Accepted Paper:

Professionalizing of a field: local NGO-actors and their working lives  


Kathrin Knodel (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses the topic of work in the marginal context of NGO-actors in West Africa. It highlights the conditions that determine their working life and contributes to locate them amongst professionals that highly depend on their ability to build up trust, reputation and a functional network.

Paper long abstract:

NGO-actors in Burkina Faso might not be the first group one thinks of when hearing the words "creative economy". But there is empirical evidence that these individuals in a very special way have to be creative in developing ever new projects that fit into the programs and ideological guidelines of potential donor organizations. Instead of looking at developmental issues from a donor or western perspective this paper gives inside in the field from what is often called the grassroot perspective. On the one hand this enables the deconstruction of the image of a weak dependent African receiver of money. On the other hand it enables his imagination as an actor with own visions for his community but also for his own professional career. His self-attribution as being weak in an often uncertain social/political environment is therefore his tool to acquire resources. He is an entrepreneur whose reputation and networking abilities are more than decisive for the possibility to secure his job and the one of his employees for whom he is responsible. His ability to build up personal trust on both sides - donors and local community - will determine his success on the long run.

Questions the paper will try to answer are for example: Who are these actors, what are their (typical) life stories and motivations? How do they connect to the international discourse of development and how do they appropriate it for their own work? How are the stories of the NGOs influenced by these life stories?

Panel P081
The unexplored dimensions of work