Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Capacity Building

Posted by butalidnl on 11 March 2015

‘Capacity Building’ is ‘in’ these days for international funding agencies (FAs), and through them, a lot of NGOs. Capacity building includes trainings on a wide range of topics; it also includes setting up organizations among the beneficiaries. The trainings and organizing are meant to ensure that the benefits of a program continue beyond the usual 3-year period.

Capacity building is quite popular among NGOs and FAs for slightly different reasons. For NGOs, capacity building is important especially when they initiate work in communities. There is a need to create a minimum level of acceptance for the program, and to develop local trainers, group leaders,  technical experts, etc. that are needed for the actual program.

FAs are particularly fond of capacity building.First, it is something that most NGOs ask help for. Second, it is relatively cheap; and it makes the FA look good – there is a lot to report about, even with a small budget. Third, capacity building, as an intermediate process, evades the question of having to measure durable improvement in the lives of beneficiaries. All that needs to be reported are the trainings given, meetings held, etc and not complicated things like ‘level of food security’. Actual improvements in beneficiaries’ lives are ‘kicked down the road’ – hopefully to be done by the NGOs or the communities themselves.
Fourth, capacity building programs are a particularly good way of inserting specific ‘ideological’ stresses of the FA (to satisfy their constituents, supporters). For example, some FAs require HIV-AIDS awareness trainings, even when these are totally irrelevant. For FAs supporting development NGOs, capacity building lets them avoid potential issues of corruption – i.e., that certain individuals or groups appropriate funds or materials for personal gain.

The emphasis on capacity building has meant that a relatively large number of people have been reached by these activities. It has undoubtedly also resulted in organizations of former beneficiaries who continue to be active long after the NGO had left them.
At the same time, the stress on capacity building has also resulted in a lot of communities that have been touched by various NGO programs, but do not enjoy any long-term benefits. There are a number of reasons why this happens: First, it is possible that the development problems of a community could not be adequately addressed within a 3-year time span. Or, the partial goals that were achieved may have proven not robust enough to overcome the deep-seated problems of a community. For example, giving financial literacy training, gender sensitivity training and organizing an association in a community would not be able to address widespread indebtedness of the people.

For NGOs that seek to improve the lives of poor people, the overemphasis on capacity building would push them to work with ever changing communities, instead of sticking out with communities until qualitative improvements in their lives are attained. After a three year program period, they are forced either to move on, or to remain in a community and give more trainings. If they opt to remain in the same communities, training-fatigue may ensue – with people losing interest in further trainings that do not improve their lives.
Real livelihood gains require substantial investments. FAs avoid doing so by simply going  on to new communities. Perhaps they hope that the necessary investments would be made by others, be it the government or private businesses.

After trainings on improved agricultural techniques, initial capital would be needed for trading, or to acquire farm machinery, or for debt-reduction programs (or various combinations of these). But these kinds of investments would require higher amounts of money (up to ten times more than the original budget), which FAs are usually unwiling to grant.

To cope with the needs of communities beyond the ‘capacity building’ phase, NGOs need to take on an ‘integrator’ function. This means that they would initially seek funding for capacity building from FAs, but when these programs are over, they would stick to the communities and help them to acquire the investments that they need – sourcing them from other FAs, local government, national government agencies, mico-finance institutions, or even their own internal funds..

NGOs that are quite specific in terms of their target beneficiaries, e.g. a given ethnic community, or a given town or group of towns, are those most likely to take on an integrator function. Those of wider, or even national, scope would be less likely to do so. But since integrator NGOs tend to be smaller, they also have less caoacity to generate the resources that their communities really need.

Integrator NGOs that do well, have adopted communities for the long term. They have been creative in tweaking more sources of support to cater to the growing needs of the beneficiary community. Unfortunately, there are relatively few of them.


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