Non-governmental organizations (NGO) are one of the basic elements of democratic societies. By definition, an NGO is any non-profit group of citizens who share the same goal and want to achieve it on a local, national or international level.
However, this interpretation is not really able to reveal the influence that NGOs make in empowering governance. These civil society organizations are so widespread that there are more than 1.4 million of them in the U.S. alone, with the number being much higher on a global scale.
But what exactly is the purpose of NGOs and how can they contribute to the governance in general? That’s something that we are going to explain in this article.
The way that NGOs strengthen governance
Governance is a polyvalent process and it operates in numerous directions. Following this pattern, NGOs function accordingly and contribute to different areas of social and political life. Here are the most important fields of NGO influence.
The watchdog role
The primary role of an NGO is to monitor and analyze the work of local or international institutions. This so-called watchdog model suggests that the members of civil society should evaluate governance in all of its stages: from policy-making to implementation. It’s a passive duty but it demands careful supervision. In case NGOs notice any kind of suspicious behavior, they warn the authorities or the general public. Since the establishment of the watchdog model, governments and state institutions are reducing the number of mistakes.
A vast majority of NGOs operate in smaller communities, developing local assets and infrastructure. This way, NGOs boost participation and allow people to get involved in activities which are directly related to their everyday lives. Recent surveys proved that 80% of global citizens think that NGOs make it easy to be involved in positive social change. Community development is the field where these organizations generate the most tangible results, encouraging people to support and contribute to local projects.
One citizen can hardly make a change in the society. Sometimes, not even a whole group of citizens is able to do it. But with the support from NGOs, people can actually change things on many occasions. Organizations of civil society can add new topics to the government agenda and advocate public interests. They can attract the attention of all media and initiate fundraising campaigns. They can organize protests or sign a petition. These are all ways to support the local community and make a real change in the society.
Democracy is a relatively new thing for most of the countries. It’s not easy to change the mindset of people in transition countries and state representatives cannot handle it on their own. For example, people in the Far East or in the post-Soviet states were not used to political pluralism and contemporary human rights agenda. This is where NGOs step in and try to promote democratic standards. Promoting these values, NGOs encourage democratization processes and give their contribution to this higher goal.
Mediation is one of the biggest strengths of NGOs. Namely, these organizations can be a strong link between state authorities and local communities. We all know that governments often function as alienated entities (remember Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan?), without the real connection to the people they represent. With NGOs as mediators, it is much easier to overcome the gap between the government and the public interest. But the procedure is not always the same as NGOs have three levels of jurisdiction depending on the subject. Here is how they can communicate with state authorities:
1. Information: In this case, NGOs can only receive information from state officials but they cannot influence their opinions and decisions.
2. Recommendation: The middle level of jurisdiction happens when NGOs are invited to give their own recommendations and suggestions to state authorities.
3. Participation: This is the most democratic level of communication between NGOs and governments. At this stage, NGO representatives actively participate in decision-making processes.
Members of the civil society are often icebreakers who bring new knowledge, technologies, and practices to their communities. Therefore, another task they have is to transfer this knowledge to the wider audience. This is also known as capacity building, which serves to spread avant-garde ideas and policies among citizens.
The other side of the coin
But if we truly want to understand the impact of NGOs on modern societies, we must also note that there has been a lot of comments recently about their efficiency and the power to change societies. Even more, many analysts think of NGOs as supporters and plain extensions of governments and global corporations.
Although it proved to be true in many cases, no one can deny that NGOs really invest a lot into development and infrastructure worldwide. For instance, they contribute more to the local community in Bangladesh than its own government. For this and many other reasons, we can still say loudly that NGOs play a big role in empowering governance globally.
NGOs are a conscience of modern societies. They point out the weak spots but also contribute to the solution of many problems both on the local and the international level. In this article, we explained the role of NGOs in empowering governance. There are many more features that we could write about here so don’t hesitate to share with us in comments your thoughts and remarks about the civil society organizations.