs around the world has increased substantiallyby the late twentieth century there were between 6,000 and 30,000 national NGOs and thousands of CBOs (the data on the number of NGOs is, unfortunately, very incomplete).

see also Disaster Relief Organizations.

Laura Nelson


Basch, Paul F. (1999). Textbook of International Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

Internet Resources

Duke University Perkins Library. "Non-Governmental Organizations Research Guide." Available from <>

Willetts, Peter (2002). "What is a Non-Governmental Organization?" Available from <>

World Bank. "NGO World Bank Collaboration." Available from <>