This article discusses opportunities for NGOs to work towards sustainable development in Africa. NGOs can facilitate strengthening institutional capacities at the local level. But NGO effectiveness can be constrained by the need for autonomy and government need for control; problems of scaling up and confusion over appropriate roles. The article addresses these issues in the context of two case studies of NGO activity: an environmental NGO in Zimbabwe and a PRA approach in Kenya involving international and national NGOs and the Kenyan government. it suggests that NGOs can be more effective if they move from a project orientation to an enabling role. They must also move beyond individual agendas and established roles to identify new approaches to local development and resource management which increase their capacities for flexible, innovative action.