NGOs and Social Change in Nicaragua

Chahim, D., & Prakash, A. (2013). NGOization, Foreign Funding, and the Nicaraguan Civil Society. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 25(2), 487–513.


A substantial section of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the global South depend on foreign funds to conduct their operations. This paper explores how the availability of foreign funding affects their downward accountability, abilities to effect social change, and their relative influence in relation to traditional grassroots, membership‐based organizations (GROs), which tend not to receive such funding. Drawing on a case study of Nicaragua, we challenge the notion that foreign funding of domestic NGOs leads to the evolution of civil society organizations, which have incentives and abilities to organize the marginalized sections of society in ways to effect social change in their interests. Instead, we find that foreign funding and corresponding professionalization of the NGO sector creates dualism among domestic civil society organizations. Foreign funding enhances the visibility and prestige of the “modern” NGO sector over traditional GROs. This has grave policy implications because foreign funded NGOs tend to be more accountable to donors than beneficiaries and are more focused on service delivery than social change oriented advocacy.

About the project:

Three years after completing ethnographic fieldwork in Nicaragua, my research article (co-authored with Professor Aseem Prakash) on Nicaragua's ongoing "NGOization" and declining grassroots was accepted in the peer-reviewed journal Voluntas. The full text is available online

This project has been presented at the University of Washington, for the graduate seminar of the Department of Global Health in April 2010, at the annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) in November 2010, at the International Studies Association 2011 convention in Montreal. I have also guest lectured on the paper for Aseem's American Foreign Policy class on numerous occasions.

 A slide sync with audio is available for the April talk here