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Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as International Political Actors

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  • 0:01 Nongovernmental…
  • 1:15 Operational NGOs & Examples
  • 2:40 Advocacy NGOs & Examples
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
States aren't the only actors on the world stage. Nongovernmental organizations play an important role in our international system. In this lesson, you'll learn what nongovernmental organizations are and how they affect the world. A short quiz follows.

Nongovernmental Organization Defined

When you think about the world of international politics, you probably think about the interactions between countries and international political organizations like the United Nations. However, not all major international actors are public organizations. In fact, nongovernmental organizations are important players. According to the United Nations, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) is a not-for-profit group, principally independent from government, which is organized on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good.

NGOs focus on a broad range of issues, including human rights issues, humanitarian aid, economic development and social welfare, among others. Since NGOs are relatively independent of governments, they are not subject to the same types of political pressure to which states are often subject, such as turning a blind eye to torture for the sake of national security. We can generally categorize NGOs as operational NGOs and advocacy NGOs, although there is often overlap. Let's take a closer look at each type.

Operational NGOs & Examples

Operational NGOs are NGOs that are primarily engaged in international development and providing important essential goods and services to their clients. These organizations help fulfill the needs of people when their states cannot do so either because of indebtedness, economic underdevelopment, a recent natural disaster or corruption. Examples of goods and services provided by operational NGOs include providing financial aid or loans for economic development, providing medical care and even providing safe water, food and sanitation. Let's look at a few operational NGOs:

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross is focused on a humanitarian mission to protect and serve the needs of victims of war and international violence. It provides relief aid and also advocates for strengthening human rights law.

  • Doctors Without Borders, known through most of the world as Médecins Sans Frontières, provides healthcare services and training to less developed and war-torn countries around the world.

  • Oxfam is an NGO that focuses on seeking an end to worldwide poverty. Some of its programs include providing food, water and sanitation services during natural disasters and trying to ensure a global food supply for the poor of the world.

Advocacy NGOs & Examples

Advocacy NGOs focus their efforts on providing a voice for those who are unable to speak with their own and also advocate on important social issues, such as human rights, poverty and environmental issues. Advocacy NGOs also engage in lobbying governmental actors for social, economic and political change. They also serve as watchdogs that monitor others for actions that violate international law, such as violations of human rights and war crimes. Let's look at a couple of examples:

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