The days of dumping piles of fish on beneficiaries’ table are over, so EAWs tell themselves. NGOs of today teach people how to fish. In the world of the EAW, the practice of teaching others to fish has become encapsulated in an easy to swallow and highly hallucinogenic pill known as the training. Just take two in the morning and instant capacity building!
Thanks to trainings we have actual things to show for that capacity building, since that actual capacity is oh-so-elusive. Trainings produce a multitude of deliverables in the form of time spent, certificates, and the perception of accomplishment. The training nurtures the idea that people at heart want to be creative and proactive while making use of the fact that people are actually unimaginative and lazy.
A good training takes up time, and lots of it. You, the EAW, have an excuse not to work because your local staff is having their capacity built. Meanwhile you can revel in the sadistic pleasure of seeing your staff get the knowledge they say they want while being forced to work longer, harder, and more tediously in the training than they do for you. After three to five days of discussing their feelings, breaking off into groups, and doing flipchart presentations, they’ll silently return to your office with a new appreciation of how difficult the EAW has it with all their advanced cognitive tasks (such as Facebook and Urban Dictionary browsing).
A training produces a certificate. The certificate mollifies the local staff while giving the INGO a metric for just how much capacity is built. The INGO locked its local staff in a room for three days and for all of that they must have learned something while the EAWs relaxed with whiskey Wednesdays. The local staff, meanwhile, determined to have something to show for this obscene waste of time, cling to their certificates. Because the EAW recently had to slog through 55 poorly written resumes for their latest hire, each with a 5-cm-high stack of training certificates attached to them, they want to pass on the abuse. The EAW grins at the thought of the HR person in the next INGO who takes your local from you trying to make sense of this training.
In the big picture, the training validates NGOs and their existence by further enmeshing all of the competent and talented locals in the culture of aid. The local, having learned that much more jargon in the last training not only cannot get a real job, they can’t even function in normal society. When the transformation is complete they too might become aid workers going from their third world country to the next, perpetuating a cycle.
It’s also important to realize that the same training need not happen only once. The same person can be trained multiple times in the exact same thing, thereby creating more deliverables for your donors. Three, four times? It’s fine; your staff can always use a refresher. The facilitator is well aware that participants giving the exact right answers in the exact right vocabulary is not the result of them having memorized the last four instances of the training, but rather is a sign of the facilitator’s prowess in their much-needed profession. The training itself is commoditized so that the EAWs can feel good about having made a contribution without ever having to check to see if it mattered.
Like working groups that involve facipulation with local partners and malleable SLoNGOs, the training is one of the lynchpins of the EAW experience of management. The payback comes when the EAW finds themselves at the business end of a training. Where wars, lack of hot showers, and personal drama have failed to incapacitate the ever-intrepid EAW, the triple-threat of flipchart, magic marker, and PowerPoint has brought many to tears. After sitting in the hot and stuffy/cold and carbon-monoxide-filled room for days on end, some of them are tempted to repent of their ways. Until they realize it can go on their CV too.