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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
close this folder1. The rationale and purpose of this report
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1.1 The origins and scope of this report
View the document1.2 An overview of the report
View the document1.3 The purpose of this report
View the document1.4 The importance of NGOs
View the document1.5 The global dimension
View the document1.6 The local dimension
View the document1.7 NGOs, government and civil society

1.4 The importance of NGOs

NGOs play important roles in society. Motivated by a desire for a caring and developed society they establish and operate programmes of education, health, social welfare and economic improvement, especially among disadvantaged sectors.

In doing this, they directly and indirectly encourage and extend democratic practices. NGOs have also long been involved in pioneering new approaches to meeting needs and solving problems in society. In recent years, they have also been at the centre of renewed searches for sustainable processes of social, environmental and economic development and action on issues such as peace, democracy, human rights, gender equity and poverty.

The size of the NGO sector varies widely across countries. In Britain there are estimated to be over 500,000 NGOs. The turnover of the 175,000 of these that are registered charities is estimated at £17 billion per year. In Canada, the Canadian Environmental Network of NGOs has 2,000 groups in membership. Zimbabwe has an estimated 800 NGOs, which have spent Z$300-400 million on projects since independence. One of these NGOs has an annual budget of over £600,000 and works with 80,000 rural families.

In Sri Lanka one rural development NGO alone has 9,000 paid fieldworkers and 41,000 local fieldworkers, working in 10,000 villages. In Bangladesh there are at least 12,000 local groups receiving local and central government financial support, and a rural development NGO has helped 85,000 villages take advantage of an immunisation programme. Another, which makes credit available to poor people, has 900 branches and works in 23,000 villages.

In India one estimate refers to 100,000 NGOs, while another claims 25,000 registered grass-roots organisations in one state - Tamil Nadu - alone.

Kenya has 23,000 women'sorganisations. Uganda has over 1000 local NGOs and over 20 foreign based ones, which together received £17 million in 1990. In Australia more than half of all the country's welfare services are supplied by not-for-profit charitable organisations. They are estimated to number more than 11,000, turning over a total of A$4.4 billion per year, and mobilising an estimated 93 million volunteer hours.

The United Nations Development Programme estimates that the total numbers of people "touched" by NGOs in developing countries across the world is probably 250 million (20 per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty in developing countries), and that this "will rise considerably in the years ahead".b