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Non-Governmental Organizations

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are umbrella terms that refer to organizations not directly controlled by the state or governments, mostly concerned with human rights of various kinds (including civic and political, economic and social, and environmental rights), professional and occupational interests, and various other enthusiasms. They range from very large organizations with considerable budgets and international recognition, through national organizations with a strictly domestic agenda, to small, locally funded neighborhood groups. Many are connected and overlap with social and political movements. However, the existence of many domestically and internationally powerful QUANGOs (quasi-NGOs) and GONGOs (government-organized NGOs) suggests that, in practice, ''non-governmental'' is not as straightforward as it at first appears. The close involvement of many NGOs/INGOs with governments, intergovernmental bodies (notably the UN and the World Bank), and transnational corporations and other organs of big business is a constant source of controversy.

The most influential human rights INGO is Amnesty International, with around a million members in more than 160 countries and national sections in over 50 countries. Its budget of around US$25 million is raised from individual subscriptions and funding from private foundations. It does not accept money from governments, although most NGOs/INGOs do. The AI website is heavily used and the AI link with the UN Commission on Human Rights is particularly useful for studying the contradictions inherent for genuinely non-governmental INGOs forced to work with governments and intergovernmental agencies. Despite the work they do, many human rights INGOs have become rather elitist organizations and this has created difficulties for those they are dedicated to serve. The same can be said for the major environmental INGOS, notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The mainstream view of NGOs/INGOs is that their growth has paralleled the growth of global civil society (indeed, for many scholars in the field, this is a tautology). The success of the largest of them has led to the creation of a new class of activist-lobbyists, who command respect if not affection from governments and big business for their expertise (particularly their use of the media to highlight abuses of human rights and environmental justice). As a result, some prominent NGO/INGO leaders have taken up lucrative job offers in the state apparatus or in big business. This has led to splits between the large, powerful NGOs/INGOs and some of their smaller, more radical, anti-establishment counterparts, who came together in the meetings of the World Social Forum first in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, and all over the world since then.

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