Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM


Programme in Development Management

The Role of Non-Government Organizations in Development

When many people hear the term “non-government organization” or NGO, the first thing that often comes to mind is an organization that works for the development sector. There has been huge growth in the number of NGOs not only in India, but throughout the world. But the history of social service goes back many years, whether it appeared in the form of social clubs, trade unions, charitable hospitals, education centers, or homeless shelters—throughout history, people have been working to help the poor in different ways. Today, many of these organizations come under the NGO umbrella. Peter F Drucker, a management guru, goes so far as to say that “all non-government organizations are human changes agents. Because their product is a changed human being.”

The approach of NGOs can differ dramatically. For instance, some organizations might take it as their responsibility to directly address social or economic issues by, say, opening a hospital. Others prefer an approach in which the socially or economically disadvantaged communities are “enabled” to take responsibility for their own well-being, for instance by forming cooperatives or self-help groups. Because of differences in approaches, there is often difficulty in defining what exactly an NGO is. Nevertheless, there are some definitions. For example, the World Bank defines an NGO as a “private organization that pursues activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.”

There are many reasons that NGOs can perform better than other institutions. For starters, most of them are strongly attached to communities at the grassroots level. Their employees often have considerable field-based experiences, making their development approaches more practical. NGOs also often employ participatory methods which help communities to understand themselves more comprehensively while also helping to reinforce relationships between the NGO and the community with which it works. Recognizing the major role that NGOs can play, many governments, including the Government of India, have increased funding for such programs, have increased collaboration with NGOs, and have promoted the development of new NGOs.

In the development sector, there is often a lot of talk about the Government of India’s “Vision 2020”. The Government of India has been taking many steps to reach their vision, but are still behind their targets. NGOs can help bridge the gap between planned policies and ground realities. However, while NGOs do play an important role in development, there are many challenges. One of the biggest challenges is human resources. Not only does the sector need professionally trained and highly skilled and experienced human resources, it also needs to capture the interest of the younger generation in committing themselves to working with people, for people. These changes can be seen, but there still needs to be a lot of improvement if we expect to reach the Government of India’s “Vision 2020”.

Anurag Asthana, PDM 11


  • Drucker, P. F. (1992). Managing the non-profit organization: Principles and practices. New York: HarperBusiness.
  • World Bank. (1995). Working with NGOs: A practical guide to operational collaboration between the World Bank and non-governmental organziations. Washington DC: Author.

Filed under: PDM 11, Spectrum

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