Instrumental in changing mindsets and attitudes, while pushing for social change, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are known for being committed to doing good while setting aside profit or politics. Their steady rise both locally and abroad has helped stress further the various problems that are affecting our world, highlighting their determination in lending a helping hand.
But what exactly do NGOs do?
Funded by donations and primarily run by volunteers, organisations are established by individuals independent from the government and can be local, national or international in nature. Most are associated with specific issues such as poverty alleviation and are active in the educational, public policy, humanitarian, environmental and other spheres, while they may also be involved in bringing citizens' concerns to governments. For this reason, they are also known as civil society organisations in some countries. However, the term NGO is not always used consistently, since it is often employed to refer to what would otherwise be called a non-profit organisation (NPO). The UN stresses that any company that is not controlled by a government can be considered an NGO, as long as it is non-profit and non-prevention.
The local scene
Following the end of the Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations, non-governmental organisations have become increasingly popular, mushrooming in every corner of the world. Up until a decade or so ago, local NGOs were barely recognised by the government, while they were unregulated. This changed with the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations (VOs) that acts as a regulatory body whose mission is to provide visibility to this sector, while ensures that transparency and accountability are safeguarded by all organisations. Although not obligatory, NGOs across the island may enrol with the VOs. If this doesn't take place, organisations may need the Commissioner of Police's permission to make public collections, while they may be unable to receive grants or establish cooperation contracts with the government.
Organisations' main purpose may be social, charitable, philanthropic or any other lawful purpose, whilst they are usually divided into two broad groups, those that are operational and focus on development projects and those that are involved in advocacy and strive to promote particular causes.
How to get involved
If there's a cause that is close to your heart, you might be wondering whether there is something you can do to help. A quick glance at the website of any non-governmental organisation reflects their need for funds. Bearing in mind that these do not charge for their services, they rely on the general public and companies for funding. Typically, organisations' websites have a donate button through which you can send funds instantly and effortlessly. Others may disclose their bank details in which case you can donate via bank transfer, whereas some may even have a dedicated number whereby you can send an SMS. Usually, each number corresponds to a specific sum of money. In addition, you can always pay the company a visit and offer some cash or you may want to send a cheque in the post. Before making a donation it's important to confirm that the NGO is a legitimate one and ideally, you should select one that is registered with the VOs. Doing so will ensure that your money is put to good use. In addition, you should also ensure that the transfer of your funds can be done in a secure manner, most importantly if making an online payment via a website.
Yet, there are other ways you can get involved without needing to fork out funds every month or so. Many NGOs have volunteering programmes which you can join. Volunteers are needed to fill various positions, such as administrative jobs that help with the day-to-day running of the organisation or may be needed to serve as spokespeople. Others require volunteers who have a specific skill set or expertise, such as volunteer medical staff or psychologists who can act as councillors. Other ways you can further support them is by becoming a member or by signing petitions to causes they may be promoting.
Would you like to find out more? Here are 15 Maltese voluntary organisations who are making a difference.