Non-governmental organization

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A non-governmental organization ( NGO or from the English organization Non-governmental, NGO ) or non-governmental organization is a civil society concluded Come advocacy group that is not legitimized by a public mandate. The World Bank defines NGOs as private organizations that try to reduce suffering through their activities, to represent the interests of the poor in public, to protect the environment, to provide basic social services or to initiate actions for development projects. This definition was deliberately chosen blurred, as NGOs can take on all conceivable tasks.

The English term non-governmental organization was once introduced by the United Nations (UNO) in order to distinguish representatives of civil society who participate in the political processes of the UNO from state representatives; Non-governmental means “non-governmental” in the sense of “independent of the state”, “independent of the government”. Today the term is used by and for non-governmental associations that are particularly involved in social and environmental politics, regardless of any relationship with the UN. The best-known and largest international organizations include, for example, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund in the field of environmental protection , Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in the field of human rights , Transparency International in the fight against corruption and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for new technologies.

On the one hand is an NGO (Engl. NGO ) that is active worldwide, as international non-governmental organization called (INGO); on the other hand, INGO is used by the Council of Europe for the community of nationally active NGOs with their European partner NGOs, which have participant status at the conference of international non-governmental organizations (see NGO application for participation status at the Council of Europe).

Concept and history


The German label NGO is similar to the English expression non-governmental organization (NGO). Sometimes the term non-governmental organization (NSO) is also used. It transfers the Anglo-American term governmental more precisely; the translation for government in American English would not be government, but administration. Nevertheless, the term non-governmental organization has largely established itself in German, along with the English abbreviation NGO (instead of NRO ).

The following terms are also used in English: independent sector, volunteer sector, civic society, grassroots organizations or transnational social movement organizations, private voluntary organizations, self-help organizations, and often non-state actors (NSAs). The latter term, however, is broader and includes not only non-governmental organizations but also transnational companies (TNCs) and e.g. B. Criminal Organizations. In the British research NGOs also be brought in connection with the global civil society, a global civil society , for. B. with Mary Kaldor .

In conventional German usage, non-governmental organizations are simply associations or clubs . The non-governmental organizations are assigned to the civil society third sector . This classification goes back to the American sociologist Amitai Etzioni , who first distinguished the three social sectors state, market (economy) and civil society from one another in 1973. The third sector now includes organizations that have a formal structure, are organizationally independent of the state, do not work for profit, have an independent administration, are not compulsory associations and are at least partially supported by voluntary commitment and donations.

They can be organized on a local, national or international level.

Large private foundations can also act as non-governmental organizations . For example, the hybrid nature of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allows a flexible interpretation of its organizational structure: sometimes it acts as a multinational corporation (MNC), sometimes as a non-governmental organization, as a foundation or even as a quasi state actor.


  • INGO is an international non-governmental organization ( International NGO ).
  • QUANGO or QuasiNGO are hybrid organizations that also allow states or government agencies to become members and are often largely financed by public funds. The most prominent example is the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  • CSGO or Civil Society Organization for organizational forms of civil society.
  • ENGO or Environmental NGO are environmental protection organizations such as Greenpeace or World Wildlife Fund .
  • GSO or Grassroot Support Organizations support local groups of data subjects.
  • RNGO or Religious NGO are organizations that are strongly influenced by religion.


In the ancestral line of non-governmental organizations, some authors refer to the Christian churches as well as to the religious orders that emerged in the 6th century and the later religious and secular orders. The anti-slavery movement of the Quakers in the 17th century is generally regarded as the forerunner of today's non-governmental organizations in the humanitarian field . In the 19th century, the number of non-governmental organizations increased rapidly, with the initially humanitarian organizations also appearing with political, economic, trade union and also scientific goals. International organizations such as the World Evangelical Alliance (1846), Alliance Israélite Universelle (1860), Committee of the Red Cross (1863), The First International (1864), International Law Association (1873) and International Association of Geodesy emerged.

After the First World War, important international non-governmental organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Trade Union Confederation (IFTU) emerged in the economic and social field. The misery of refugees and the problems of migration gave rise to numerous non-governmental organizations, which, under the leadership of the Red Cross, contributed to the appointment of a High Commissioner for Refugees to the League of Nations . In the practice of the League of Nations, a lively cooperation developed particularly with international non-governmental organizations, which were given speaking rights, were able to make suggestions for advice and were active in committees.

