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Hope College

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Switzerland: Global Health and Development Policy


The international development world has witnessed a marked increase in the presence and participation of transnational non-governmental development organizations (NGDOs) over the last two decades. This has in turn inspired much deliberation concerning what the appropriate roles and approaches for NGDOs in the development and poverty alleviation effort are. A large part of this discussion has been characterized by sustained criticism regarding NGDOs failure to engage with political processes in the developing world and the inability of most popular approaches to inspire empowerment for the marginalized and rely on their own agency towards achieving the improvement of their societies. Considering the recent growth in the popularity of ‘capacity building’ as a preferred development intervention, this study contributes to the ongoing conversation by examining the theory and practice of this approach—critically evaluating its innate ability to escape from the forgoing constraints and envision long-term development solutions that are not pursued at the expense of the empowerment of the marginalised and of the development of their own institutions. To further characterize capacity building as a development approach, this study examines both available literature on the concept and a few examples of NGDOs and bilateral organizations that rely on this approach in their work within the context of certain Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Following this, it goes on to conclude that capacity building does not innately escape this political empowerment constraint faced by previous approaches. It also concludes that unless (i) cognizant of and seeking to engage with development as a larger process of change rather than on a project or single policy level; (ii) directly and intentionally engaging issues relating to civic life, rights, and responsibilities; (iii) and aware of and seeking to counteract power imbalances in their interaction with beneficiaries, NGDOs working in capacity building have a very limited ability to contribute to empowerment towards long term development.


Growth and Development | Organizational Behavior and Theory