Mini-NGOs in Schools

The Mini-NGOs in schools initiative is part of the Global Citizens Network Project in 2013-14.

Less Charity – more Justice!
We wanted to move beyond ‘charitable’ actions (such as fundraising and one-way notions of “us helping them”) and instead focus on social justice with proper reflection and engagement involving exchanges with our partner groups. We also want opportunities for plenty of creativity AND to give the students and teachers control over what they want to do, rather than delivering a set or designated programme of activities.

The Research/Reflection Stage, during which each school group shall research online, reflect and debate how key global themes are reflected locally (Oct-Nov)

The Campaign Stage, during which each school group shall plan and implement their own “mini-NGO”: an NGO-type campaign run as a whole school activity and is also developed through their own blog posted on the Schools Across Borders website


Five schools formed the network in Ireland:

  • Caritas Voice | 2 student groups | Caritas College, Ballyfermot, Dublin
  • Youth Action Project (YAP) | 1 student group | Mount Temple Comprehensive, Clontarf, Dublin
  • Promoting Equality for Palestinian Youth (P.E.P.Y.) | 1 student group | St. Dominic’s Secondary School, Ballyfermot, Dublin
  • Stop Threatening Our People (STOP) | 1 student group | St. Kevin’s Community College, Clondalkin, Dublin
  • Empower Girls, Cailíní Saor, Education 4 All | 3 student groups | St. Wolstan’s Community School, Celbridge, Co. Kildare

180 students took part across the five schools

All the blogs and student activities per school can be accessed from


School year: September – May

Baselines: to get knowledge and views on main concepts

  1. A Research Stage + a workshop in November with all Irish groups to present their research and learn ideas on NGO campaigns in Ireland
  2. A Campaign Stage to plan and implement ideas for awareness-raising
  3. Final Showcase event on 8th May for all school groups to present and share their mini-NGO campaigns

A school year (two terms) gives flexibility to teachers to do other school agendas while balancing the mini-NGO project (such as event days, pastoral activities etc). The project could also be delivered in one term (a lighter version of the mini-NGO i.e. conducting research, inviting speakers in to reflect and share campaigning ideas).

3 Big Ideas

3 ‘big ideas’ of the activity:

  1. Mini-NGO toolkit for students to start up their very own NGO
  2. Reflection (research & discussion) and Campaign stages to keep it structured
  3. Dialogue & Partnership with other young people – i.e. schools and groups in other parts of the world


We designed a Mini-NGO (non-governmental organisation) toolkit for the students to support and guide their reflections.

Making use of free online tools was at the heart of being able to organise, communicate with others and to make our project visible to others. We hosted materials and the mini-NGO blogs and petition info on the Schools Across Borders website. We used:

  • Edmodo is a free “social learning platform” website for teachers, students, and parents. It is marketed as the Facebook for schools –
  • Blogger is a free blog publishing service that allows multi-user blogs with time-stamped entries – [a Gmail account is needed to register]
  • Skype is a free service that lets you make free video and voice calls to other Skype accounts –
  • Survey Monkey and Google Drive are free online tools for creating and publishing surveys that can be shared easily –

External speakers were a huge resource of experience and reflection for the students.

Our partner youth and school groups are also keen to engage in Skype sessions and for email survey exchanges.

  • Invited speakers to share ideas and learning (rather than information session) from Trócaire, Concern Worldwide, Plan Ireland, GOAL, members of Palestinian community in Ireland, members of the Rohingya community, Burma Action Ireland to explain to students what are their campaign ideas, what are they doing about it in relation to the Irish government. Students would ask, “We are doing a campaign, what are your big ideas? What is, for example, Concern Worldwide, doing about it?”
  • We used the Good Practice Guidelines for Development Education in Schools (2013) by the Irish Development Education Association for designing our project evaluations


Having baseline data, 2 surveys (knowledge and attitudes survey and communication, social & action skills survey) are key. Some teachers did classroom reflection instead but either is fine.

Dividing the group into specific teams to support overall collaboration in the group, such as having a skills group, research team, campaigns team.

Critiquing the ‘resources’ (people, visual, ideas etc) on an ongoing basis is crucial with groups to assess what’s working, what’s useful and reflecting on modifying the project as it progresses. Teachers can adapt a strategy that works best for them (Christmas tests etc).

Focus on ‘justice’ and ‘power’ – who is in charge? Who is responsible?

Created own NGOs schools in Dublin by connecting with partner groups via SAB website to exchange ideas and resources with other schools and youth groups. Developing partnerships to build reciprocal projects.

Partner groups abroad were influenced by the activities of Irish students and some created their own mini-NGOs (for example, a Romanian group created a mini-NGO focusing on Ukraine).

