Irish NGOs explained
For many decades, Ireland’s overseas aid has been notable for the work of numerous missionaries and aid workers. Although the government established an official development cooperation programme as far back as 1974, its size and public profile have traditionally been dwarfed by ‘charities’ and missionary groups.
Thanks to the work of the NGOs and missionaries, development cooperation still remains popular in the true sense of the word – being a commitment of and by ordinary people, working together through non-profit citizens groups.
Irish development NGOs are manifestations of active citizenship and people power: they are civil society groups, supported by over 850,000 Irish people, including hundreds of volunteers. Even with growing government funding, the bulk of their money still comes from the general public.
These active groups of citizens (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.
They have different ways of doing that, and different reasons for doing so. They are a diverse bunch – large and small, young and old, secular and missionary. But, they share one vital characteristic: their commitment to tackle poverty and inequality in the world.
Irish NGOs work together to strive to enhance their long-term impact, and to become increasingly professional. In designing and carrying out their programmes, aid agencies try to ensure that they maximise the benefit for those they intend to assist – and indeed, that they do no harm in circumstances that are often complex and difficult.
Irish NGOs are convinced that Development is ultimately about people; People who require institutions and information to enable their participation.
There are no quick fixes: it requires time and committed involvement. Irish NGOs, as citizens organisations can provide support to these groups and institutions. They can mobilise people for justice and equality across cultures and continents.
In short, citizens’ organisations are at the heart of what development really means.