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What Is the Difference between Social Work and NGOs?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 16, 2024
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Social work and non-governmental organizations — also known as NGOs — are concepts which are often linked, and yet the two represent fundamentally different ideas. The key difference between social work and NGOs is that social work is a field of study and practice, whereas NGOs are a type of organization. NGOs can often carry out social work, but not all NGOs are involved in social work and a great deal of social work is done by organizations which are not NGOs.

"NGOs are bodies which are neither government agencies nor businesses. The term can refer to a wide variety of different types of organization, but it often describes charitable or advocacy groups such as Amnesty International or the International Red Cross. The term most commonly applies to international organizations, although this usage varies; there is no universal definition of an NGO. NGOs address a wide variety of issues, including economic and technological development, disaster relief, animal welfare and other global problems.

Like "NGO," "social work" is a term which covers a wide range of activities. Broadly speaking, social work refers to programs intended to improve the welfare and living conditions of members of society, particularly low-income or otherwise marginalized communities. Social work can involve education, counseling, political advocacy, career development and any other activity which aims to improve the life of an individual or community.

As we have seen, NGOs are often involved in charitable or advocacy work, both of which play a role in social work. In this respect, then, there is a clear link between social work and NGOs. Some NGOs are involved in activities that are closely related to social work.

The link between social work and NGOs, although close, is not consistent. Governments are one of the major providers of social work, with government-employed social workers attempting to address issues such as child abuse, poverty and other issues. Since many social workers are employed by the government, it is clear that not all social work is performed by NGOs.

Just as not all social work is performed by NGOs, not all NGOs perform social work. Although the relationship between social work and NGOs is close, some NGOs perform other functions. For example, the World Wide Fund for Nature is a well-known and influential NGO which addresses environmental issues, particularly the question of endangered species. Since it is working for the well-being of the environment, and only indirectly for the welfare of human communities, this NGO is not involved in social work.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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