The 27th of February is World NGO Day. This day commemorates the actions and impact of non-governmental organizations on society. With this aim, I will focus on the contribution of NGOs in Greece and on the evolution of their role through the hard period of the economic crisis.
NGOs in Greece
When we take a look at the numbers, we can see that volunteerism in Greece is a bit under-represented in comparison to its European neighbors. For example, a study led by the European Union in 2010 highlighted that less than 10 percent of the population over the age of 15 was taking part in a volunteering activity. In contrast, the average in the European Union was 22 percent. This has been linked to the significance of family support and the strong traditional culture in Greece. In case of problems, people tend to seek help from their relatives more than from the state or from charity.
Besides, people used to distrust NGOs because of their tight links to political parties. There were also some corruption cases, which affected their reputation. Indeed, the government funded them partly, sometimes in a non-transparent way. For this reason, the population viewed NGOs as subordinated to the state and not so autonomous.
NGOs in times of crisis
However, with the 2008 crisis, the role of NGOs grew. In August 2012, the Greek government froze the funding given to NGOs under austerity measures. This was part of a larger plan to reduce debt. Because of this, NGOs became much more independent from the state and self-reliant. Despite the resulting lack of resources, they managed to help those that required assistance. Indeed, a lot of people became poor, unemployed or homeless because of the economic crisis. In the past, refugees and migrants made up the majority of the target group of NGOs. However, after the crisis, more Greek people started turning to them too. Many NGOs also extended their service. Instead of offering help only for a limited amount of time, they did it continuously.
This difficult time really shed light on the importance of NGOs in civil society and on the essential help they could offer. With this new media coverage, donations to many organisations increased. A lot of NGOs survived the loss of state funding thanks to private initiatives and money given by individuals, though not all organisations made it. With this reformed organisation, NGOs have regained some of the trust of the citizens. Thus, there was a rise in the number of volunteers engaging themselves in charity and public causes. These volunteers came from a lot of different backgrounds. Some had full-time jobs while others were affected by the crisis themselves and used their gained free time to help others in the same situation.
Thus, World NGO Day is good opportunity to celebrate and showcase the efforts of non-governmental organizations and their members. A lot of people rely on the work of these organisations, especially in times of crisis (economic, like in Greece, but also in the current refugee crisis for example). This day raises the question: are you volunteering or engaged in the work of an NGO? If not, today is a great occasion to involve yourself or donate to a charity meaningful to you.