United States Institute of Peace

International Network for Economics and Conflict

Beyond "Beneficiaries": The Changing Landscape of Local Civil Society Development Efforts

Written by Lisa Schirch

The article examines how local development efforts are unique from and sometimes in tension with the work of international NGOs (INGOs).  

The very language of the development field is rife with reference to "local beneficiaries."  But this terminology conveys a categorical passivity not truly reflective of diverse locally-led development efforts where there is no division between those who implement and benefit from development efforts.  The landscape of "locally-led development" is more varied and rich than many in the international development community acknowledge.

In many countries, local NGOs express dismay and growing tensions with INGOs who hire away their local staff during crisis periods.  Local NGOs make investments to send their staff off for training only to find them wooed away to INGOs with higher salaries.  INGOs may be running programs at such are large scale that they may not even recognize these impacts on local NGOs, which tend to be smaller. 

The article urges caution when referring to a "lack of local capacity."  Internationals also lack capacities such as knowledge of local languages, cultures and political histories.  Instead, internationals can and should do more to learn about local development and peacebuilding efforts before importing their own solutions.

Download the paper here.