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Reading Freire's words: are Freire's ideas applicable to Southern NGOs?

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This paper responds both to the revival of interest in Paolo Freire's ideas and the comparatively little academic attention given to the applicability of Freirian thought to the activities of Southern Non-Governmental Organisations (SNGOs). It identifies the opportunities and challenges of applying Freire's ideas about community empowerment and participation to SNGOs' discourse and practice. Based on short case studies of three Freirian-oriented Brazilian NGOs, as well as on analysis of Freire's central thematic concerns in education (conscientização, praxis and dialogue), this paper identifies certain NGO management contradictions and tendencies that have so far received little attention in the literature. These are: (i) the ongoing tension between political and service delivery roles; (ii) the usefulness of Freire's ideas for SNGOs in contexts where 'class harmony' rather than 'class struggle' is emphasised; and (iii) whether there is an under-realised potential contribution that Freire's work can make to SNGOs. The paper concludes that SNGO theorists and practitioners need to be clear about the opportunities and challenges inherent to Freire's concepts if they are to be useful in this context. Only if wisely interpreted and translated, can the Freirian philosophy enable SNGOs to become successful and consistent learning organisations.

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