NGOs Must Work to Build Local Capacity

May 14, 2012

2012-05 Capacity Building Panelsm.nodeThe Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda demand increased locally-driven development. Yet the ability to identify development needs – and plan and execute a program promoting development – requires an institutional capacity that local governments and NGOs may lack.

Diane Carazas, an Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner and Leadership Coach from Innovation Partners International, moderated a panel to explore how international NGOs can best build the capacity of local partners to address the needs of their countries. Joining Diane on the panel were John Coonrod, Executive Vice President of The Hunger Project (THP), Steven Myers, National Alliance Partnership Coordinator at The Alliance to End Hunger, and William Sparks, Vice President of Program Services at ACDI/VOCA.

William Sparks started the conversation by focusing on the difficulties a rural impoverished farmer faces in accessing a value chain for her work. ACDI/VOCA seeks to ease market access by encouraging isolated individuals to unite as producer groups. Whether they are informal or formal, producer groups more efficiently distribute information on production practices and can coordinate group purchases and sales – allowing members to, as William stated, “sell more for more.”

However, for producer groups to sustainably thrive, they need production, management, and planning capacity. ACDI/VOCA helps to build production capacity by training trainers in new farming methods, but also by instructing those trainers to monitor farmer acceptance of the new methods. Management capacity is tackled through systematized organizational self-assessments regarding money, membership, and management. Planning capacity is developed by enabling each producer group to identify goals for selling and increasing membership and participation based on the trainer monitoring and organizational self-assessment data. William directed the audience to the website for specific tools and resources.

John Coonrod next focused on local government and how, with capacity building and an empowered citizenry holding representatives to account, it has the potential to be the best and most sustainable rural service-delivery actor. A government must provide services within walking distance (10 km) of an individual’s home or that government effectively does not exist for that individual. When this is the case, people must be empowered to join together and demand resources to address local needs – to become the government’s source instead of its object. Citing Paulo Freire, Dr. Coonrod argued that capacity building is not knowledge transfer, but the transformation of people from victims to change-agents.

To enact this transformation, THP works with local representatives to awaken people to their rights and mobilize them for self-reliance, paying special attention to including women’s voices. For example, THP has trained more than 80,000 women serving as local council leaders in India to address the needs of their communities. These leaders participate in an initial leadership and follow-up needs-based workshops. Next, they develop a vision of the change they wish to enact. Eventually, they form federations to demand resources from higher government levels.

Finally, Steven Myers focused on how The Alliance to End Hunger has worked to build the capacity of national alliances. The Alliance to End Hunger undertakes a four-step process:

  1. Assess the current strengths and weaknesses of the national alliance determine what kind of assistance can best be used.
  2. Make investments addressing specific capacity building needs, ideally in smaller sub-grants that may be leveraged for additional in-country resources.
  3. Empower the national alliance to increase and diversify its direct relationships with additional organizations and, most importantly, the government.
  4. Build the national alliance’s capacity for policy analysis, which will allow the alliance to analyze its impact, improve its outcomes, and advocate for its cause.

Information about joining the alliance is available online.

In closing, Mr. Myers identified what he called one of the biggest challenges to capacity building – that of letting go. As he said, “if we are truly committed to the idea of country-owned and country-led processes, than we cannot grasp on to them and keep ownership. We have to let the processes be run and driven by the local people based on their needs and their understanding of what the challenges are.”

The ensuing discussion focused on the following points:

Shared Vision. At all levels, local development of the vision for a development program is essential to ensuring that the program is responsive to local concerns. Ideally, this local vision will then resonate with the traditional strengths of a culture and transform the greatness of that society’s heritage for a new era. As the program proceeds, focusing on such a high-level goal can sometimes advance action even when individual parties disagree on specific action steps.

Focus on Capacity Building. Capacity building is often added in as an afterthought to a development program but it should form an integral part of the solicitation for the program and of the program design itself. Centralizing capacity building as a priority will require acknowledgement that such a change processes is complex and takes time but will ultimately facilitate the scaling up of successful programs.

Responding to Hostile Environments. When working in a country with a hostile political environment, focus should be directed toward the individual – both finding individuals within the political structure who want to be helpful and enabling individuals who are excluded from the political structure to unite and enact change. Additionally, the NGO must entice potential partners by clearly identifying the benefits that it can offer.

A condensed version of this post will appear in InterAction Forum’s Monthly Developments Magazine.

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