How international NGOs killed civil society in developing countries

Re-post from

It’s five years after the end of the war, with five years of focused attention from the international community, and five years with an increasing presence of international organisations looking for partners. Yet everybody agrees – particularly the local NGOs themselves – that capacity is as low as ever, and there is still no coherent approach to building that capacity in the near term.

  1. International NGOs present the only visible models for nationals who want to form an organisation,
  2. Conspicuous wealth of international NGOs creates a strong incentive to emulate them.
  3. The presence of international NGOs forces national governments to adopt legislative frameworks that are far more about controlling NGOs than regulating them
  4. International NGOs present themselves as non-profit service providers rather than as the organised expression of a collective will.
  5. System incentivizes the registration of local NGOs – frequently as income generation schemes for sole traders – rather than fostering organisations that meet the needs of local people.
  6. International NGOs frequently either deny or co-opt faith groups, the most viable non-NGO civil society groups.

In summary: the presence of international NGOs undermines the development of civil society as we unwittingly remake it in our own image, enabled both by national governments and international donors. We need to break this cycle by recognising the diversity of collective action, revising our engagement strategies to reflect that, and reversing legal and economic frameworks that perpetuate the cycle of NGO creation that leads to bloated and ineffective local NGO communities.

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