Understanding development NGOs in historical context
From the late 1980s onwards, NGOs rapidly assumed a far greater role and profile on the landscape of development than they had previously. NGOs were celebrated by donors as being able to bring fresh solutions to complex and long-standing development problems. The new attention given to NGOs at this time brought many far-reaching changes to development thinking and practice, as a consequence of new interest in then alternative concepts such as participation, empowerment, gender and a range of people-centred approaches. But alongside such claims and much positive change, there was a wider problem, which was that too much became expected of NGOs. All too often NGOs were seen by donors as a ‘quick fix’ or, in Vivian’s (1994) phrase, a ‘magic bullet’ that could unblock the disappointment, disillusionment and deadlock that had characterized the world of development. Such views then inevitably led to a backlash by the end of the 1990s, when evidence began to suggest that many NGOs had failed to live up to expectations.