McMahon has produced a detailed, tough-minded study of what happened when a swarm of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) rushed into Bosnia and Kosovo in the wake of conflicts during the 1990s. She argues that, despite their good intentions and hard work, their actual contribution to postconflict peace building was largely insignificant—or even counterproductive. Rather than generate local initiative, create community, strengthen civil society, or foster democracy, they left locals despairing of change, cynical, and disdainful of the NGO model. This, she says, is because of a perverse interaction between international and local NGOs. International groups and the governments and global institutions that supported them had the money, but their aims did not match the reality on the ground. Making matters worse, they relied on self-serving measures of success and disregarded the insights and preferences of their local counterparts. Those counterparts soon figured out that to get funding, they had to design their programs according to international priorities rather than genuine local needs. Bust followed boom as failure and exhaustion set in; international NGOs moved on, and local NGOs withered. Many within the NGO community now understand these problems, but McMahon fears that too many incentives exist to leave things as they are.
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