Living with Paradox in International Development: An Extended Case Study of an International NGO

  • Helen WadhamEmail author
  • Cathy Urquhart
  • Richard Warren
Original Article


International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) combine practical and advocacy efforts to address global challenges like poverty and climate change. However, NGOs are embedded within the same global system they seek to challenge. This article explore the tensions this raises from the vantage point of one particular organisation (Concern Universal). Drawing on a paradox perspective, we find that despite the structural constraints, NGO actors and the poor people they work alongside are active and well-informed participants in the development process. However, a focus on the communicative labour of NGOs uncovers the power relations at play in that work. Nonetheless, our paper challenges ideas about development as ‘us versus them’. Rather, by focusing our analysis on the relationships between NGO actors and multiple others, we show how the organisation is effectively constituted by these and other relationships.


Contradiction Development Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Paradox Partnership 


Les organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) internationales conjuguent des actions concrètes avec un travail de plaidoyer en vue de combattre des problèmes mondiaux, tels que la pauvreté et le changement climatique. Cependant, les ONG sont imbriquées dans ce même système mondial qu’elles contestent. Cet article se penche sur les tensions qui en découlent, à travers le prisme d'une organisation spécifique (Concern Universal). Face à cette situation paradoxale, on remarque qu’en dépit des contraintes structurelles, les ONG et les démunis aux côtés desquels elles interviennent participent de manière active et éclairée au processus de développement. Néanmoins, un examen approfondi du travail de communication des ONG permet de dévoiler les relations de pouvoir qui caractérisent leur entreprise. Notre article remet toutefois en question certaines idées concernant le développement, qui le dépeignent comme une opposition entre « nous et eux ». En concentrant notre analyse sur les rapports entre les ONG et plusieurs autres acteurs, nous montrons que ce sont concrètement ces rapports parmi d’autres qui façonnent l’organisation.



The authors would like to thank everyone at Concern Universal, along with the partner organisations, companies, and communities mentioned, for their collaboration with this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, All Saints CampusManchesterUK

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