Created awareness days in schools based on mini-NGO activities and this was replicated at a national main event where groups had a chance to share learning, experiences and actions with other mini-NGO participants

Government Ministers and local TDs were petitioned directly via online survey tool, then email and posted in completed petitions. These included:

  • Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade
  • Mr. Joe Costello, Minister of State for Trade and Development
  • Ms Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice & Equality
  • Mr Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Equality

Case Study – an NGO toolkit for young people

Key themes covered: Conflict, gender, environment, power, poverty/hunger/food security, globalization, injustice, inequality, human rights, children’s rights and the MDGs.

  • An NGO toolkit was designed to support the students in creating their own NGOs. The toolkit explained: what is an NGO; principals of how an NGO operates; support the creation of a vision and mission statement; organising roles (chairperson, secretary etc). By using the toolkit, students got to research and find their ‘local global issue’ and design the logo, name their NGO and focus on doing a campaign following the background research stage.
  • A lot of students ‘felt’ their way through, for instance one group started with looking at Child Labour which led to a decision to focus on the empowering right of Education and the Millennium Development Goals. Groups had lots of decisions to make and approached them democratically. Another group began with looking at Burma, deciding that they wanted to look at ‘Conflict’ and they eventually decided to split the class into two groups with one focusing on Syria and the other on Palestine. As two other school groups were focusing on these countries already this group was also happy to support and collaborate with the other schools, but had their own information +ideas for campaigning.
  • All of the groups did petitions and questioned ‘power’ and authority
  • Rather than an individual focus on what a person can do, there was collective action and collaboration. Students were able to communicate and exchange ideas with partner groups in Bosnia, Romania, Palestine and Burma via Skype or by email.
  • At our “Big Day in May” showcase event, all school groups organised an “NGO fair” where they all had stands and displays with activities to share their mini NGO campaign with everyone else
  • There was also a graffiti wall to allow students to express what they learned, what they though was particularly good on creative and critical thinking skills…and to add their own free comments
  • All the school groups organised a demonstration which gave a real sense of collective solidarity to the project and a rousing finale!
  • Certificates of achievement to each student and group awards for each mini NGO were presented

Project Learning

Schools Across Borders provides support and guidance to the teachers as well as coordinating main events and link-ups with partner groups in Ireland, France, Bosnia, Romania Palestine and Burma.

The programme is given direction by the teachers to create critical thinking and reflection time for students to find their own way and agree on a topic.

Inviting external speakers in – using your own contacts in the community or someone might know is helpful in drawing on your own resources first. Chatting to other teachers and groups in the network was a source of support for teachers also.

Students learned active learning techniques from some of the external speakers which they went on to use in their awareness raising day in the school.

Timing! Submitting a petition earlier in the year (say in December or January) would be better as politicians don’t always answer questions asked. Giving time for groups to follow up on responses from letters and petitions is an important planning factor.

Many opportunities to do creative collaborations with partner groups outside of Ireland shared ideas and make multimedia videos.

Students are plugged into technology so often (via social media and phones etc) that quite often active learning activities were more popular than the tech side of the project.

It was important to question authority figures, such as Ministers of State directly via petitions. While students felt that authority figures would be ‘boring’ speakers this is an area that students could have pursued along with inviting external NGO speakers to discuss campaign and policy positions with their groups

Not every school has the access and the time to do blogs – Blogger may be blocked in schools so checking permissions (and seeking it) is worth doing in advance!

Capacity building with teachers – supporting teachers to be confident in managing controversial issues in the classroom is as important as facilitating student space to negotiate and decide on key issue for the group to work with

Giving space for students to conduct peer reviews and evaluate their campaigns is crucial – planning for this in advance is important. This allows for project learning at the end on the successes and failures to occur and should be integrated into project timelines

Measuring Impact

Assessing the reactions of students to the action dimensions of the project was important in measuring the impact of the process on the students. How satisfied (or not) the students were in the types of responses they got in formal letters to politicians is an important indicator of motivation and willingness to renew the project and continue to seek solutions and answers from those in power.

Having communicated through the awareness day in schools and students sharing their projects with their peers at the end of year NGO fair. At the fair the 180 students got to visit other stands, share highlights, ideas and approaches and then take part in critical thinking.

Four ‘judges’ (with backgrounds in development education for NGOs or working in education around development issues) saw the work on the day and asked the students questions about their projects in a supportive yet critical capacity. Students received individual certificates and each mini-NGO received a group award with details on the strengths of that project included on the group certificates.

Links to Project Activities


Project resources and outputs

PowerPoint presentations