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

Where does the money go?

That is a really good question! After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, the French Court of Auditors has obliged French NGOs to show the exact repartition of the donation’s expenditure. This allows the donors to follow if their donations are used 100% for the projects or if parts of it go into the financing of the administration of the NGO.

In 2004, one week after the tsunami, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has shaken the humanitarian world when demanding a stop of donations for emergency help in Asia. At this time, MSF already had enough financial means for the emergency actions in the region. This was welcomed by the French Court of Auditors. Other NGOs spend more money than necessary in Asia and financed impertinent projects. Some NGOs also refunded donations.

A Sri Lankan Red Cross volunteer carries boxes of humanitarian aid brought for tsunami survivors ...

Certains NGOs redistributed the money to other projects without informing the donors, even though the French Court of Auditors had requested that donors must be informed if the destination of their donation is changed. The donors can also be refunded. MSF for example, has demanded the donors’ permission to employ the money for different projects. Only 1% of the donors has demanded refunding.

Furthermore, the French Court of Auditors has recommended that NGOs must display transparently how much money of the donations goes into the project and how much is used for the NGO’s administration. In Haiti, for example, many NGOs had received donations for specific actions, but used part of the money for they operating costs.

MSF for example has clearly stated on its website which part of the donations is used for the administration and operating (11.2%) :

Capture d’écran 2014-03-17 à 19.52.38

Unfortunately, most NGOs only realised the importance of transparency after scandals like Haiti and Thailand had popped up.

Concerning Omakua, 100% of your donation will be used for the projects. (We both continue working half-time in order to finance our living expenses.)


 Page 19 de la synthèse du rapport de la cour des comptes
Scandale de l’ARC
Remboursement donateurs MSF

The Moken people in Thailand

After the Tsunami in Thailand in 2004, numerous NGOs started to implement reconstruction and development projects in order to come to the aid of the affected people.

Especially the South of Thailand has been hit by the catastrophe:

Figure_2 (reduced)

One of the most concerned population are the Moken. These people are traditionally fishermen who have been living at the seaboard which is why they have been particularly hit by the Tsunami. After the tsunami, the Moken became a NGO priority in the region.

Capture d’écran 2014-03-17 à 21.38.10

Photos © Marc Dozier

The Moken have been living in fisher villages at a 200km coastline between Phuket and Khura Burri. Their living space has changed drastically after the tsunami. Much territory which was populated by the Moken before has been bought by real-estate companies; entire fisher villages were rehoused.


What happened?

For many decades the Moken people have been living at the seaboard. They were perfectly accepted by the other locals and the royalty. They paid property tax, but as their ground was regulated by the right of use, there are no deeds of property.


After the tsunami the Thai government has made it clear that affected people of the coastline will be resettled. This decision was also influenced by the real-estate and tourism sector.

To implement reconstruction projects, the NGOs needed these deeds of property. As there were no deeds of property, it was easier to simply rehouse entire villages than to deal with the Thai legislation. Like this the populations which have been living at the coastline were resettled from one day to the next and lost their access to the sea. The NGOs did not consider this. Reconstruction was evaluated more important – wherever it was possible.

The Moken had the choice: Staying at the coastline without anything or leaving the coast with the prospect of a new house and compensations.


Four years after the tsunami, the village of Kokhloi for example, is crowded with hotels. The fishermen are not allowed any more to put in their boats at the beaches, because they are private property now.

Furthermore, the NGOs’ work included the supply with boats at fishing equipment for the Moken. The NGOs have chosen small boats and fishing nets. For the fishermen who are used to fish offshore, the 5 meter boats were not adapted to their way of fishing. Many of the fishermen were forced to change their activity; others ran into debt because they had to buy new fishing nets and put expensive petrol into their boats.

Reconstruction without considering the needs of the local people has thus created a state of instability which has not existed before 2004.


With Omakua, we want to do things differently.

We want to help people with small projects which are adapted to their way of life. Our main point is the communication with the local population. This will take time, but we are convinced that this is the way to achieve development while respecting the local traditions and ways of life.