Since the 1990s, due to increasing demands on the competence and specialization of the employees, volunteering has been pushed back in favor of full-time (professional) employees in the core business. Today, non-governmental organizations can no longer escape the logic of competition for donations and project funds.

The omnipresence and political importance of many non-governmental organizations that can be observed today has been promoted by globalization since the last decades of the 20th century

  • the end of the Cold War, the perception of cross-border problems such as environmental and climate threats, global migration flows and the like. Ä. reinforced.
  • global networking - not least through the Internet - also in the areas of politics, law and society increased by leaps and bounds.

In addition, a process of “denationalization” took place, in which state tasks were transferred internally to private individuals and externally to non-governmental supranational institutions with sovereign powers. This created a serious problem of democratic legitimation. This is how self-appointed public interest lawyers such as Greenpeace or Amnesty International came into being .


From a political science point of view, non-governmental organizations can be defined as “solid associations of independent social forces that pursue goals oriented towards the common good without the intention of making a profit, advocate in particular humanitarian and ecological, universal principles and try to exert influence on states and IGOs ​​(International Governmental Organizations) ". The main areas of activity of non-governmental organizations - especially international non-governmental organizations - are the political fields of human rights , development and humanitarian aid and environmental protection .

It is becoming apparent that non-governmental organizations are only recognized as such by international institutions - such as the UN , UNESCO , the Council of Europe or the EU Commission  - if they:

  1. were founded by a citizenry with the same interests who have come together for mutually recognized goals and thus represent the associated competent citizen,
  2. are democratically structured and consequently elect their board members and
  3. do not work for profit in all economic activities required to achieve the association's goals .

Many non-governmental organizations are calling for the European Commission to create a legal form “ European Association ” in order to create a Community-wide legal capacity similar to the European stock corporation .

There are different classification systems for non-governmental organizations. The World Bank distinguishes between operational and advisory organizations.

Legal status

Non-governmental organizations are associations founded by private natural or legal persons on the basis of private law, non-international law treaties, which pursue ideal and other non-profit-oriented goals within the framework of law. They have a permanent structure capable of acting and their own seat. They try to maintain a high degree of independence not only from the host state but also from other states or governments in order to fulfill their function as - at least predominantly - critical interest groups .

According to Article 71 of the UN Charter , non-governmental organizations can obtain consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) if they meet the criteria set out in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31. There are currently 4990 registered organizations

The Euro Europe put 1986 European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International NGOs before (CETS No .: 124, also Convention no. 124 called). It came into force in 1991 and ratification began. Around a quarter of the member states have acceded to this convention on the legal status of international non-governmental organizations, such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and others. a. (As of the end of 2017).

In 2007, the Council of Europe (CM / Rec (2007) 14) recommended that the governments of the member states legislate on the legal status for national non-governmental organizations as well and recalled in this context the European Convention No. 124 - combined with the recommendation to the governments of the member states:

  • “ To be guided in their policy and practice by the minimum standards set out in this recommendation;
  • to observe these standards in monitoring the commitments they have made ;
  • ensure that this Recommendation and the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum are translated and distributed to NGOs in general and particularly to parliamentarians, the relevant public authorities and educational institutions, and are used in the training of civil servants. "

German non-governmental organizations are often founded in the legal form of an association, a foundation or a GmbH.


Larger non-governmental organizations sometimes have annual budgets of more than one billion euros. In addition to membership fees, sources of income are primarily donations, proceeds from the sale of goods and income from contracts from private or public bodies, such as fees for social services or refugee care. In addition, many non-governmental organizations are also heavily dependent on government funds. The income of Oxfam , one of the world's largest aid organizations after the Red Cross, was just under 1.1 billion euros in financial year 2015/2016, most of which came from the public sector: 67.9 million euros from the EU and from EU institutions, 63.6 million euros from the United Nations and UN agencies and 200.2 million euros from national governments. For the period from 2014 to 2017, the EU Commission stated that it had paid a total of around 11.3 billion euros to non-governmental organizations.

