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Financing Empowerment? How Foreign Aid to Southern Ngos and Social Movements Undermines Grass-Roots Mobilization



The article examines why many foreign-funded, resource- rich movements in developing countries have been unable to produce the massive mobilization found in other successful social movements with access to fewer resources. While foreign ties have brought substantial benefits to local movements, many such social movements have limited grass-roots support. The issue of external aid is at the core of an emerging research agenda in the fields of international relations, social movements, and development studies that focuses on the relationship between participatory development, democratization, and the process of transnationalization. Drawing on research work from these different fields, the article argues that by making constituency support irrelevant, internationalization through financial assistance has transformed conflict movements into consensus movements that follow an institutional, resource-dependent, non-conflictual strategy with no deep roots in the community. The article specifies the mechanisms by which foreign funding affects grass-roots mobilization. These arguments are examined with respect to evidence from around the world.