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International NGOs

International non-governmental organisations in the Commonwealth and beyond

International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) have expanded their influence rapidly since the 1980s in many Commonwealth countries and beyond. Throughout history, there have been a number of internationalised non-governmental bodies with altruistically aligned goals towards various worthy causes. Today the defining characteristic of what it really means for any organisation to be considered an international NGO is mainly its presence on the landscape of international development.

INGOs have responded rapidly to humanitarian crises throughout the Commonwealth and the rest of the world at the same time, mobilising governments and the public in the developed world to support these responses.  In addition, lessons from previous humanitarian crises have led to the development of global normative standards for humanitarian action which have notably being led by INGOs. Traditionally, local versions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are renowned worldwide for their rapid response to international humanitarian crises. Today they share many of their humanitarian operations with other INGOs like Oxfam, World Vision and CARE. In 2010 Commonwealth member state Pakistan was hit by its worst natural disaster – floods which affected 20 million people. Oxfam was initially involved in search and rescue operations but went on to help secure clean water and sanitation, enhancing food security and livelihoods through cash-for-work schemes and providing shelter kits to families.  At the same time Oxfam was aggressively involved in securing funding from the UK public whilst partnering with the UK Department for International Development.

A significant proportion of resources secured by INGOs comes from private individuals in the form of funding, volunteer assistance and expertise. Campaigns carried out by INGOs to attain such resources have helped build solidarity between people in the developed world and the world’s poorest communities which includes many parts of the Commonwealth. Examples include numerous child sponsorship programmes, issue-based campaigns such as Live 8 and petition campaigns.

INGOs have used their growing influence in leveraging policy change.  The Jubilee 2000, an international campaign led by international civil society and church groups, brought about ultimately the cancellation of more than U$100 billion of debt owed by 35 least developed countries. Beneficiaries of the scheme, which was mainly implemented under IMF/World Bank Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, include several Commonwealth member states. In fact, Commonwealth member state Uganda was the first country to be declared eligible to benefit from the HIPC Initiative in April 1998.

Through their networking, seminars, policy papers, joint operations and various other initiatives INGOs have become channels for knowledge-sharing.  For example, INGOs have helped bring pro-poor approaches and best practice in education, health, environment and governance and microfinance into the mainstream of international development. Successful innovations of microfinance in Commonwealth member state Bangladesh which were developed by the Grameen Bank have been taken over by many INGOs and adapted throughout the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. With the support of INGOs and other stakeholders, microfinance is flourishing today all over the developing part of the Commonwealth, with many organisations following the example set by the Grameen Bank. At the same time, the Grameen Foundation, an international NGO inspired by the success of the Grameen Bank has now become a prominent international player providing funds and technical assistance around the world.

Many successful domestic, localised NGOs and civil society organisations have come about as result of funding and capacity-building initiatives carried out by INGOs.  In many cases the intertwined nature of international and local NGO work has made it difficult to distinguish where most of the credit lies.  WaterAid has been present in Commonwealth member state Ghana since 1985, working in partnership with eight local NGOs.  The partnerships have resulted in considerable expansion of its programmes with significant coverage and have enhanced the ability for WaterAid and its partners to influence policy transformation in favour of poor communities.

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