Summary As aid agencies embrace the concept of strengthening local organisation as an end rather than a means for achieving project objectives, there is need for wider understanding of best practice and lessons learnt in organisational development at the grassroots level. Four case studies are examined here from the international non?governmental organisation world (Haiti, Peru, Mali and Nepal). Key implications for practice and policy are drawn from these examples. In marginalised rural areas, local organisation seems to take hold more firmly, with a process approach that permits people to define their own priorities and organise themselves around appropriate solutions and structures. Integrated, synergetic programmes that include economic initiatives such as credit and savings yield stronger local organisations than single?sector or technology?driven programmes, and are more likely to include women and the poor. Sensitivity to context, flexibility and adaptability are among other important variables. The implications of these lessons for policies and partnerships within the international aid community are far reaching. If donor agencies are serious about strengthening local organisations and enhancing problem?solving capacities on a long?term, sustainable basis, and wish to make the growth of civil society as important as meeting sectoral goals, there is a need for fundamental changes in the way aid funding and partnerships are understood, negotiated, structured, timed and assessed.