This article explores the relations between a foreign aid donor and local actors in the context of the dissemination of development discourses and practices in an authoritarian context. It addresses the question “To what extent may the local dynamics alter the original goals of a donor and lead to unintended consequences?” Based on archival research, interviews, and secondary literature, this case study examines the Yunnan Uplands Management Project (YUM) in 1990–95, the Ford Foundation's first grant program on rural poverty alleviation in China. While the Foundation did not attain its main goal of making YUM a national model for poverty alleviation, the local actors were able to use YUM to develop individual capacities and to build roles for themselves as development actors in the form of associations and nongovernmental organizations, resulting in further support from the Foundation. The study contributes to our understanding of donor-local actor dynamics by highlighting the gaps between the original goals of a donor and the perspectives and motivations of local actors. The study suggests that local dynamics may influence the goals of donors and the ways they seek to disseminate development discourses and practices to local actors, despite the common conception of donors as hegemonic or culturally imperialistic.
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