NGOs and social change: agents or facilitators?

The author discusses issues about the role of NGOs and their relations with the state and the community. The term NGO does not help us to distinguish between grassroots groups, intermediary organisations, and international organisations and the author feels such distinctions would be useful. Claims are currently being made about the potential of NGOs to bring about social change, and focus is often placed on NGOs as if they all have a common role and common characteristics. The author advocates development `from below', and argues that the real development challenge is more about building sustainable processes than about influencing international policy. This article also appears in the Development in Practice Reader Development and Patronage.