Graduation Year

2005

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Kevin A. Yelvington.

Keywords

Non-governmental organizations, Economic development, Social capital, Livelihood analysis, Applied anthropology

Abstract

Development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are under immense pressure to adhere to the programs and methods put forth by external donors, particularly if the NGOs rely on the funding to sustain their own organizations. Those external donors that represent neoliberal ideologies and enforce neoliberal practices, particularly in the area of microfinance, maintain a power that most recipient NGOs cannot evade. This becomes a difficult position for the NGOs to navigate as they try to accomplish good work in their communities. This research project is a study into the experience of one NGO, the Egyptian Development Organization (EDO), as it implemented microfinance programs in rural Egypt. The study revealed that EDO maintained an overall, structural orientation towards foreign donors and audiences, and employed discourses that appealed to neoliberal ideologies and practices.

For the NGO, this orientation went beyond an accommodating lip-service and resulted in the institutionalization of demand-driven microfinance. Additionally, through decentralization EDO transferred risks and responsibilities to a more local level, and required the infusion of neoliberal ideologies into the practices and actions of microfinance borrowers even before their loans were disbursed. This thesis argues that a point of disjuncture occurs as the context of neoliberalism, specifically the aims of material accumulation through the mechanism of microfinance, meets the program participants practices of the development and preservation of social and human capital. This study found that microfinance program participants are both accepting and reproducing the rhetoric, often in ways that defy their own experiences within it.

Their high rates of participation in microfinance, as evidenced by repeated and multiple loans, are pronounced considering that few have achieved the increased economic and financial gains promised by neoliberalism and microfinance. By conceptually conflating financial and non-financial capital gains, loan recipients were able to go beyond tolerating rhetoric that does not come to fruition, and justify continuous participation in the program. By perceiving investments into non-financial gains as valuable, the participants altered their livelihood strategies new ways that may or may not secure against vulnerabilities in the long run.

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