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#97 Trainings

October 5, 2011

Submitted by Scott Bohlinger, a shameless facilitator.  Scott blogs here and tweets @scottbohlinger

Training!! Certificates! (Photo from

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. A. Pedant permalink
    October 5, 2011 8:35 am

    “trainings” isn’t a real word.

  2. Catherine permalink
    October 5, 2011 11:55 am

    Expat Aid Workers like trainings… especially when they take place in hardship duty stations such as Dubai or New York City.

  3. JimV permalink
    October 5, 2011 2:29 pm

    …and if you’re going to deliver some sort of training session, try to understand in advance just who the audience actually will be, and avoid being in the position which I observed in Kampala almost ten years ago.

    A European consultant team presented a well-publicized training seminar on public-private partnerships to a large group of senior and district engineering staff from the Uganda Ministry of Works and Transportation, and had been brought to Kampala through funding provided through the local EC head office whose director opened the show with flowing praise for the ‘new way of working smarter and more efficiently’. The PPP approach was then all the rage in donor-funded consulting circles as a way of moving beyond “legacy” methods of road project design, development, construction and maintenance, and the firm representatives were primed to make the standard sort of presentation they had been giving to the donor representatives who were eager and anxious to reduce the costs of legacy practices and institutions in many countries of the developing world that were filled with “topped-out” professionals in overstaffed, wasteful departments and directorates.

    However, the actual audience consisted of “topped-out” professionals from starved-lean departments and directorates whose funding has been so limited and graft-ridden for decades that only the longest-lasting institutional survivors (literally, given the past Ugandan history under idi Amin) with the greatest political influence remained, and who were clearly anticipating and intensely hoping for descriptions of potential opportunities to salvage their jobs, careers and lives in whatever approach the seminar was pushing.

    I chose to leave at the midmorning break, having put in an appearance as I’d agreed with the Ministry’s manager for the World Bank project in which I was engaged, and just wished the consultant team well after a rather frank explanation of the hostility which had shocked them in response. To say there was a complete mismatch in expectations and understandings among all of the seminar participants was an understatement, and in a less-hospitable time or culture might have produced a serious crowd eruption in response to the bitter disappointment.


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