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Northern NGOs have come under critical scrutiny since the 1990s, often with negative conclusions as organisations which had supported radical social change in the 1970s and 1980s have since turned themselves into a professionalised and bureaucratic aid sector. The article focuses on the Northern NGOs that purport to fund progressive social change and which encourage beneficiaries to question market and political power, and on the NGOs to which they channel funds in Latin America. After examining various types of critique, the article asks whether it is not only dangerous in practice to fund social change but also misguided in principle, or whether there remain ways to use resources to enhance the capacity of local change agents to make the choices that they deem appropriate. It concludes that much depends on the theory and practice of social change that underpin the resource transfer, particularly in relation to the transformation of power (as opposed to ’empowerment’), to social activism, and to the robustness of efforts within NGOs to resist or modify bureaucratic imperatives from back-donors.

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