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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Nelson Javier Duenas Gil, Accountancy

Governing the Donor-NGO Relationship: Three Essays on Accounting in International Cooperation and Development

Monday, August 29, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation reports on three essays relating to the governance of international cooperation relationships between donors and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that implement development aid projects in Global South countries. These essays draw on a case study of a human rights Colombian NGO and multiple interviews with actors along the international cooperation chain, to explore how trust, control, and accountability impact the donor-NGO relationship. The first chapter draws on Lewis and Weigert’s sociological perspective of trust to unpack trust and its underlying emotional and cognitive dimensions over time, in the relationship between the NGO and its donors. This study highlights that trust in NGOs is not replaced by accountability, as accounting and civil society research argues. Instead, accountability and trust, especially its emotional dimension, are mutually constitutive. The second chapter builds on the ideas above to discuss the theoretical underpinnings of the trust-control interplay, a longstanding debate in management accounting literature. Using the same sociological perspective as a method theory, the study proposes that a qualitative mix of cognitions and emotions is what determines trust and its relationship with technocratic control at any point in an inter-organizational relationship within the aid chain. The evidence suggests that trust and control have a reinforcing relationship, as the latter serves the cognitive dimension of trust along the different stages of an inter-organizational relationship. These results come from the continuous rearrangement of trust’s constitutive dimensions, emotions, and cognitions, which call for specific technocratic control mechanisms. The final chapter delves into issues of NGO agency in what critical accounting literature calls the international development assemblage. It aims at understanding how the Colombian NGO responds to donor practices and conditionalities in development and managerial agendas and what is the role of accounting in this process of NGO agency. The study finds that the NGO deploys five responses that allows it to navigate the development assemblage. By relying on Bhabha’s post-colonial approach of hybridity, mimicry, and ambivalence, it suggests that accounting is an ambivalent means that allows donors to advance their development and managerial agendas, but also helps the Southern NGO to mobilize its own ambitions. Altogether, these three studies illustrate the complexities of governing international cooperation and development relationships, and the role of accounting in them.

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