Dependence on donations and government funds can run counter to the credibility of non-governmental organizations. As more and more aid organizations are founded, there is, in the opinion of Linda Polman, fierce competition for donations between the aid organizations instead of cooperation. In the opinion of Dieter Rucht, the ability to reach target groups and the public in protest groups and social movements is often dependent on media-effective productions combined with dramatization, scandalization, emotional appearance or spectacle. The greater the media interest and reporting, the more donations can be collected. Crisis regions must be easily accessible for journalists and not too dangerous, and the victims must be easy to photograph or film. The Dutch author Linda Polman criticizes the fact that facts are manipulated in order to get more donations. In April 2017, the head of Austria’s largest refugee care center, Franz Schabhüttl, criticized the fact that some NGOs, who allegedly misrepresent the federal care center in Traiskirchen, are generating donations and behaving “like companies that are concerned with money and influence”. Amnesty International Austria and Doctors Without Borders contradicted the allegations.


Non-governmental organizations are not elected, but, like political parties, can sometimes intervene in the political debate and in the opinion-forming of the population. Understanding their motivation is critical to their credibility. In order to be able to recognize conflicts of interest, it is therefore important to know the donors and sponsors who finance your work.

Large organizations in Austria such as the Red Cross or Caritas do not provide any precise information in their annual and statement of accounts as to which sums go where and for what purpose. The use of the donations is often non-transparent and incomprehensible. Most of the non-governmental organizations in Germany are organized as associations. According to current association law, they are not obliged to give an account of the origin and use of their funds. The collection and use of donations by some non-governmental organizations in Germany are monitored and certified with a donation seal , but control of the flow of money is difficult or hardly available, especially abroad. Efficiency and control of the effect of donations are also not taken into account in the donation seal of approval in Austria.

For example, the cooperation of non-governmental organizations with rebels or military regimes in crisis regions leads to the misuse of donations, which prolongs wars or provokes new conflicts. The author Linda Polman believes that many non-governmental organizations give too little attention to the consequences of their actions. Principles are more important to them than consequences.

Edda Müller , Chairwoman of Transparency International Germany , saw many organizations needing to catch up in matters of transparency in 2017. A study carried out by Stiftung Warentest in 2013 showed that only six out of 44 organizations from the areas of environmental and climate protection as well as animal, nature and species protection work transparently and comprehensibly economically. At the German four paws association, for example, according to the 2012 annual report, less than half of the expenditure went into projects and campaigns. Furthermore, Stiftung Warentest criticized most of the donation organizations for a lack of transparency in the disclosure of income and expenditure as well as commission payments for member recruitment and the expense of fundraising.

Non-governmental organizations can largely keep the origin of their funds in Germany secret from the public. At the end of 2018, Die Zeit named only a voluntary commitment by the Transparent Civil Society Initiative , which only requires that donors whose donations make up more than 10% of the annual income of an NGO must be published.

A study from Georgia in 2015 came to the result that part of the population could not judge whether certain known organizations were non-governmental organizations or not. Forty percent of those surveyed did not know the status of George Soros' Open Society Foundation . USAid , on the other hand, was rated at 31 percent as a non-governmental organization and even British Petroleum at 16 percent.


Important arguments from NGO critics are:

  • Non-governmental organizations are not democratically legitimized . You are not elected and therefore not authorized to speak or act on behalf of the people of a country.
  • Internally, too, they are not always structured democratically .
  • The need to attract attention in the public debate in order to generate more donations is forcing non-governmental organizations to arouse moral outrage. According to Herfried Münkler in 2018, people's worries and fears were “managed” by media specialists from non-governmental organizations in the gesture of moral indignation.
  • There is also criticism of the position of the non-governmental organizations too strong vis-à-vis the institutions of the countries in which they are active.
  • In contrast to lobbyists who pursue economic interests, those who pursue ecological and social interests appear as non-governmental organizations and are perceived as such in public. Holger Lösch from the Federation of German Industries complained that business associations and non-governmental organizations were measured by double standards, even though everyone represented interests.
  • Certain non-governmental organizations try to restrict the freedom of science and shape it according to their moral ideas. In 2018, Herfried Münkler criticized the influence of NGO-like organizations that tried to use shaming and blaming to bind the scientific community to the respective values ​​of the groups and referred to groups of opponents of animal experimentation, feminist groups and actors who see themselves as anti-colonialist.
  • According to estimates from 2011 in American military circles, some non-governmental organizations were considered to be security risks when the USA was deployed in war or crisis regions. They often do not coordinate with the military on the ground, be it to maintain the appearance of neutrality or because they are ideologically hostile to the military. If they then behave unprofessionally and send their employees to dangerous areas, they then ask the military to start rescue operations.


