In almost every country around the world, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is at work. The common definition of an NGO is simply an organisation of people that operate independently of the government. They often work to promote human rights, environmental rights or basic rights. There are different types of NGO’s, ranging from community-based organisations, to national and international organisations. Each NGO often has a focus group, or a particular area of interest; be it charity, public service, humanitarian aid, poverty alleviation and the like. However, due to the rapid growth of NGO’s, many political governments have put limits on the type of power NGO’s can have. This has had major impacts on the success of these organisations, and whether this contributes to the failure of some are discussed herein.
Due to the end of major onslaughts such as wars and political instability in many countries, countless NGO’s from ‘developed’ countries have entered ‘developing’ countries to provide assistance to the millions of people in need. Of the many countries in which NGO’s operate, Europe is one of the major destinations. These NGO’s work with the people to assist with fair election processes, independent media, and the reduction of ethnic conflict. Although this is not typically the work that major NGO’s undertake, many of these NGO’s working in poor areas are reaching out to people with democratic initiatives in former communist states. Conditions have resulted in both help and hurt for the people of Europe.
Firstly, the members of such NGO’s are able to make small changes in the vicinities and villages where major attention is needed, such as run-down areas where people are most vulnerable. Because these NGO’s receive no help from the country of origin, nor the country of destination, they are often treated as outsiders who have very little experience or education in dealing with people of various backgrounds and situations. Because of this, they are more susceptible to attacks by the government of the country in which they are operating, or by vigilante groups in politically unstable countries who take matters into their own hands. Therefore, their work may be interrupted or even forcibly stopped, and making a difference to the people who need it most becomes much more difficult.
Secondly, due to political tension in certain areas of Europe, potential areas where the need is greatest are often barred from NGO’s, or considered “no-go” zones. This has become increasingly difficult, not just for those NGO’s operating in Europe, but also for those in such countries as Africa, India and even South America. Although some NGO’s are able to get around such barriers by working with local people or contacts on the ground, not all have such wide networks. In addition, isolated people groups, such as tribals and indigenous people, often are wary of NGO’s and consider them as enemies, refusing to cooperate with NGO’s whose mission it is to help them. This has presented more difficulties that are proving harmful to the status of stakeholders involved in more ways than one.
Limitations on Power
One of the major reasons why NGO’s often find themselves limited in terms of their power, and what they can and cannot do, is due to the strategy which their organisation implements. Often, international NGO’s come to other countries, trying to implement a Western-model in an international country, with unsatisfactory results. From women movements in Poland, Hungary and Russia, to environmental organisations in Russia and Kazakhstan, most of the NGO’s have found difficulties in showing democratic assistance to the people in need. Although there are many local groups who would willingly assist such NGO’s to overcome political, social and cultural barriers, they are often neglected or unable to work with international NGO’s who function on a different operational model.
For NGO’s to overcome these hurdles, there is a need for partnerships with local organisation and cultural liaisons who can interact with people groups and the government for approval, in terms of access to needy areas or those who need desperate help. In this way, NGO’s will be able to sustain the relationships and service they have to their target groups or areas of assistance, and will still be able to reach a wider proportion of people, or even strengthen and expand existing bases, to help others.
In summary, the major setbacks that limit NGO’s in relationship to the power of the organisations who are working in countries where their presence is needed include different operational models, limited knowledge of cultural and social barriers, and unsupportive minorities that resist assistance in spite of obvious need. These have led to the failures of some, but not all NGO’s in countries where it is difficult to access or receive basic needs and assistance. There are ways to overcome these setbacks and add to the successful impact that many NGO’s are at the forefront of, including the partnership of local organisations and contacts on the ground who can secure support, safety and service of those involved, whether they need help or would like to receive it.