Teaching a Man to Fish: NDGOs, Development Interventionism, and the Capacity Building Approach

Student Author(s)

Sa'eed Husaini

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jack Holmes

Document Type


Event Date



The international development world has witnessed a marked increase in the presence and participation of transnational nongovernmental 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 effort should be. A large part of this discussion has featured sustained criticism regarding NGDOs failure to engage with political processes in the developing world and the inability of popular interventions to inspire empowerment for the marginalized by relying on their own agency to achieve the improvement of their societies. Considering the recent growth in the popularity of “capacity building” as a preferred development intervention, this study contributes to ongoing conversations by examining the theory and practice of this approach—critically evaluating its innate ability to escape from the forgoing constraints and envision development solutions that are not pursued at the expense of the empowerment of the marginalized and 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 concludes 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 and governments, NGDOs working in capacity building have a very limited ability to contribute to empowerment towards long term development.

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