International Criminal Court

Heidi Nichols Haddad describes how the International Criminal Court (ICC), founded in 2002, is viewed by non-governmental organizations as their “child” after they had worked hard towards its establishment. The court depends on the expertise and support of the non-governmental organizations. In 2006 about 2000 organizations came together to form the “CICC”, the coalition for the International Criminal Court. Large non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International had concentrated their resources on the ICC because it offered the greatest chance of influencing the future character of international criminal law.

Military intervention

Transnational NGO networks are assigned an important role in the decision-making process of states and communities of states to engage in humanitarian military operations. For example, the political scientist Henry Carey evaluates the interventions in Haiti (1994) , Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999) as successes of the public relations work of transnational “advocacy” networks (TANs) composed of various human rights and interest groups. These groups would have influenced the public perception of the conflicts in question through tactical framing , and the following military operations would never have taken place without the non-governmental organizations' influence.

Alleged influence

The Russian government repeatedly accused other countries of having supported the uprisings in Ukraine ( Orange Revolution ) and Georgia ( Rose Revolution ) and, on this basis, from 2005 onwards it itself passed strict laws for non-governmental organizations in Russia .

The Indian secret service accuses foreign-funded organizations of threatening India's interests and harming the country, for example, through blockade activities or actions against genetic engineering and nuclear power .

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung criticized the fact that non-governmental organizations within Switzerland tried to influence school lessons. This happens through school visits and "support" for teachers with self-produced teaching materials and aids. Even in school teaching aids not produced by non-governmental organizations , one-sided influence is now exercised on children and young people through politically colored analyzes and uncritical applications from non-governmental organizations such as Attac or Greenpeace .

Does the “non-profit industrial complex” prevent mobilization and politicization?

NGO-ization or a “non-profit industrial complex” is spoken of critically , according to the Indian author Arundhati Roy . She points out that the phase of neoliberal politics in India since the 1980s, which was associated with a neglect of the rural regions, has been accompanied by the establishment of non-governmental organizations in these regions, which are controlled by the West. Non-governmental organizations partially filled the vacuum left by the withdrawal of the state and thus contributed to the depoliticization of the discourse. The resources of the non-governmental organizations that flowed into the country played a role similar to that of speculative capital.

Islah Jad from the University of Bir Zait also criticizes the NGO-ization using the example of the Arab women's movement, which replaced the old grassroots movements that began in the 1920s: At the top of the non-governmental organizations are now highly professional, English-speaking managers who concentrate their activities on Doing fundraising instead of mobilizing people. Kurdish Iraq is an example of NGO-ization dominated by US interests. This development leads to the fact that z. For example, the struggle for women's rights is not waged on a national level, but used for nationalist goals. One tries to differentiate oneself from the supposedly misogynistic Arabs. The jineology , the Kurdish variant of feminism, is the attractive figurehead of the Kurdish autonomous region for the engagement of international non-governmental organizations, but has no anchoring in Kurdish society, where polygamy, genital mutilation and the oppression of women are widely tolerated.

Professionalization and depoliticization

In Latin America, too, the non-governmental organizations that are supposed to organize empowerment movements there are carefully selected by the donor states. According to Sonia E. Alvarez, the employees of the non-governmental organizations are, unlike the local feminist movements, highly specialized and professionalized; they would only work with a few volunteers and mainly develop reports or projects in order to influence politics in a non-confrontational way and thus raise funds. This is confirmed by an analysis of the non-governmental organizations active in Jordan: The highly qualified female employees trained according to Western standards are also active in the Middle East to improve their career opportunities.

