Cover Image
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

1.7 NGOs, government and civil society

In civil society, organisations of all kinds can be found.

All formed voluntarily by citizens, they fall into three broad categories:

1. organisations formed out of concern to assist the needy or disadvantaged including those formed for self-help purposes among disadvantaged people

2. organisations which are formed on the basis of a common interest in and/or to take action on a particular subject or issue

3. organisations through which people engage in a common pursuit.

For the purposes of this report NGOs are, generally speaking, those organisations in civil society which are either formed to assist the needy or disadvantaged (the first category above); or, within the second category, formed to pursue a common interest in and/or to take action on a particular subject or issue which causes disadvantage or is detrimental to the well-being of people or society as a whole.

Chapter 3 sets out a full definition.

Illustration 1: The actions and place of NGOs in civil society (I)

The illustration on the right endeavours to show how NGOs are part of the total fabric of organisations in civil society, but distinguishable from other groups by their focus on the disadvantaged, disadvantage, or wider concerns and issues which affect people's well-being. It also introduces two further features of NGOs.

First, because they share the concern that governments have with disadvantage, and with broader matters affecting people's well-being, NGOs relate closely to them. Indeed, NGOs often relate very closely to governments, because: some NGOs have contractual relationships to deliver services on behalf of government departments; some NGOs mobilise resources in support of government policies and programmes, in such diverse fields as literacy, unemployment, adult education, and community development for example; some NGOs undertake research or establish innovative programmes and want to inform governments of their results, and advocate appropriate governmental responses; NGOs may feel the need to bring to governments' attention the ways in which public or private sector policies or actions affect NGO operations, the disadvantaged or society as a whole.

In many ways therefore NGOs operate at the interface between government and its institutions on the one hand, and civil society more broadly on the other.

Second, NGOs take action indirectly as well as directly to deal with the needs, problems and issues with which they are concerned.

They may, for example, seek to raise the awareness of the public generally about particular matters, or advocate changes in public policies.