BINGO is not just a famous game of chance but also a type of NGO. Business and Industry Non-Governmental Institutions advocate for the rights of corporations and businesses. Other examples of NGOs also include WWF and CARE.


Create learning materials about NGOs with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    If you're wondering what all these confusing acronyms mean, find out more about NGOs in the following explanation, where you can learn more about the different types of NGOs and their role in world politics!

    NGOs definition

    NGOs (Non-Governmental-Organisations) have risen from in prevalence from around 130 at the beginning of the 20th century to 6000 in the 21st century. This means there are increasingly important, so having an accurate definition of NGOs is also increasingly important.

    NGOs are non-profit groups of citizens that tackle various issues locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. NGOs are independent of governments. Some NGOs work on a voluntary basis, while others work with paid staff. Their work ranges from health assistance, advocacy for minorities or environmental rights, education, infrastructure, information, etc.

    NGOs are independent organisations of civil society actors that aim at bettering a given context locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally.

    Examples of NGOs in the UK are Amnesty International, WWF, and Oxfam.

    With our world becoming more and more interconnected, intertwined and interdependent due to globalisation, NGOs play a crucial role in advocating for people's rights and interests.

    Globalisation is the historical process that led to the world becoming more interconnected. This process impacts different realms of people's lives. Globalisation can be cultural, political, economic, and technological.

    Through such a process, also world challenges become global.

    Climate change is framed and tackled as a global issue. States discuss shared responsibilities and solutions globally in summits coordinated by Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs). In these summits, the last one being the COP26 in Glasgow, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) also took part and shared their views on how to respond to the Climate Change Challenge.

    NGOs, Food Aid NGOs definition, StudySmarterFig. 1 Some NGOs work on a voluntary basis.

    Types of NGOs

    Now that you have a definition let's delve into the different types of NGOs. NGOs can be divided by the kind of activities they carry out, i.e. orientation, such as human rights protection, environmental advocacy, etc. Here we will identify types of NGOs based on their level of operation.

    Operational NGOs

    These NGOs focus on the actuation of projects. These projects can be developmental, which means they better a particular aspect of society, economy, or politics, or respond to humanitarian emergencies, for example, in a war context.

    Depending on the NGOs, their approach can be top-down (i.e. pre-determined operation is carried out by international actors) or bottom-up (i.e. the procedure is determined after an observation of the context and developed with local actors).

    An example of the latter is Community-Based NGOs (CBOs). These NGOs, also called Grassroots Organisations, usually work locally and identify a local membership group, or target, that works in the design and implementation of the NGO's project.

    Advocacy NGOs

    These NGOs support a specific cause and seek to influence society into pressuring state actors to reform different parts of the system (economy, election systems, environmental politics, law) to favour such causes.

    Advocacy NGOs can also be seen as lobby groups, i.e. groups of actors that, through political or discursive power, influence state action.

    Advocacy NGOs are not only NGOs that advocate solving global inequalities but also non-governmental organisations that represent the interests of businesses or industries in, for instance, intergovernmental summits. These are usually referred to as BINGOs (Businesses and Industry NGOs).

    Amnesty International is an example of an Advocacy NGO that advocates for international respect for human rights.

    Role of NGOs in global politics

    The role of NGOs in global politics varies enormously according to the issues the NGO tries to tackle. We can, however, explore some of the roles of NGOs in relation to the above division.

    Operational NGOs: Development aid and Humanitarian assistance

    NGOs, Humanitarian Action Role of NGOs in global politics, StudySmarterFig. 2 Nuclear catastrophes in history have required immediate humanitarian action and long-term development aid.

    NGOs often cover key roles in the resolution of issues in the Global South, which are countries outside of Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and, more generally, in all those places and contexts that are facing difficulties and are seen as needing aid.

    This role usually covers development aid or humanitarian assistance. Let's look at their primary aims and differences.

    Humanitarian Action

    Development Aid


    Humanitarian action aims at resolving short-term and immediate situations after a moment of crisis, such as a war or a natural catastrophe. It focuses on strategic and fast solutions that rebuild the conditions for people to live in any country or context.

    Development aid aims to tackle long-term, often structural issues in contexts that are seen as less developed than the Global North. These aim at bettering the economic, social, and political context of a specific nation or region in the Global South; hence they fight global inequality.


    Humanitarian action relies on international staff since immediate action is required to respond to the crisis.

    Development projects usually involve local personnel as they try to better the systematic local conditions and a longer time is necessary for the operation to succeed.

    Role of government

    Humanitarian action often intervenes in contexts where the government cannot respond to a crisis or is not in control of that territory. These contexts require work that cannot always lean on governmental structures.

    Development aid often takes advantage of existing government structures and infrastructures and might collaborate with the government itself.


    Examples of situations that needed Humanitarian Actions are the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan and the 2015 Nepal Earthquake.

    Development Aid is, for instance, the work that Oxfam carries out to systematically change the socio-economic condition of women in the Global South.

    Some situations, such as the Syrian Civil War, require both humanitarian action and development aid. These contexts can be called Complex Humanitarian Crises.

    Advocacy NGOs

    Advocacy NGOs operate not only locally but also internationally and work to influence changes in societal, economic and political conditions.

    Advocacy NGOs may use instruments such as public campaigns, fundraisers, and protests to create public awareness and drive demand for change. Some Advocacy NGOs try to change legislation through law proposals.

    The following example is key to exploring the role of Advocacy NGOs more specifically.

