Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

NGOs and their impact on civil society

The acronym NGO stands for non-governmental organization. It is used to define a non-profit organization which is independent from any state or any international organization. Such organizations are usually financed through private donations and public grants. These organizations have their own agenda – political or social – and very often they advocate for policies that are overlooked or disregarded by the official governments. Some of them are even endowed with tax privileges when their goals are recognised by the government as beneficial to disadvantaged people or society as a whole. They are usually active in various areas that can be humanitarian, educational, health care, cultural, environmental or social policy.

NGOs play an important role in civil society as they attempt to intervene in areas where the government does not have much impact or is not able to effect any considerable change. The importance of their work has officially been internationally recognised on the 27th of February 2010 when the World NGO Day was established. NGOs can shape society in different ways: by providing goods or services when the government lacks the resources, by advocating for issues thus influencing the behaviour of governments, by public education thus spreading ideas to the wide public and influencing its behaviour.

To get an idea of an NGOs’ impact on civil society, it is worth to look at the very important work they are doing in the Mediterranean sea. In a time ewhen the European Union members are failing to address this pressing emergency, NGOs are making all the difference when it comes to saving lives. Every year the number of people who choose the sea route to arrive to Europe in hope of a new life increases, along with the number of people dying during this perilous journey. According to the UNHCR (the United Nation Human Commission for Refugees), in 2018 alone there have been 172.301 sea arrivals and 3.139 people missing all over the Mediterranean area – i.e. Spain, Italy and Greece.

NGOs like Doctor Without Borders are doing everything they can to rescue as many lives as possible. However, there has recently been a debate in Italy about the effectiveness of these NGOs operating in the Mediterranean. A member of the Five Star Movement and Prime Minister candidate after the March 2018 elections Luigi Di Maio called the NGOs boats “sea-taxis.” His argument being that migrants are encouraged to make the journey by the knowledge that they will be picked up by the NGOs’ boats. However, this controversial argument – supported by right wing and populist parties all over Europe – does not stand. As the numbers mentioned earlier show, this journey is incredibly dangerous and only desperate people would attempt it. Moreover, without NGOs operating in the Mediterranean sea, the number of people dying would be much higher. According to Flavio di Giacomo, a spokesman for the Italian branch of the International Organization for Migration, in 2016 out of a total of 181,436 rescued migrants who were brought to safety in Italy, 49,796 were saved by NGOs.

Work done by NGOs such as the one described above is only one example of the positive impact these organisations make on civil society. Their role is to provide aid when the governments or other institutions fail to provide it. And while NGOs have many different shapes and sizes, it is very important that we all do what we can to support them and allow them to operate. Once we have studied and understood what their goals and values are and in what way they are shaping our society we can decide what kind of support we’re willing to commit to.