Charity, the end of empire and the emergence of a mixed economy of welfare in the alleviation of global poverty

Matthew Hilton

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5 Citations (Scopus)


British non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became a part of the modern aid industry in the 1960s, particularly across Africa. At the moment of decolonization, humanitarian charities were recast into modern NGOs focused on small-scale grassroots initiatives nevertheless tied to long-term official development planning. NGOs and charities were popular because they represented many things for many people. For the late colonial state, they were the agents that would step in where government retreated, providing vital lessons in self-help for the future leaders of the country. For newly independent governments, they were both suppliers of Western funds and props to impoverished social service departments. For donors and international aid agencies, they were a route through which liberal internationalist sympathies could be directed. That no one in these early decades of development was certain which aid initiatives actually worked on the ground was therefore of less importance than the optimistic hopes placed upon charity to tackle global poverty. Indeed, it was the ad hoc, confusing, and complex landscape of charitable aid that lay behind the rise of the modern NGO. For a variety of reasons, all had a stake in their continued presence and expansion across the developing world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-517
Number of pages25
JournalThe American Historical Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2018


  • Non-governmental organizations
  • charity
  • decolonization
  • development
  • humanitarianism


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