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Summer 8-24-2022

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International Studies Review

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


international NGOs, nonprofit theory, foreign aid, post-colonialism


International Relations | Leadership Studies | Social Justice


A growing chorus of critics have called upon transnational nongovernmental organizations (TNGOs) from the Global North to “decolonize” their practices, to “shift the power” to the Global South, and to put an end to “white saviorism” by initiating a variety of significant organizational changes. Despite these repeated calls, the TNGO sector still struggles to reform. Explanations for TNGOs’ ongoing struggles from within the field of international relations have generally centered on TNGOs themselves and the ironies and paradoxes of organizational growth and financial success. This article introduces a different argument that TNGOs’ struggles to adapt in response to their critics are the result of TNGOs’ “nonprofitness.” By virtue of being nonprofit, TNGOs are embedded in an architecture consisting of forms and norms that inherently limit the extent to which they are able to change. Using the construct of the architecture, this article provides a novel account for the challenges that TNGOs confront as they attempt to close the gap between the rhetoric and reality of inclusive and transformational socioeconomic, political, or environmental change.


Original publication information: Hans Peter Schmitz, George E Mitchell, Understanding the Limits of Transnational NGO Power: Forms, Norms, and the Architecture, International Studies Review, Volume 24, Issue 3, September 2022, viac042,