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

Unpublished works:

Climate (In)justice in Afghanistan:

The Straw That Will Break the Camel's Back?

Final Paper for Three Degrees Climate Justice Seminar at University of Washington (2011)


Climate change is producing a creeping crisis as it slowly melts away the “water towers” of Asia – the Himalayan glaciers. That this melting could threaten the water security of at least a billion people across Asia is well documented and a growing cause for public alarm. Yet while Afghanistan is extremely vulnerable, the primacy of short term needs have generally pushed climate change off the agenda and list of concerns of both local ministers and donors in the country. While understandable in the short-term, the long-term effects of climate change on local populations in terms of human security are cause for alarm: health will deteriorate, water – and thus food - will become scarcer, unemployment will rise, and local conflict will increase. All of these effects are likely to be distributed unequally across the country, whose existing 
inequality is high and whose geography is varied. The consequences for national and regional security are similarly severe. This paper explores these effects in detail, with particular emphasis on the distribution of those effects from an equity perspective and their implications for justice amid a weak institutional infrastructure. 

Read the full paper here.

Damming Peace and Developing Dissent:

The Southeastern Anatolia Project and the Kurdish Resistance in Turkey

Final Paper for Water and Security in the Middle East seminar at University of Washington (2011)


The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) will build 22 dams while implementing a slew of secondary projects to improve social services and attract investment to the region. Yet while the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) dams, particularly the Ilsu, may bring (marginal) national economic growth, they are unlikely to fulfill the GAP’s underlying goal of bringing peace to the Kurdish conflict.The GAP, while recognizing the primarily economic origins of the Kurdish discontent, will fail to deliver economic benefits for the majority of impoverished Kurds. By focusing on large dams and irrigation, the project (1) necessitates the involuntary displacement – and subsequent destitution – of hundreds of thousands, (2) exacerbates existing structural inequalities, and (3) causes environmental damage to water and soils that threaten smallholders and overall long-term production. These effects will only worsen the economic condition of the majority and thus do little to douse – and much more to fan – the flames of the Kurdish resistance. Worse still, the impoundment of water in Turkey encourages downstream Syria to redouble its support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Only by ceasing future destructive dam-building and promoting structural land reforms can Turkey make a lasting peace with its Kurdish minority and fulfill the original goals of GAP – and avoid instability domestically and a tarnished human rights image globally. 

Read the full paper here.