Can service providing NGOs build democracy? Five contingent features

Catherine E. Herrold, Khaldoun AbouAssi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This article studies the role of service providing NGOs in the Middle East in promoting democracy. Challenging the assumption that service providing NGOs are apolitical, the authors argue that service providing NGOs play important roles in promoting democracy. They do so by serving as public arenas, or spaces in which members and beneficiaries practice democratic habits such as discussion and debate, collective problem solving, free expression, rights claiming, and the like—all of which contribute to the cultivation of a participatory form of democracy. Drawing upon existing literature, interviews, and participant observation of NGOs in Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine, the authors argue that five features shape the role of service providing NGOs in promoting democracy. These include: (1) organizational readiness, or the organization's embeddedness in its beneficiary community and its organizational capacity; (2) organizational governance, or organization's commitment to participatory representation and transparency; (3) the nature of service an organization provides; (4) an NGOs' collaboration with other NGOs and the government; and (5) donor risk tolerance. The article's analysis contributes to our understanding of the varied, and often overlooked, roles of service providing NGOs, advancing the literature on NGO-state relations, NGO-donor relations, and democracy promotion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-91
Number of pages12
JournalPublic Administration and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Middle East
  • NGOs
  • civil society
  • democracy promotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Public Administration


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