International nongovernmental organization

International nongovernmental organization

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The World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 defines a non-governmental organization (NGO) as "private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development". An international non-governmental organization (INGO) has the same mission as a non-governmental organization
Non-governmental organization
A non-governmental organization is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any government. The term originated from the United Nations , and is normally used to refer to organizations that do not form part of the government and are...

 (NGO), but it is international in scope and has outposts around the world to deal with specific issues in many countries.

Both terms, NGO and INGO, should be differentiated from intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), which describes groups such as the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 or the International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that deals with labour issues pertaining to international labour standards. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. Its secretariat — the people who are employed by it throughout the world — is known as the...

An INGO may be founded by private philanthropy, such as the Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates and Ford Foundations, or as an adjunct to existing international organizations, such as the Catholic or Lutheran churches. A surge in the founding of development INGOs occurred during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, some of which would later become the large development INGOs like Oxfam
Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. In all Oxfam’s actions, the ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives...

, Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Founded in 1943 by the U.S. bishops, the agency provides assistance to 130 million people in more than 90 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and...

, CARE International, and Lutheran World Relief
Lutheran World Relief
Lutheran World Relief is an international nonprofit organization specializing in International Development and Disaster Relief. It was headquartered in New York, but has been based in Baltimore, Maryland since 1995....


International Non-governmental Organizations can further be defined by their primary purpose. Some INGOs are operational, meaning that their primary purpose is to foster the community based organizations within each country via different projects and operations. Some INGOs are advocacy-based, meaning that their primary purpose is to influence the policy-making of different countries’ governments regarding certain issues or promote the awareness of a certain issue. Many of the large INGOs have components of both operational projects and advocacy initiatives working together within individual countries.


To be associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, an INGO (and NGOs in general) must follow these certain criteria:
  • The NGO must support and respect the principles of the Charter of the United Nations;
  • Must be of recognized national or international standing;
  • Should operate solely on a not-for-profit basis and have tax-exempt status;
  • Must have the commitment and the means to conduct effective information programmes with its constituents and to a broader audience about UN activities by publishing newsletters, bulletins and pamphlets; organizing conferences, seminars and round tables; or enlisting the attention of the media;
  • Should preferably have a satisfactory record of collaboration with UN Information Centres/Services or other parts of the UN System prior to association.
  • Please note that in cases where the NGO has no record of collaboration but the DPI Committee on NGOs approves its applications, it will have a provisional association status of two years until which it can establish a partnership with the relevant UNICs/UNISs or UN system organization;
  • The NGO should provide an audited annual financial statement, indicated in US currency, and conducted by a qualified, independent accountant;
  • The NGO should have statutes/bylaws providing for a transparent process of taking decisions, elections of officers and members of the Board of Directors.
  • Should have an established record of continuity of work for a minimum of three years and should show promise of sustained activity in the future.

INGOs and Development

The main focus for INGOs is to provide relief and developmental aid to developing countries. In relation to states, the purpose of INGOs is to provide services that the state is unable or unwilling to provide for their people. These organization’s projects in health, like HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, clean water, and malaria prevention, and in education, like schools for girls and providing books to developing countries, help to provide the social services that the country’s government is unable or unwilling to provide at the time. International Non-governmental Organizations are also some of the first responders to natural disasters, like hurricanes and floods, or crises that need emergency relief.

NGOs in general account for over 15% of total overseas development aid, which is linked to the growth and development process. It has been estimated that aid (partly contributed to by INGOs) over the past thirty years has increased the annual growth rate of the bottom billion by one percent. While one percent in thirty years does not sound like a lot of progress, credit should be given to the fact that progress has been consistently increasing throughout the years instead of remaining stagnant or falling backwards.

Many international projects and advocacy initiatives promoted by INGOs encourage sustainable development via a human rights approach and capabilities enhancing approach. INGOS that promote human rights advocacy issues in part try to set up an international judicial standard that respects the rights of every human being and promotes the empowerment of disadvantaged communities.

