World NGO Day_blogFebruary 27th 2014 was World NGO Day. It was marked by an international conference held in Helsinki, Finland, across the 27th-28th February entitled ‘Your NGO day: a generation of new NGOs’. The conference agenda reflected some of the roles and values of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with speakers covering health, education, social welfare and the empowerment of women, children and youths.

So what is an NGO?

An NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level. Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights or the environment. They provide analysis and expertise, serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements. They can range in size from large international NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (presently active in 68 countries, with operations encompassing close to 32,000 staff) to the more local grassroots organizations such as the Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development (FORWARD) – a non-profit, service-oriented non-governmental organization working with approximately 20 full time staff in Nepal to help disadvantaged groups and the rural poor.

Whatever the size, all NGOs are generally valued: 

  • For their willingness to act
  • For their independence
  • For their deep and genuine concern for the well-being of the communities they serve
  • For their pioneering work in developing a wide range of participatory methods and accessible, relevant and sustainable technologies
  • For initiating group formations to meet the technical requirements of certain types of innovation; to manage "lumpy" assets; and to manage common property resources
  • As a bridge between governments and the private sector often maintaining a field presence in remote locations, where it is difficult to keep government staff in post or attract private companies
  • As a deliverer of humanitarian aid in areas of crisis
  • As champions of the grassroots aspirations and goals of ordinary people

As such, NGOs are a valuable part of the global safety net. In a context of increasing complexity and uncertainty, Dr. Randolph Kent, Justin Armstrong, and Dr. Alice Obrecht in their Discussion Paper ‘The Future of Non-Governmental Organisations in the Humanitarian Sector: Global Transformations and Their Consequences’ urge NGOs to test their importance, relevance and value on a regular basis and pay much greater attention to new forms of partnerships as well as to sources of innovation and innovative practices to ensure they survive.

So on World NGO day it is fitting to remember as stated by Mr. Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development at the European Commission, that “On every single day of the year, all over the world, NGOs are working hard for the people and communities they have pledged to help. It’s only right that, on just one of those days, the world should celebrate NGOs and thank them for the tremendous work that they do”.

For further information see:

The Global Journal, special issue ‘The Top 100 NGOs 2013’

Dr. Randolph Kent, Justin Armstrong, Dr. Alice Obrecht (2013) ‘The Future of Non-Governmental Organisations in the Humanitarian Sector: Global Transformations and Their Consequences’, Humanitarian Futures Programme Discussion Paper for the Start Network, London, UK

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