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A world without NGOs

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

The non-governmental organization (NGO) sector was built out of necessity for collective public action toward social development. Over time, it has developed into an industry worth over $1 trillion that employs over 19 million people worldwide. If the NGO industry was a country, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world – but the real question is whether or not it would be able to sustain itself. The world has become dependent on NGOs – but what would a world without NGOs look like?

NGOs play a vital role in the economic and social development and mobilization of communities, particularly in the developing world. The bane of their existence has been the worldwide dependency due to decades of mismanaged resources. The ongoing mismanagement of resources has created an industry of 10 million NGOs, only 3,536 of which are accredited by the United Nations.

It is a miracle the concept has lasted as long as it has, but their very existence begs the question: if NGOs are doing their job, would they even be needed? How can society and public donors assess how well NGOs are doing their job, or when an NGO’s job is ‘complete?

For decades, NGO’s have focused on the ‘hard’ indicators of economic development, including healthcare, education, and equality. If you are wondering what a world without NGOs would look like, think of North Korea. No one really knows what goes on inside, but most people can agree that it’s not a pretty sight.

Perhaps it is somewhat hypocritical of me to be writing this as I started my first NGO eight years ago. Having worked both in the NGO sector as well as the private sector, the truth is that there are as many similarities between the NGO and the private sector as there is difference. At the core, both realms operate on a basis of demand and supply. The ‘product’ of an NGO is the concept of dependency.

NGOs are not a replacement tool for public governments. It has always been, and it must continue to be the role of public government to look after its own people

Yara al-Wazir

Depending on NGOs

Impoverished communities around the world are becoming increasingly dependent on aid that is organized by NGOs. Governments have become dependent on NGOs to distribute and coordinate aid within communities as they have built the rapport and trust with the communities that need it. Businesses have become dependent on NGOs as they play a core part in their ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) models. Even volunteers have become dependent on NGOs to spend their time effectively reaching out to their communities.

The prolonged state of despair that the world is in has allowed for the birth of the concept of NGOs. Yes, communities, governments, businesses and people are dependent on NGOs and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we do not lose sight of the bigger picture: NGOs are not a replacement tool for public governments. It has always been, and it must continue to be the role of public government to look after its own people.

It is up to NGOs to step in and intervene when governments’ lack the specific expertise or experience to deal with a particular issue. As long as issues that are tackled by NGOs, such as access to health care and education remain on the government agenda, then we must continue to embrace this industry.

An unequal world

Anyone who says that the role of an NGO can be complete does not know excellence as defined by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – in the race for excellence, there is no finish line.

No matter how advanced the international community becomes, no matter how “equal” the world becomes, there will always be room for improvement and therefore there will always be a place for the NGO industry to continue. This should not be seen as a negative phenomenon, rather a positive one and a true showcase of our determination to continue to better our communities.

The truth is that with time, NGOs become to behave more like companies that build relationships, trust, and a reputation. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, it is important to keep it from clouding the real picture of why the NGO was born in the first place: to help people.

Further to the dependency by the people and volunteers, there is a notion that NGO’s can, and in some cases are actively replacing the role of public government. The issue of helping girls get into education, providing adequate healthcare training, or responding to refugee emergencies should not the a burden on the conscience of public individuals. It should be a shared responsibility with public government.
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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.