Other organizations, like the International Justice Mission, are working in effective and legitimate judicial systems, which enhances a country’s legitimacy and development. Still others, such as those promoting micro-financing and education, directly impact of capabilities of citizens and communities by developing skills and human capital while encouraging citizen empowerment and community involvement. INGOs, along with domestic and international governmental initiatives, are a critical part of global development.


There are important controversies and critiques of the effectiveness of INGOs.

The first critique is that money provided by INGOs does not actually reach the neediest people. Especially when administrative costs are high within an organization, people wonder whether their money is going to help developing nations or into a CEO’s pocket. If a country’s government is corrupt, there is also the possibility that INGO funds are being siphoned off by the government.

Websites like and are intended to provide information on the breakdown of money and donations spent within the organization. Along with the approval of the UN based on its criteria of the NGOs, these websites promote transparency and accountability in international non-governmental organizations so that people looking to make a donation can make an educated decision based on what they want to support and if their money will be used effectively.

Even if an INGO’s funds are being effectively used, some critics would argue that the means the organization promotes is ineffective in combating their issue. For example, Singer gives an example of INGOs giving out bed nets, saying:
“They will, if used properly, prevent people from being bitten by mosquitoes while they sleep, and therefore will reduce the risk of malaria. But not every net saves a life: Most children who receive a net would have survived without it. Jeffrey Sachs, attempting to measure the effect of nets more accurately, took this into account, and estimated that for every one hundred nets delivered, one child’s life will be saved every year.”

Case Studies

INGO case studies show both the short-term relief and long-term campaigns that INGOs are involved in promoting. Income statements and expense breakdowns of each INGO can be found at which details the amount of money large INGOs have at their disposal and how effectively different organizations use their donations.

CARE International

CARE International is a large humanitarian INGO that is committed to fighting poverty. They take a special interest in empowering poor women because “women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty”. The mission and explicit goals of CARE are to facilitate lasting change by:
  • Strengthening capacity for self-help
  • Providing economic opportunity
  • Delivering relief in emergencies
  • Influencing policy decisions at all levels
  • Addressing discrimination in all its forms

One of CARE’s projects is responding to natural disasters. For example, CARE has been an integral part of the relief effort in the outbreak of cholera in Haiti that was spread from Nepalese MINUSTAH soldiers during their stay in the country. Some of CARE’s relief tactics in Haiti are:
  • distributing high-energy biscuits, water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts, and hygiene kits,
  • instructing Haitians on how best avoid and prevent cholera, and
  • providing clean water and safe latrine facilities to people living in camps for survivors of Haiti's January 12 earthquake.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is an INGO that is dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally regarded human rights as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their goals are to:
  • Stop violence against women
  • Defend the rights and dignity of those trapped in poverty
  • Abolish the death penalty
  • Oppose torture and combat terror with justice
  • Free prisoners of conscience
  • Protect the rights of refugees and migrants
  • Regulate the global arms trade

This organization uses more of an advocacy approach to promote change and human rights within the government. They mobilize “public pressure through mass demonstrations, vigils and direct lobbying as well as online and offline campaigning” in order to promote their ongoing campaigns, which reflect their goals.

Multiple Interdisciplinary Projects

  • CARE International
  • Caritas Internationalis
    Caritas (charity)
    Caritas Internationalis is a confederate of 164 Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide....

  • Concern Worldwide
    Concern Worldwide
    Concern Worldwide is Ireland's largest aid and humanitarian agency. Since its foundation over 40 years ago it has worked in 50 countries and currently employs 3,200 staff in 25 countries around the world. Concern works to help those living in the world's poorest countries to achieve real and...

  • International Rescue Committee
    International Rescue Committee
    The International Rescue Committee is a leading nonsectarian, nongovernmental international relief and development organization based in the United States, with operations in over 40 countries...

