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Foreign donor assistance and environmental capacity building: evidence from Serbia and Bosnia–Herzegovina

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2011

Adam Fagan*
School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, UK


Early analyses of the impact of donor assistance for NGOs across post-socialist Eurasia documented the extent to which the ubiquitous new NGOs were disconnected from indigenous networks, lacked sustainable resources and capacity, and were accountable to donors rather than citizens and governments. Although this article does not entirely contest such conclusions, it examines the role of NGOs from a different normative perspective based on their role as conduits of change rather than as emblems of democratic participation or liberal representation. However, in its critique, the research does contend that there are three fundamental problems with the earlier, somewhat negative analysis: (i) too much was being expected of NGOs and donor assistance; (ii) scholars were attempting to judge the impact of the intervention far too quickly; and (iii) the focus on democracy and civil society obscured the critical ‘governance’ impact that certain NGOs were having in terms of transforming decision-making and state power ‘behind the scenes’. From the empirical perspective of environmental NGOs in post-conflict Bosnia and Serbia, the paper uses a triangulation of quantitative and qualitative methods in order to ascertain better the impact of external assistance in terms of particular development skills and strategies employed by recipients. The conclusion reached is that donor funding seems to be exerting a positive longer-term impact on the transactional capacities of a small core of environmental NGOs in both locations. Organizations with the most developed transactional capacities, and the few organizations now able to engage transnationally, have obtained a succession of grants over a number of years and have had their transactional activities have been funded specifically by international donors via block grants. Although this does not necessarily prove a positive relationship between donor funding and transactional capacity, it nevertheless challenges more negative assessments in the existing literature.

Research Article
Copyright © European Consortium for Political Research 2011

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