    NGOs such as Greenpeace, the WWF and Friends of the Earth have been critical actors during Climate Change Summits to reach a more considerable consensus on the global dimension of climate change and actualise emission reduction. In particular, Friends of the Earth is an NGO that brings together several international organisations within 75 countries that advocate for more impactful environmental action. During the Paris Climate Agreements of 2014, Friends of the Earth managed to lobby governments to recognise the 1.5°C temperature rise as the threshold of climate warming.

    NGOs, Climate Change Role of NGOs in global politics, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3 NGOs have been influential in advocating for more effective climate policies

    NGOs and government relations

    As we have seen above, NGOs often collaborate with states to define action on a global level. Therefore, NGOs and government relations is an important area to study because it means that NGOs influence governments.

    1. This aspect is criticised by some conservative state actors, who believe that governments are too dependent on NGOs.

    2. Liberals are, on the contrary, optimistic about NGOs and believe that it is only through their actions that we can face global challenges. In particular, due to the growth of market economies and the private sector worldwide, NGOs often replace state actors in determining situations of inequality and solutions.

    3. Critical theories such as Neo-Marxism maintain that instead of focusing on whether NGOs diminish state power, we should see how they are incorporated within global capitalist dynamics.

    Critical Economic Theorists argue that states rely on CBOs to carry out development aid, while Advocacy NGOs are criticised because they challenge states and international agencies in designing policies.1 A response to this has been opening most global summits to all types of NGOs, including corporate NGOs, which are business-based NGOs that aim to advocate for private companies' interests.

    What this process does is pluralise the global debate, meaning that a lot of different voices are introduced. States, all types of NGOs, IGOs, and experts have their say and agenda for solving global issues. Therefore, Advocacy NGOs' work against global inequality is diminished by the presence of private corporations' interests represented by BINGOs which cannot represent the interests of those in need of assistance as much as NGOs can.

    Advantages and disadvantages of NGOs

    So we've heard what types there are and their role in global politics and government, so let's discuss some of the main advantages and disadvantages of NGOs.



    NGOs are more likely to build more contact with local communities through projects that may use local personnel.

    NGOs have smaller funds than most states and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs).

    NGOs arguably do not respond to a political agenda.

    NGOs must comply with states' and IGOs' regulations and frameworks that naturally stem from political ideologies. Western NGOs will respond to Western conceptualisations of development, growth, and gender.

    NGOs are non-profit organisations contrarily to Transnational Corporations that lead development projects

    NGOs are not formed through elections such as governments and, therefore, cannot be held accountable as efficiently throughout the process. Doctors without Borders are an example of an NGO which was harmful to the cause.

    NGOs can also be very useful for small states and developing states who have smaller human capital and economic capacity.

    NGOs can lack consultation with the local community when imposing top-down approaches and, therefore, impose ideas and values that are harmful and at odds with the locals and their values.

    MSF (Doctors without Borders) have been criticised heavily by members of their staff for institutional racism. Their staff particularly critiqued how foreign workers are often favoured over local workers and how local workers do not have the right to be evacuated in case of an imminent emergency. Moreover, the NGO has little operational contact with the contexts it seeks to help since all of its operational centres, apart from one, are located in Europe.2 Critics see their approach as one that reproduces colonial dynamics and is based on charity instead of solidarity. This approach is described as one informed by a power dynamic, where there is a donor of aid and a dependent recipient.3

    NGOs - Key takeaways

    • NGOs, alongside IGOs and state actors, participate in the resolution of global issues.
    • NGOs are independent of governments, work either on a voluntary or paid basis, and address a wide array of issues.
    • Operational NGOs actuate projects which can be of development aid or humanitarian action. Advocacy NGOs seek to influence public opinion and state action on different issues.
    • NGOs have a level of influence on states and their power, and this is received differently according to political and economic ideologies.
    • An advantage of NGOs is how they can build solidarity and collaboration with those they work with, such as communities in need of socio-economic development.
    • A disadvantage of NGOs is that they cannot be held accountable as easily as state actors. This has created controversies around some NGOs' projects.


    1. Sangeeta Kamat (2004) 'The privatization of public interest: theorizing NGO discourse in a neoliberal era'. 

    2. The Guardian (2020) 'Médecins Sans Frontières is 'institutionally racist', say 1,000 insiders'.
    3. Sydney Calkin (2015) 'Post-Feminist Spectatorship and the Girl Effect: “Go ahead, really imagine her”'
    4. Fig. 1 Food aid volunteer no attribution required
    5. Fig. 2 Nuclear bomb no attribution required
    6. Fig. 3 Air pollution no attribution required
    Frequently Asked Questions about NGOs

    Are NGOs part of civil society?

    NGOs are civil society actors since they are formed by groups of citizens and are independent from governments.  

    Which is the purpose of NGOs?

    NGOs tackle various issues, often tied to global inequalities, and either design projects to solve such issues, offer aid or advocate to influence decisions regarding that issue. 

    Which are the different types of NGOs?

    NGOs can be divided into two groups: Operational NGOs and Advocacy NGOs. 

    How do NGOs influence governments?

    NGOs influence government decisions by creating awareness on certain issues and hence bring the demands of citizens to decision-makers. 

    What are the benefits of NGOs?

    NGOs build contact with the communities they help, do not respond to a political agenda and are non-profit. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    IGOs are responsible for 

    NGOs are 

    Advocacy NGOs are crucial for ___


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team NGOs Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App