Non-Governmental Organisations

The term "non-governmental organisations (NGOs)" basically covers all associations or groups which are independent of government or state bodies and have a common interest, without themselves pursuing commercial interests – from trade unions to churches to sports clubs. The term is, however, generally used to mean organisations, associations and groups working to achieve socio-political goals. Some typical and important fields of NGO activities include development, the environment and human rights.

Competencies of non-governmental organisations

Non-governmental organisations are a manifestation of civil-society involvement both in partner and in donor countries. The NGOs strength lies, among other things, in the high degree of motivation and specialist know-how of their staff and partners as well as in the fact that they are in close contact with underprivileged sections of the population – a key prerequisite for mobilising people to help themselves and take the initiative.

One thing that all NGOs share is that they have no state authority and conversely that the state has no direct influence over them. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely for this reason, the work of NGOs is very well accepted the world over, among the population and the media. This gives many NGOs better access to people than state bodies. In many places they can create a special relationship of trust. This has often proved to have created a very solid foundation for staying in contact and in dialogue at critical junctures, especially in politically sensitive situations, even in countries in which cooperation with the government is difficult or impossible for political reasons.

And NGOs do much to ensure that the importance of development cooperation is firmly anchored in the awareness of the general public. They play an important role in stimulating debate in society, in Europe as well as in developing countries. They are gaining increasing importance in their role as "watchdogs", that is as the admonishers and advocates of those people whose own voice is not heard in the political arena.

Civil society in Germany – NGOs and churches – led the way when it came to establishing the Civil Peace Service.

The strengths of NGOs can be seen in their close contacts to civil society in partner countries, even in countries in which government-level cooperation is difficult or impossible for political reasons. Thanks to their many years of involvement in partner countries they have often put in place structures and networks that foster development in the long term. For some years now, there has been an in-depth exchange of experience and views between the German government and NGOs for this reason. Along with the churches, political foundations and other private development bodies, NGOs are regularly involved in the elaboration of the BMZ's development-policy strategies for individual countries and regions.

The wide spectrum of NGOs

In Germany alone, there are several thousand NGOs working in the field of development – associations, action groups, federations, working groups, solidarity groups, twinning arrangements, foundations, development-policy networks, and many others.

Most of these organisations are private, church-funded or politically-oriented providers of development programmes and projects. The most important fields of work of these NGOs are poverty reduction, the promotion of opinion building and participation processes, the establishment of social and institutional structures, food aid, emergency and refugee aid, and development-policy education and PR work.

118 German development policy-oriented NGOs are currently members of the umbrella organisation VENRO, the Association of German Development and Humanitarian Aid NGOs. On average 10 new members join each year. Many smaller NGOs are also involved in the work VENRO does via corresponding Länder networks. A total of some 2,000 development-policy NGOs are thus involved in the VENRO association.

NGO promotion

Most NGOs are dependent on voluntary work and on donations from the general public to allow them to implement their programmes, but they also receive financial assistance from state bodies to help finance their development-policy activities. On request, local authorities, the Länder or individual federal states, the BMZ, the European Union and the United Nations can provide funding for the work of NGOs. This is an important way of supplementing NGOs' own funds. The lion's share of the funding for many NGO measures comes from state subsidies of this sort. In 2008 the BMZ contributed 33 million euros to projects of private development cooperation providers. In the budget year 2009 it will be contributing 38 million euros.

Before programmes and projects of private German providers of development cooperation are eligible for state subsidies, they must meet the following criteria:

  • The organisation must be a non-profit body based in Germany.

  • It must have the relevant technical and administrative competencies.

  • It must have experience in cooperating with effective, non-profit partner organisations in developing countries.

  • The project to be promoted must make a direct contribution to improving the economic and/or social situation of poor sections of the population, or must help improve the human rights situation.

  • The private provider of development services must contribute a minimum of 25 per cent of the project costs from its own funds.

The Beratungsstelle für private Träger in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (Advice Centre for non-governmental organisations working in the field of development co-operation, bengo), which works on behalf of the BMZ, supports and advises private providers of development services on their applications for financial support.

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