Roles of NGOs

Among the wide variety of roles that NGOs play, the following six can be identified as important, at the risk of generalization:

Development and Operation of Infrastructure:

Community-based organizations and cooperatives can acquire, subdivide and develop land, construct housing, provide infrastructure and operate and maintain infrastructure such as wells or public toilets and solid waste collection services. They can also develop building material supply centres and other community-based economic enterprises. In many cases, they will need technical assistance or advice from governmental agencies or higher-level NGOs.

Supporting Innovation, Demonstration and Pilot Projects:

NGO have the advantage of selecting particular places for innovative projects and specify in advance the length of time which they will be supporting the project - overcoming some of the shortcomings that governments face in this respect. NGOs can also be pilots for larger government projects by virtue of their ability to act more quickly than the government bureaucracy.

Facilitating Communication:

NGOs use interpersonal methods of communication, and study the right entry points whereby they gain the trust of the community they seek to benefit. They would also have a good idea of the feasibility of the projects they take up. The significance of this role to the government is that NGOs can communicate to the policy-making levels of government, information bout the lives, capabilities, attitudes and cultural characteristics of people at the local level.

NGOs can facilitate communication upward from people tot he government and downward from the government tot he people. Communication upward involves informing government about what local people are thinking, doing and feeling while communication downward involves informing local people about what the government is planning and doing. NGOs are also in a unique position to share information horizontally, networking between other organizations doing similar work.

Technical Assistance and Training:

Training institutions and NGOs can develop a technical assistance and training capacity and use this to assist both CBOs and governments.

Research, Monitoring and Evaluation:

Innovative activities need to be carefully documented and shared - effective participatory monitoring would permit the sharing of results with the people themselves as well as with the project staff.

Advocacy for and with the Poor:

In some cases, NGOs become spokespersons or ombudsmen for the poor and attempt to influence government policies and programmes on their behalf. This may be done through a variety of means ranging from demonstration and pilot projects to participation in public forums and the formulation of government policy and plans, to publicizing research results and case studies of the poor. Thus NGOs play roles from advocates for the poor to implementers of government programmes; from agitators and critics to partners and advisors; from sponsors of pilot projects to mediators.

Abstracted from - Cousins William, "Non-Governmental Initiatives" in ADB, The Urban Poor and Basic Infrastructure Services in Asia and the Pacific". Asian Development Bank, Manila, 1991

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