Why are there so many NGOs?

25/10/2010 at 10:27 am 4 comments

Put simply, NGOs are active groups of citizens, moved by the injustice of global poverty and exclusion, and driven “to do something” to end poverty.

NGOs are acutely conscious that the provision of aid alone is not enough to address the inequalities and human rights violations that affect the world’s poor. Aid is necessary in certain circumstances where poverty, war, disasters or economic breakdown create particular and urgent needs. NGOs though, are broadly about change, not charity, and they work in solidarity with people and communities in developing countries to effect that change.

Dóchas is the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations, an umbrella group for a diverse range of organisations: large and small, young and old, secular or faith-based. And they bring different priorities and approaches to Development. However, they share one vital characteristic: their commitment to tackle poverty and inequality in the world.

For this reason, they created the Dóchas network in 1974, as a means to help strengthen Ireland’s efforts to eradicate the injustice that is world poverty. Through Dóchas, Irish Development NGOs come together to share and exchange their experiences, and to use those experiences to come up with more effective ways to end all forms of poverty and injustice.

Different NGO roles

  • Some focus on enhancing children’s lives and opportunities, or tackling hunger, for example, while others pay particular attention to health, education or human rights
  • Some draw their inspiration from their religious beliefs, others are secular in outlook
  • Some have a clear geographical focus, others tend to work wherever the need arises
  • Some prefer to work with and through local partners rather than placing workers on the ground themselves
  • Some respond to emergencies, or work to build health and education systems, others specialise in building the capacity of local citizens’ groups
  • Some identify their strength in running projects, others define their role as mobilising people for lobby campaigns
  • Some decide to focus on one particular issue to bring specialist knowledge to bear, others prefer a more general approach, bringing changes across a broad range of key issues. This includes tackling international policies and systems that can serve to keep the poor in poverty
  • Some NGOs and missionary groups provide services to poor people, others assert that poverty is a violation of human rights, and see their role as protecting and promoting those rights.

No one NGO, or organisation of any kind, can hope to support all of the world’s poor people, communities and countries work towards better and safer lives. The diversity of approach and focus outlined above is a key strength of the Irish NGO sector.

Working Together

Through Dóchas, NGOs are seeking new and effective ways to maximise their impact, by making use of the power and ideas of all those who can make a difference – governments, companies, media and NGOs. Now more than ever it is clear that only by working together in a coordinated way can we begin to make poverty history.

Greater coordination and coherence does not mean giving up our diversity. In fact, we believe that our strength lies in our diversity of approach and our ability to respond flexibly to the changing needs of the people we serve. Yet, we are committed to the core professional standards that we share, and we understand the potential for bringing together the energies and expertise of others. We know that we have a responsibility to keep searching for new ways to improve the impact and sustainability of our work.

It is for all these reasons that we, the Irish Development NGOs, work together through Dóchas.

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Entry filed under: Development Effectiveness, NGOs, Overseas aid. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Claire Ni Chanainn  |  24/01/2011 at 9:31 am

    I see NGOs, especially small ones, as important actors as they can take risks. We’re trying out new forms of education that would most benefit the poor in India. When I was with UNICEF there was no way we could try out such a thing, if we did we’d have to do it in a sample of 5,000 schools. And that was just too expensive to be feasible for something that had yet to be proven effective. Now, as a small NGO we can modify and improve school curriculum to be most beneficial in a child’s life.

    Reply
    • 2. Hans  |  24/01/2011 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks Claire. That is indeed one of the key arguments in favour of NGO work. The key challenge, however, is to translate that risk-taking into shared learning, and applying that shared learning.
      Development work is full of great pilot projects, but the scaling -up often becomes problematic.
      For one, I’d be interested in the experience you are having in your programme, and see what others can learn from it!

      Reply
  • [...] Why are there so many NGOs? [...]

    Reply
  • 4. Judith Turbyne  |  15/02/2012 at 11:46 am

    I can see why the plethora of NGOs can seem baffling from outside. However, there are often quite major differences between them, what they are trying to do, who they are working with and so on. What is most definitely fundamental is that there is good coordination between such organisations in order that actions are mutually reinforcing, rather than basic repetitions of actions across the sector. Dochas is fundamental to that effort, but individual NGOs also have to take responsibility for making strong links, and exploring the best way of cooperation and coordination between organisations.

    Sometimes that might mean merger, but definitely not necessarily. Small organisations can be a dynamic force in the sector. They can look to develop new ideas and new ways of doing things. They can fill a very specific niche, and their learning and development in that niche can support the learning in a particular area across the sector.

    Reply

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