Say, what is a NGO?

Very interesting question! Maybe you know the meaning of these three words:

  • Non
  • Governmental
  • Organisation

But what does this term actually mean?

The word NGO was used for the first time in 1945 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The initial aim was to differentiate governmental organisations from non governmental organisation.

The resolution 288 B (X) of the ECOSOC define an NGO as “every international organisation which is not based on a state treaty.”

What does a NGO exactly do?

A NGO must fit these criteria:

  • it must be private and non governmental
  • it must not be profit-orientated
  • it must be financially independent
  • it must be politically independent

There is yet no legal status of NGOs, most NGOs are legally associations or foundations.

The capital of a NGO mainly comes from private donations (you, I, your neighbour etc.). This is  to guarantee its independence. But money can come as well as from official donors (France AFD, EuropeAid, UNO etc.).

The work of NGOs is versatile:

  • Human Rights
  • Fight against hunger
  • Fight against diseases
  • Child protection
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Environment protection
  • animal protection
  • etc..

How are NGOs controlled? How is made sure that their work and structure fit the criteria?

NGOs are private organisations and only subject to the regulations of their legal status (mainly association and foundation). But there are other ways of control:

  • Many NGOs publish annual reports about their structure and work
  • Big donors like the UNO or the EU demand account details and reports
  • There are several independent structures which evaluate the work of NGOs, for example the French Label IDEA

At last…

Most NGOs, like Omakua, are small structures compared to the top 10 NGOs. The work of these small NGOs is important and complementary to the work of big NGOs. Small and local NGOs often have a better knowledge of the culture and people on the field.

Our advise: If you want to support a small NGO, but you have questions about their work – just contact them! On the contrary of big NGOs, the communication with small structures is often easier and more personal.


Quelques repères sur les associations en France aujourd’hui – Edith Archambault – Viviane Tchernonog – Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne – CNRS – Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (mars 2012)

CCD, Coordination SUD et le ministère des Affaires étrangères

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