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close this bookNGO Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice (Commonwealth Foundation)
close this folderPart I: NGOs: what they are and what they do
Open this folder and view contents1. The rationale and purpose of this report
Open this folder and view contents2. The historical context
Open this folder and view contents3. NGOs defined
Open this folder and view contents4. NGO activities described
Open this folder and view contents5. A typology of NGOs
Open this folder and view contents6. The governance and operation of NGOs
Open this folder and view contents7. The legal and institutional frameworks within which NGOs operate
Open this folder and view contents8. The framework of relationships within which NGOs operate
Open this folder and view contents9. The international dimension
View the document10. Conclusion and introduction to the guidelines
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10. Conclusion and introduction to the guidelines

all text © Commonwealth Foundation

A common basis of understanding

This part of the report has attempted to provide an account of what NGOs are and do in today's world. Its first section, Chapters 1 and 2, provided current and historical contexts for their work, showing how their forms and actions today have been shaped by various forces. These include their roots in 19th Century philanthropy, in traditional cultural norms, and in post-World War II and post-independence development techniques. More recently, they include forces which include the search for alternatives of the 1960s and 70s and the global and local trends and issues of the 1980s and 90s.

The result is that today there are large numbers of NGOs, having a diverse range of interests, actions and concerns.

This diversity confuses many. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 therefore attempted to create, from the confusion, a basis for understanding.

Chapter 3 set out a definition which reflects and accommodates NGO diversity, but which nevertheless provides a broad means of distinguishing NGOs from other organisations in civil society, and of distinguishing the NGO sector from others. Chapters 4 and 5 then described the activities, methods and forms of NGOs, and developed two complementary typologies by which they can be simply described.

Having established this basis of understanding NGOs, Chapters 6-9 then identified and discussed a number of detailed aspects of NGOs, and the related emerging issues concerning their functioning.

Chapter 6 examined key aspects of the governance and operation of NGOs, including how they endeavour to improve their work in such fields as management, evaluation, training, information-sharing and networking. Chapter 7 examined the legal and institutional frameworks within which NGOs work. The focus of Chapter 8 was on relationships between NGOs and two key parties with whom they work and interact: governments and funders. Chapter 9 then examined the international dimension of NGO work. In all these chapters strengths and weaknesses were identified.

From understanding to guidelines

NGOs cannot be seen and addressed in isolation. A report such as this, which has the aim of helping to increase their impact, needs to address not just NGOs but the other key parties to whom they relate: governments, funders and international agencies in particular. A common basis of understanding NGOs, from defining them to recognising the issues involved in their work, is essential to the achievement of that aim. Equally essential is action, developed from the common understanding, both to build on strengths and deal with areas of weakness. The guidelines which form Part II of this report set out what action is needed. They are comprised of five groups. The first group (Guidelines 1 - 4, in Chapter 11) is directed at governments, and focuses on the various policies and practices they can adopt to promote the work and impact of NGOs and foster productive relationships with them.

The second group (Guidelines 5-11, in Chapter 12) is directed at NGOs, and focuses on the actions they can take, both internally and externally, to enhance their work.

The third group (Guidelines 12-15, in Chapter 13) is directed at funders. The guidelines set out policies and practices which will enable funders to support more effectively the work of NGOs.

The fourth group (Guidelines 16 and 17, in Chapter 14) is directed at international and North-based agencies which operate in other countries, to strengthen partnership relationships.

The final group is a single guideline (18, in Chapter 15).
It sets out suggestions on how this report can be used.

References in Part I

- Report of the first Commonwealth NGO Forum, The Commonwealth Foundation, London, 1991

- Human Development Report 1993, United Nations Development Programme, New York, 1993

- It profits us to strengthen non-profits, Peter F. Drucker, in the Wall Street Journal, New York, 19
December 1991

- A detailed scrutiny in the context of NGOs vision of a better Caribbean, document submitted by the Policy Unit of the Regional NGOs at the Regional Economic Conference, Trinidad, Feb/March 1991

- NGO-Government relations: A source of life or a kiss of death ?, R. Tandon, Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), New Delhi, India, 1989

- A code of practice for African NGOs, published by African NGOs Self-reliance and Development Advocacy Group (ASDAG), with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), 1993

- Op. cit, Ref

- Welfare that pays the rich, R. Holman, in The Guardian, London and Manchester, 20 July 1988

- From development worker to activist, D. D'Abreo, DEEDS, Bangalore, India, 1989

- Welfare organisations, Laws of Zimbabwe, Chapter 93, pages 445-455, 1 September 1967

- Declaration regarding Definition, Statement of Purpose and Code of Ethics, Association of Development Agencies of Bangladesh, Dhaka, undated

- Code of Conduct, Lesotho Council of Non- Governmental Organisations, Maseru, undated

- Code of Conduct, The Association of Non- Governmental Organisations, Banjul, The Gambia, undated

- From Solo to Symphony: A proposal for the reform of the South Australian Community Services Industry, SACOSS, Adelaide, Australia, 1992

- Op. cit, Ref (d)

- Op. cit, Ref (f)

- Op. cit, Ref (f)

- Op. cit, Ref (f)

- Contingency Planning in Southern Africa, M.. Behr, Oxfam, Oxford, 1987

- Northern NGOs: Some heretical thoughts, J. Rossiter and R. Palmer, in RPN, London, 1990

- Draft Code of Ethics, Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Ottawa, March 1993

- Code of Ethics, Australian Council for Overseas Aid, Canberra, undated

all text © Commonwealth Foundation