What Is the NGO Sector?

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  • Written By: Kenneth W. Michael Wills
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 January 2020
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The non-governmental (NGO) sector comprises a diverse range of organizations that are non-affiliated directly with any government entity and not derived to generate profit. Usually, an NGO is structured to achieve a social aim and may or may not include political aims as part of its undertaking, so it may or may not include government members. Such organizations are often citizen-based, usually revolving around a disadvantaged group in society or those who are volunteers regardless of membership. There are two main types of NGOs that operate in the sector: operational NGOs and advocacy NGOs. Under each of these classifications, there is a wide variation of individual NGOs dedicated to a variety of social aims, which may or may not include political gains as a motive.

Complicating the mapping of the NGO sector is the fact that the term itself is often loosely applied. Certain groups may even use the term non-governmental organization to describe any organization, including those that seek a profit. Due to the liberal application of the label, some NGOs have opted for the label of private voluntary organization (PVO). Never-the-less, the NGO sector as most commonly understood centers around achieving social aims without the direct legislation of government entities determining its actions.


Involved in a variety of social causes, the NGO sector sole aim is to further political or social aims as set forth by each individual non-governmental organization. Examples of such social causes may include accounting and campaigning for human rights, promoting interfaith dialogue among religions, having community development organizations, or promoting legal or operational standards for a specific industry. These, however, are just some examples as various NGOs are found to take up the cause of most any social or political concern in society. Furthermore, their missions are often defined according to geographical regions.

Within the NGO sector, organizations that comprise it may operate on a variety of different levels. Some organizations operate on an international level, such as the Red Cross or Amnesty International, for examples, and often include large developmental or aid organizations. Others tend to operate specifically at the national level and often include community development NGOs, professional groups and housing organizations. Locally, a wide-range of NGOs may operate to include various types of clubs, social groups, churches, associations or committees. Each of these organizations often work independent of governments, but may or may not cooperate with government to achieve their social or political aims.


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