  • Mercy Corps
    Mercy Corps
    Mercy Corps is a global aid agency engaged in transitional environments that have experienced some sort of shock: natural disaster, economic collapse, or conflict. People working for it move as quickly as possible from bringing in food and supplies to enabling people to rebuild their economy with...

  • Oxfam International
    Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. In all Oxfam’s actions, the ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives...

  • World Vision International
    World Vision International
    World Vision International, founded in the USA in 1977, is an evangelical relief and development umbrella organization whose stated goal is "to follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the good...


  • Doctors Without Borders
    Médecins Sans Frontières
    ' , or Doctors Without Borders, is a secular humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization best known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland...

  • HealthRight International
    HealthRight International
    HealthRight International is a global health and human rights organization that works to build lasting access to health for excluded communities. HealthRight was founded in 1990 by pioneering physician and human rights advocate Dr. Jonathan Mann, who championed the principle that health is a human...

  • International Committee of the Red Cross
    International Committee of the Red Cross
    The International Committee of the Red Cross is a private humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland. States parties to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005, have given the ICRC a mandate to protect the victims of international and...

  • charity: water
    Charity: water
    charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Founded in 2006, it has helped fund 3,962 projects in 19 countries, benefiting over 1,794,983 people...


  • Compassion International
    Compassion International
    Compassion International is a Christian child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world. Compassion International, headquartered in Colorado Springs, functions in 26 countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Kenya, and...

  • Plan
    Plan (aid organisation)
    Plan is a global children’s charity which operates in 48 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas. It is made up of 21 national organisations responsible for raising funds and awareness in their respective countries...

  • International Save the Children Alliance
    International Save the Children Alliance
    The International Save The Children Alliance is a worldwide non-profit organisation which aims to improve the living of children. There are 27 Save the Children member organisations around the world....

  • SOS Children's Villages
    SOS Children's Villages
    SOS Children's Villages is an independent, non-governmental international development organisation which has been working to meet the needs and protect the interests and rights of children since 1949. It was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Imst, Austria...

Human Rights

  • Amnesty International
    Amnesty International
    Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

  • International Federation for Human Rights
  • Friends of Peoples Close to Nature
    Friends of Peoples Close to Nature
    Friends of Peoples Close to Nature is a non-governmental human rights organization that works in the field of indigenous rights. The organization is dedicated to the survival of tribal peoples, in particular hunter-gatherers...

  • Survival International
    Survival International
    Survival International is a human rights organisation formed in 1969 that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples, seeking to help them to determine their own future. Their campaigns generally focus on tribal peoples' fight to keep their ancestral lands,...


  • International POPs Elimination Network
    International POPs Elimination Network
    The International POPs Elimination Network is a global network of NGOs dedicated to the common aim of eliminating persistent organic pollutants....

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Greenpeace
    Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization with offices in over forty countries and with an international coordinating body in Amsterdam, The Netherlands...

See also

  • Foundation (charity)
    Foundation (charity)
    A foundation is a legal categorization of nonprofit organizations that will typically either donate funds and support to other organizations, or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes....

  • International Non-Governmental Organizations Accountability Charter
  • Non governmental organization
  • Non-profit organization
    Non-profit organization
    Nonprofit organization is neither a legal nor technical definition but generally refers to an organization that uses surplus revenues to achieve its goals, rather than distributing them as profit or dividends...

  • Think tank
    Think tank
    A think tank is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues. Most think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax...

Further Reading

  • Atack Iain 1998. “Four Criteria of Development NGO Legitimacy,” in World Development 27(5), pp. 855-864.
  • Collier, Paul 2007. “Aid to the Rescue?,” in The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, pp. 99-123. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Haugen, Gary and Victor Boutros 2010. “And Justice for All: Enforcing Human Rights for the World’s Poor,” in Foreign Affairs 89(3), pp. 51-62.
  • Singer, Peter 2009. “How Can You Tell Which Charities Do It Best?,” in The Life You Can Save, pp. 82-125. New York: Random House.