Evidence 10: The organizational diversity of the sector

In Evidence10, we will present initial evidence on the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector. This post is an introduction to the topic.

The graph below shows the distribution of organizations by type. The type refers to the composition, structure and legal status of the organization. Let us comment some of its insights.


Non-governmental organizations [1] (NGOs) form the largest group of humanitarian actors. They account for nearly 60% of all organizations. This category includes a very diverse range of organizations, including community-based[2], national[3], regional[4] and international[5] organizations. In this category we also include federations of NGO as well as national offices of international NGOs. Studying the creation patterns of the global population of NGOs reveals two historical turning points:

  • The most intense period for the creation of NGOs was between 1971 and 1992: 37% of them were founded during this timespan.
  • Between 2003 and 2012, the number of creations stabilised at a very high level (on average 22 NGO births per year). 21% of  NGOs was born during this period.

If we consider state and inter-governmental organizations[6] together, they represent 9,5% of the organizations present in our database. Hence, they are the second largest group, far behind NGOs.

The third largest group[7] is formed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (made up of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). They account for 7,4% of the organizations and are among the oldest of our database: most of them were created before 1958. They also represent a number which cannot grow indefinitely given that, expect notable exceptions, each state counts only one Red Cross/ Red Crescent National society.

Networks represent 6,7% of the organizations in our database. This category includes networks of NGOs as well as global policy networks – gathering governments, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs and even individuals – around a common policy issue. This shows that the expansion of the humanitarian sector is accompanied by the development of cooperation mechanisms among its stakeholders.

Lastly, two groups appear as relatively minor but exhibit different creation patterns.

Corporations and businesses are relatively new and minor actors of the humanitarian sector – most of them being born during the 2000s. This group includes social businesses as well as corporations which provide humanitarian services for profit (logistics, data analyses), mainly to other humanitarian actors.

Religious entities refer to religious orders and religious communities which undertake relief activities. They are among the oldest organizations (the oldest being created in 1099) but also include “young” members born during the 1990s and 2010s.

Throughout the day, we will analyze the extent to which such diversity is reflected in the terms each type of organization uses.

Would you like to comment these results? Please use the comment form below.

[1] Inter-governmental organizations refer to organizations founded by an inter-governmental treaty and involving at least two states on issues of common interest.

[2] After the “others” category which agglomerates diverse organizational categories.

[1] Defined as voluntary organizations formed and organized by private individuals operating at the national, regional or international level cf. Margaret P. Karns, Karen A. Mingst International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2010.

[2] Working in a specific part of their national territory.

[3] Only working in their home country.

[4] Working in the region of their home state.

[5] Working in at least one country which does not belong to the region of their home state.