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#110 Capacity Building

November 21, 2011

submitted by Scott Bohlinger. Read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

No capacity building is complete without a photo to prove it happened (Image:

Let’s face it, every EAW wants their job to come to an end.  After all, they’re only doing this for their beneficiaries and would gladly give up the tidy salary and dank perks of the field in order to be professionally fabulous on a full-time basis.  Almost every NGO worth its salt has, as one of its core objectives, the goal of capacity building.  The only place in the entire world of aid where too much capacity exists is in fact in the EAW’s empathy (if it hasn’t been replaced by cynicism).

Capacity building is the perfect vector for aid in the modern world.  It creates a clear and respectable goal that never quite seems to get reached.  NGOs worldwide can point to the huge tracts of capacity that have been built in countries where, interestingly enough, they still work.  Just look at Congo and Afghanistan; where would they be without all of that shiny new capacity?  Capacity building is as beautiful as a multi-colour Rorschach test.  It can take forms that are hard to measure and harder to dispute.  It provides a stage for the trotting out of voluminous amounts of aid-related jargon.  It can also take place in infinitely divisible aid ‘sectors’.

In theory, capacity building means that more beneficiaries can take up the task of development by themselves.  And if they do we hope that their success will lead to the formation of local NGOs; partners that we can work with in implementation so that our work feels legitimised and not foreign.  Because of the capacity that we have built, the locals will be able to do things that we would otherwise have to give up our weekends for, such as long, bumpy trips on unpaved roads that are possibly dangerous and lead to field locations that are unclean, smelly, and worse, boring.  Added capacity is not some utopian vision; it is not having to miss that Thursday night mega party that everyone is going to.

Sometimes, something goes wrong and locals leave the NGO community to do the things EAWs secretly fear and admire; succeed in the capitalist private sector.  But even then we can still claim credit for their entrepreneurialism and they might perhaps return the favour by using their capitalist lucre to establish SLoNGOs and throw parties which we can attend to beef up our field cred while at the same time generating volumes of envy-inducing Facebook photos.

Capacity building (along with the font of the EAW’s dedication) makes development sustainable.  It is supposed to make projects sustainable, but it also makes the EAW’s lifestyle sustainable as well.  You can build people’s capacity to feed themselves and not attack you in the form of “cash 4 work” (we can’t think of what to do so let’s hand out cash), to improve the sustainability of local water sources through water and sanitation programming (delivering portable toilets), and to write open and accountable regulations to reinforce and enable the agreed stakeholder development objectives (putting a consultant in the minister’s office to do his work).  You can even build their capacity to monitor aid effectiveness!

Capacity can be built in livelihoods, in gender, in governance, in technology and in civil society.   The EAW worker knows that these sectors are sacred and inalienable, as are the additional employment opportunities they create.  Just like no one can understand the local culture as well as those of us who studied it at University of California (they have a lack of capacity in it) and no one can feel the pain of our burden, the governance specialist has not built the capacity to understand gender.  The best thing about aid sectors goes far beyond the output of programme-specific deliverables.  In order to understand the sectors and their dominant paradigms (don’t question them!), local staff will need to undergo more trainings that provide the appearance of even more capacity.

Best of all the capacity of the term ‘capacity building’ can itself be built through the power of the mighty EAW’s abilities of wordsmithing.  According to Shotgun Shack, the conscientious sandal-wearing warriors of aid have realised that “building” capacity implies a certain lack thereof in the first place.  Since EAWs must avoid the delicate subject that their beneficiaries are actually in need of the aid they are provide, it has now been decided that, in order to be absolutely clear, some capacity does already exist somewhere and that the NGO now merely ‘strengthens’.  Even more than ‘building’, strengthening is a process that can and should go on indefinitely, just like the EAW’s career.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Pineappleskip permalink
    November 23, 2011 6:22 am

    Yes, I mostly agree. Nirvana is moving beyond dank perks and achieving a state of capacity building that would be the envy of the developed world. The picture and its capion says it all, a crowd of people who are clearly proud of their capacity building. But capacity building isn’t just the realm on NGOs – the government sector is in there too: I present one of the finest capacity buildings I’ve ever seen, possibly the apotheosis of capacity developing, and a place that we sandal wearing denizens of dank spaces can aspire to

    Cheers skip


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