NGOs: Progressive Force or Neo-Liberal Tool?[1]

Steven Klees
Current Issues in Comparative Education   unpublished
The increasing prominence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been seen by many as a potentially transformative force in promoting more equal, participative, and sustainable development. At the same time, NGOs have also been seen as co-opted by neo-liberalism, functioning in ways that maintain systemic inequality. Edwards and Hulme's (1996) thoughtful article reviews many of these debates, and this short essay, like others in this issue, reacts to this article as well as draws upon my
more » ... l as draws upon my own experience and analysis of the threats and promise of the NGO phenomenon. NGOs, of course, are very diverse. The NGO literature makes a variety of distinctions among NGOs and aims to capture some significant differences in their functioning: e.g., national vs. international, Northern vs. Southern, community-based, religious-based, grassroots organizations, popular organizations, NGOs associated with social movements, and even progressive vs. neo-liberal NGOs (Edward and Hulme, 1996; Macdonald, 1995) . While these and other distinctions are very important in understanding the contributions and functioning of NGOs, there are some lessons that can be learned from looking at the NGO phenomenon as a whole.