Hanneke Pot: Public Servants as Development Brokers: The Shaping of INGOs’ Reducing Teenage Pregnancy Projects in Malawi’s Primary Education Sector

In Forum for Development Studies, 2018.


Hanneke Pot


As intermediaries between donors and beneficiaries ‘local development brokers’ play a crucial role in shaping the implementation of development initiatives. They tie together different interests through acts of translation and organise development interfaces, but also pursue their own ambitions. This article examines junior public servants in Malawi’s primary education sector, who as a result of shifting aid modalities and priorities, have become development brokers in the implementation of multiple non-governmental organisation (NGO) projects. Studying their various ‘broker’ roles provides an analytical lens through which to examine the active co-construction of development initiatives, and how brokering affects their position and the school as a public institution. The analysis is based on ethnographic fieldwork at an under-resourced primary school in Mangochi district and on the implementation of norm-promoting projects aiming to keep girls in school and reduce teenage pregnancies. This article describes how brokers facilitate NGO activities, translate global norms into messages that resonate locally, and strategically present successes in line with project discourses. This article argues that these strategies are intended to sustain the projects to benefit the school, the students and to supplement low salaries, thereby prioritising short-term benefits over the quality of education. Donors’ and INGOs’ well-intentioned efforts to strengthen country systems, might result in undermining broader educational goals if these attempts come in the form of multiple small-scale NGO projects. These critical reflections do not travel up the aid chain, as brokers are incentivised to produce successes.


Malawi, development brokers, NGOs, education sector, public servants, girls’ education, teenage pregnancies

Published Feb. 7, 2018 2:20 PM - Last modified May 3, 2022 9:36 AM