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News article3 July 2017European Labour Authority, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion4 min read

NGOs: What, why and where?

You’ve probably come across the acronym ‘NGO’ on Drop’pin@EURES, EURES itself and various other job-related websites. But what are NGOs, why would you want to work for one and where can you find out more?

NGOs: What, why and where?

WHAT… are NGOs?

NGOs, or non-governmental organisations, are not-for-profit organisations that operate independently from national governments. They often take the form of charities and tend to be particularly active in the fight against poverty, poor healthcare, environmental issues and social exclusion.

NGOs can range from local community-driven initiatives up to international organisations working across the world. Typically funded by donations, they unite people who share a common interest and looking to make a difference or influence change. 

WHAT… NGOs are in Europe?

In its annual ‘Top 500 NGOs World 2016’ ranking list, NGO Advisor included 185 organisations that have their headquarters in Europe – which accounted for over one third of the total list. Europe’s NGOs vary in size, aims and nature, and offer a wide range of potential employment opportunities. Some of the most well-known include:

  • Oxfam (UK): Founded in 1942, Oxfam is an international NGO dedicated to eradicating poverty, providing disaster relief and advocating for human rights.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (France/Switzerland): Also known as ‘Doctors Without Borders’, Médecins Sans Frontières is a humanitarian NGO famous for its projects in developing and war-torn countries – and it also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
  • Foundation for Environmental Education (Denmark): An international umbrella organisation with members in over 70 countries worldwide, FEE promotes sustainable development through environmental education.
  • APOPO (Belgium/Tanzania): An NGO with a unique approach, APOPO trains African giant pouched rates to detect landmines and tuberculosis.
  • Greenpeace (Canada/Netherlands): Founded in Canada, the world-famous environmental NGO Greenpeace is now headquartered in the Netherlands and has offices in over 40 countries.

WHAT… is the EU doing to connect with NGOs in Europe?

As part of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the European Commission has made it a priority to establish and strengthen partnerships between EU institutions, national and regional governments and European stakeholders.

Specific Commission DGs also work closely with NGOs through activities such as bi-annual meetings where NGOs are invited to discuss current community matters (DG JUST, organised jointly with the Social Platform) and engaging in stakeholder dialogue with EU-level NGOs and social partners (DG EMPL, under the framework of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion).

The European Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body of the European Union consisting of members representing employers, workers and various interests. One of the Committee’s main themes is civil society, particularly the way that committed people and organisations are essential for political progress. The recent Civil Society Days 2017 (26-27 June) event emphasised the role of civil society organisations as a bridge between people and European institutions, and how they had the power to offer the EU new perspectives and solutions.

WHY… work for an NGO?

One of the greatest benefits of working for an NGO is the feeling that you’re making a real difference to the world or the lives of those who live in it. NGOs can allow you to see the impact of your hard work first-hand, which is immensely rewarding both professionally and personally.

Also, as the business structure of NGOs is often less hierarchical than traditional businesses, there might be greater opportunity for you to develop multiple skill-sets by working in different areas.

WHERE… can I find out about opportunities within NGOs?

The EURES website hosts a wide range of job, traineeship and apprenticeship adverts from companies across Europe, including NGOs.

Online job boards will often allow you to filter available jobs by ‘type of organisation’, so they can be a great way of tracking down NGO opportunities in your area of interest. A quick internet search will bring up a list of the main job websites in your country.

Websites like Euro Brussels, Global Jobs and Impact Pool also have a wealth of opportunities within NGOs, both European and global, so why not check them out too?

Finding an opportunity is only the first step. You need to perfect your CV, write a killer cover letter and ace that interview… and we’ve got you covered on every step of the journey!


Related links:

‘Top 500 NGOs World 2016’ ranking list


Médecins Sans Frontières




Europe 2020 Strategy

Social Platform

European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion

Civil Society Days 2017

Wide range of job, traineeship and apprenticeship adverts

Including NGOs

Euro Brussels

Global Jobs

Impact Pool

Write a killer cover letter

Ace that interview


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EURES Jobs Database

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Articles are intended to provide users of the EURES portal with information on current topics and trends and to stimulate discussion and debate. Their content does not necessarily reflect the view of the European Labour Authority (ELA) or the European Commission. Furthermore, EURES and ELA do not endorse third party websites mentioned above.