What is an NGO? What role does it play in civil society?
Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, were first called such in Article 71 in the Charter of the newly formed United Nations in 1945. While NGOs have no fixed or formal definition, they are generally defined as nonprofit entities independent of governmental influence (although they may receive government funding).
As one can tell from the basic definition above, the difference between nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and NGOs is slim. However, the term "NGO" is not typically applied to U.S.-based nonprofit organizations. Generally, the NGO label is given to organizations operating on an international level although some countries classify their own civil society groups as NGOs.
NGO activities include, but are not limited to, environmental, social, advocacy and human rights work. They can work to promote social or political change on a broad scale or very locally. NGOs play a critical part in developing society, improving communities, and promoting citizen participation.
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Definitions of an NGO
The diversity of NGOs strains any simple definition. They include many groups and institutions that are entirely or largely independent of government and that have primarily humanitarian or cooperative rather than commercial objectives.
United for Human Rights (UHR)
Human Rights Organizations
Many NGOs around the world dedicate their efforts to protecting human rights and ending human rights abuses.
U.S. State Department
NGO Handbook (PDF)
The handbook states: "NGOs — nongovernmental organizations — are independent of both the government and the business sector. Their mandate is to promote the public interest and serve the public good rather than to make a profit or advance the interests of a narrow group of individuals. Their independence enables them to monitor government performance and advocate for improvements."
The Global Journal
NGOs: A Long and Turbulent History
This article presents a basic history of international NGOs, as well as the politics of development and humanitarian aid.
Roles of NGOs
Identifies six important roles that NGOs play.
The Global Development Research Center
What is a Non-Governmental Organization?
Professor Peter Willetts' article provides an overview of the history and evolution of NGOs, and provides information regarding their structure and activities.