Non-government organizations working in development form a transnational community which has a new role in imperialism today. We explored the knowledge economy of this community with NGDOs in Ghana, India, Mexico and Europe and found it to be largely donor-controlled and generally top-down, often against the will of committed individual actors. Governability is arguably a greater priority to donors than the most effective poverty reduction. The new managerialism and its audit culture impose demands on NGDOs that tend to work against any ‘listening’ to southern NGDOs or their clients, so that the sharing of local knowledge and ideas is very restricted. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.