Criticism of humanitarian aid organizations

Especially because of the experience with aid organizations after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 , their uncoordinated coexistence and the low efficiency of aid, which corresponds to the neoliberal economic model, is criticized. A total of 7,000 organizations with large funds took part, but each had its own agenda. There was no major joint project other than the US-funded establishment of a tax-exempt special economic zone. The non-governmental organizations often ignore the needs of those affected. "The pressure to 'handle' funds and the proof of one's own ability to act vis-à-vis donors, financiers and the local press is one of the main reasons for the further disempowerment of Haitians in shaping their country." The distrust of Haitians is great; only one percent of the two billion emergency aid that was given to Haiti has gone through the Haitian government. 99 percent managed international actors and national and international non-governmental organizations.

Sexual exploitation and abuse by individual employees

In 2002, an investigation report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that around 70 employees of over 40 aid organizations, including UNHCR and Save the Children , sexually abused young women and children in refugee camps in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea . For example, sex was demanded in return for food and money.

According to a study published in 2008 by the children's rights organization Save the Children , workers from 23 humanitarian and peacekeeping organizations in Haiti, Ivory Coast and South Sudan were involved in rape, human trafficking , forced and child prostitution, verbal sexual violence and child pornography. The perpetrators are international as well as local employees as well as employees of local non-governmental organizations and partners. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men, but there are also known cases of child sexual abuse by women.

Oxfam aid workers held parties with prostitutes in Haiti during a mission following the 2010 earthquake. An internal investigation by the NGOs revealed a "culture of impunity" among Oxfam employees. However, according to Oxfam, allegations that underage prostitutes were hired are "not proven". The employees involved in the scandal subsequently found similar work with other non-governmental organizations. In Chad, too, suspected prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team's home in 2006. There have been cases of rape and attempted rape in South Sudan.

Former British Development Aid Secretary Priti Patel and Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse described the events at Oxfam as the “tip of the iceberg”. According to Moïse, other organizations are also affected, but information is being covered up internally. For example, Doctors Without Borders withdrew 17 employees due to misconduct without further explanation.

The Charity Commission, the oversight authority for aid and charities in the kingdom, reported that it receives about 1,000 suspected abuse cases each year. Cases of sexual harassment at "Save the Children", "Christian Aid" and the British Red Cross are on record. In February 2018, the International Rescue Committee confirmed cases of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. MSF reported 24 confirmed cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse in their organization in 2017. 19 employees were laid off.

Former UN emergency coordinator Andrew MacLeod speaks of a global problem in the aid industry. For many years now, pedophiles have been hiring more and more charities to gain access to children in crisis regions.

Criticism of individual humanitarian aid organizations in connection with the refugee crisis in Europe from 2015

The European Union Naval Force - Mediterranean described in autumn 2016 that people smugglers would rely on the increasing number of non-governmental organizations off the Libyan coast for their business. According to statements from 2017, Frontex and other experts consider the transport of refugees to Europe by private helpers as one of the pull factors that create or increase incentives to migrate. The private aid organizations do part of the business of people smugglers; the tugs force their customers onto unseaworthy boats, where they have to wait for lifeguards. As a rule, the refugees do not know in advance that they will have to wait for rescue on unseaworthy boats. In addition, there will never be enough rescuers to prevent every misfortune. In December 2016, Frontex registered the first case in which people smuggled the migrants directly onto an NGO boat. Frontex also expressed concern about the interaction between non-governmental organizations and smugglers:

  • There are clear indications that the tug boats know the precise direction in which to reach an NGO boat even before they set sail.
  • While 2/3 of the rescues were made after an emergency call was made in the summer of 2016, an emergency call has only been made in almost every 10th case since October 2016. During the same period, the share of non-governmental organizations in rescues rose from 5% to 40%.
  • Rescued refugees taken over by NGO boats often did not cooperate with Frontex officials. Some said they had been warned not to cooperate.

In 2015/2016, some activists from non-governmental organizations in Greek refugee camps repeatedly caused unrest, agitated against the state administration and authorities and in some cases even took control, and encouraged the migrants to storm the border fences with Macedonia.

Nobel prizes for non-governmental organizations or their founders

Nobel Peace Prizes for non-governmental organizations

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Non-governmental organization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: NGO  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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