What is an NGO?
A non-governmental organisation (NGO) is any local, national or international citizen's group (i.e. not part of a government), which does not work for profit.
This simple definition also means that organisations under the label of NGOs have an extremely broad range of functions.
NGOs work in the fields as diverse as law, refugee work, human rights, and disarmament; their work can range from influencing policy or organising communities around special issues to providing technical or medical assistance to conducting research.
Over the past decade the role of NGOs in local and international affairs has grown tremendously.
By the way of example, 54,000 new organisations were set up in France between 1987 and 1994; in less than a decade, 27,000 began in Chile.
The amount of development assistance flowing through NGOs has more than doubled since 1980.
Most of this growth reflects a desire on the part of citizens to influence their own lives and environments. Because of their flexibility, NGOs provide a unique channel through which ordinary citizens can participate in decisions, which they feel affect their lives - that could be anything from housing to arms control.
In the 1945 San Francisco meetings in which the United Nations Charter was drawn up and signed, 42 NGOs were invited to participate by the US government.
They presented draft texts for the Charter, parts of which were eventually incorporated, including this passage from Article 71: "The Economic and Social Council may make suitable arrangements for consultation with non-governmental organisations…".
That laid the foundations for cooperation between the UN and NGOs. The Council granted consultative status to a limited number of NGOs, which meant that these NGOs could participate in some debates and, in some cases, place items on the agenda.
Other NGOs, however, could cooperate in the field with specialised agencies.