What is an NGO?

what is an NGO? When I came to the Philippines originally I started to hear NGO crop up on a regular basis and it wasn’t something I had heard of in the West. Crazy thing is its normally western organisations that are running NGO’s (Non Government Organisations).

The types of Organisations that operate as NGO’s vary though considerably and although generally they are supposed to be Non political as well which often means they are outside of government control for things like humanitarian aid they are often political in nature. For example Pro life organisations are still regarded as NGO’s yet here in the Philippines are basically American churches interfering in Philippines healthcare and political matters.

They are however legally constituted organisations and the phrase originated from United Nations (UN). Its for this reason it describes a broad selection of non government and non conventional for profit organisations/businesses. When funded by governments partially or solely by governments they maintain NGO status by excluding government representatives from membership within the organisation.

The term however is usually only applied to organisations with wider social aims that may also have political aspects but not as direct as things like political parties. The term “Non Governmental Organisation” though has no general legal definition in many jurisdictions which is why you may find them named something else in other locations such as “Civil Society Organisations”.

By definition NGOs are difficult to define due to the way they operate and their broad roles, add to that interchangable names such as Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) or Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) and you have more groups in the mix that still come under the banner of NGOs. This can often cause issues due to clarity and classifications as although something may be an NGO it may then be classed as an NPO instead of NGO depending on its role and how it is seen by other organisations or governments adding to the confusion. Add to that classifications based on the operational network of the NGO for example Environmental NGO, Development NGO or advocacy work the complexity of an NGO framework becomes complex by definition.

One of the earliest uses of the term NGO was by the UN in 1945 upon its creation. The UN used the term to distinquish between participation of government and international private organisations. The difference between the two types of organisations in theory is that an NGO shouldn’t be able to seek to diminish a nations government in the shape of a political party. They have to be non criminal and non profit in nature.