January/February 2012; Source: The Global Journal

The Geneva, Switzerland-based magazine The Global Journal has just published its “first ranking of its kind” list of the “Top 100 Best NGOs.” It’s an unusual compilation in that the editors of this magazine acknowledge that they eschew quantitative metrics for a series of qualitative measures, which are as follows:

  • Innovation: Creativity in programming/fresh approaches to old problems
  • Effectiveness: Delivery against objectives/quality of external evaluations
  • Impact: Outcomes over outputs/wider flow-on effects/donor-driven vs needs-based
  • Efficiency & Value for Money: Administrative overheads/coordination to avoid duplication
  • Sustainability: Enduring impact and relevance/problem-solving vs self-preserving
  • Strategic & Financial Management: Consistency of funding/self-evaluation processes
  • Peer Review: NGO and donor perception of sectoral ‘leaders’/awards and recognition

This was the “inaugural” ranking for this magazine, and given its international scope, the top 100 has a strong international flavor. According to the brief published methodology, the editors generated a list of 1,000 candidates, cut it down to 400, then did an unranked top 100, and followed that with the rank order of the final 100.

The credibility of the Global team to make this list is a little suspect. As an international project, we’re guessing Global’s team probably drew on its “partner” organizations: the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the Fondation Pour Genève, Global Geneva, the Human Rights Foundation, Internations, Poster for Tomorrow, the University of Geneva, and YaleGlobal Online. Whether that is the case or not, the result is a heavy dose of human rights and international development organizations, but as you’ll see below, some known U.S.-based groups do make the list, almost of all them with international profiles, if not programs:

1 – The Wikimedia Foundation

2 – Partners in Health

5 – International Rescue Committee

6 – PATH

11 – Mercy Corps

12 – Heifer International

14 – Human Rights Watch

17 – Water for People

26 – Ceres

29 – Acumen Fund

30 – CeaseFire

31 – Teach for America

36 – Root Capital

43 – Harlem Children’s Zone

46 – Open Society Foundations

52 – Search for Common Ground

53 – International Medical Corps

54 – Clinton Health Access Initiative

56 – Rare

57 – Ashoka

62 – Habitat for Humanity

64 – KickStart

65 – OneWorld Health

66 – Room to Read

67 – Rainforest Alliance

71  – TED

72 – Common Ground

77 – Creative Commons

80 – Global Viral Forecasting Initiative

82 – International Center for Transitional Justice


84 – Portable Light Project

87 – Innovations for Poverty Action

89 – Medic Mobile

95 – Architecture for Humanity

97 – Global Footprint Project

Some of these are well known to us. Others are identified as working on poverty reduction or homelessness but have never crossed our computer screens. A couple are of the rather effective self-promotional types currently in vogue, but that is to be expected in “top” lists of anything. Some non-U.S. NGOs on the list are well known to NPQ readers and undoubtedly deserve plaudits for excellent programs, including Medicins sans Frontieres (8), Oxfam (3), BRAC (4), and Amnesty International (19).

What is intriguing about the list is not the specific rankings, which are as subjective and unreliable as any other qualitative or quantitative ranking exercise of this sort. It is the inclusion of some groups whose minimal descriptions make us want to know more: Ushahidi (10), based in Kenya, is described as “crowdsourcing software;” Apopo (24), from Tanzania, “humanitarian demining;” Digital Divide Data (29), Cambodia, “social business;” Tostan (41), Senegal, community development; Aflatoun (50), the Netherlands, financial literacy; Interpeace (78), Switzerland, “peacebuilding” (which is also the specialty of U.K.’s Saferworld at 90); A.P.E. (92), Egypt, environment and community development; and Libera (99), Italy, “community empowerment.” Of course, we would probably like to know what some of the U.S. winners do, too.–Rick Cohen