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Understanding International NGOs

Understanding International NGOs and Nonprofits

And finding out what best fits your career objectives

This document is designed to provide definitions on the various job “types” in the international career arena. It is by no means an exhaustive list of options, but rather a foundation from which students can build their career search.

I. What is the difference between an international non-governmental organization and international non-profits?

Actually, non-governmental and non-profit organizations are essentially the same thing. They are neither governmental agencies nor private firms, but rather all other types of organizations. Overseas, it is more common to hear the term “non-governmental organizations”, while in the US “non-profit organizations” is the term more widely used. The notion of “non-profits” developed as a result of the US tax code, providing tax exemption to all organizations that do not make a profit, coded as 501(c)(3) organizations.

II. International organizations broken down:

Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs
The term Non-Government Organization is an umbrella phrase that encompasses nearly all other organizations which are not classified as Government or Private sector industries. These organizations vary in size and strength. They can be a large organization with multiple regional offices, or they can be a community based organization with a staff of five.

Examples of Large NGOS:

Example of Small NGOs:

International Non-Governmental Organizations, INGOs

Big International Non-governmental Organizations, BINGOs


International Governmental Organizations, IGOs

International institutions governed by member States.


The United States are members of the following IGOs:

International Financial Institutions
International financial institutions governed by member States.


Bilateral Development Organizations
An agency within the government of a developed country dedicated to helping developing countries.


III. Types of NGOs*

Relief and welfare agencies
These groups are engaged in relief work in post-conflict regions. Other services include welfare activities. Although the following examples are organizations with religious affiliation, that is not the case for all relief agencies.


Technical innovation organizations
These are NGOs that operate their own projects to pioneer new or improved approaches to problems, and which tend to remain specialized in their chosen field.


Public service contractors
This type of NGO is typically funded by governments in developed (traditionally Northern Hemisphere) countries to carry out development operations in developing (traditionally Southern Hemisphere) countries. Public service contractor NGOs work closely with governments located in the Southern Hemisphere as well as official aid agencies. They are contracted to implement certain operations of the official programs, as their size and flexibility allow them to execute responsibilities more effectively than governments.


Development agencies
Exist to improve the welfare of the poor in developing countries, and typically concentrate their efforts on self-help, social development and grassroots democracy. These include both NGOs located in the Northern Hemisphere as well as their counterparts in the Southern Hemisphere.


  • Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee,
  • Federacao de orgaos para Asistancia Social e Educacional (Brazil)
  • Oxfam,

Grassroots development organizations
These locally-based NGOs attempt to create a bottom-up development process by allowing the marginalized group(s) to actively participate in improving the community.


  • Self Employed Women’s Association of Ahmedabad
  • savings groups
  • rural workers’ unions

Advocacy groups and networks
Advocacy groups and network NGOs usually have no field projects that they operate, rather they exist primarily for education and lobbying.


IV. Links to Additional Resources

Find NGOs working on Environmentally Sustainable Development, Human Rights, & Women in Development and more through these links.

V. Links on Preparing yourself for Overseas Living

Once you’ve made a decision to live and work overseas, check out these sites:

* This information was attained from pages 34-35 of John Clark’s book Democratizing Development: The Role of Voluntary Organizations. This book was published in 1991 by Kumarian Press, Inc.