Saturday, July 13, 2024
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About hardware and software

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Some twenty years or so ago, capacity building was introduced as a new strategy in development cooperation. Until then we have seen the coming and going of other strategies. Much of development cooperation began as volunteers’ services in the sixties and seventies of the last century and examples include Peace Corps from the USA, VSO from UK, SNV from The Netherlands, and UNV from the United Nations, whereby the V stands for Volunteers. Typically, young professionals where seconded to the Healthcare, Agriculture, Water or Educations sectors of recipient countries and directly worked with their local counterparts on specific projects and tasks. They were normally stationed in the countryside, and some at a Ministry in the capital city.
A next step was to try and look at more coordination between sectors and the idea of Integrated Rural Development Programs was introduced. INGOs now began to set up regional offices with teams that consisted of sector specialists, who in cooperation with the local sector offices, identified and implemented activities in a more or less integrated manner. Key was to identify needs and challenges together with the local communities, using participatory appraisal techniques. In practice, the program teams of the INGOs, directly implemented the projects themselves, with their own funds, often from their governments. They had offices, cars and equipment that made it possible to carry out their activities, while their colleagues in the government offices had to work alongside with far less means. In fact, a kind of parallel structure was created, which in the longer run raised concerns about the sustainability of this approach. The participatory strategy of the programs was however far more effective than the otherwise normally top-down approach of rural development.
To find an answer to the questions raised around sustainability, capacity building was now introduced as a logical next strategy. Projects were to be implemented by government sector offices themselves and by indigenous NGOs. To support them INGOs were to build their capacities. And this is where to controversy over what capacity building exactly contains began. Years later we now commonly agree that there are four kinds of capacity building, namely, human (knowledge/skills), organizational (communication and collaboration), structural (procedures) and material (equipment). And while the INGOs and their donor organizations mainly focused on the first three kinds, governments in their need to maintain some kind of control over what activities were funded, emphasised the material kind of capacity building. There was a need for equipment, infrastructure, vehicles, agriculture inputs, etc., less so for improved knowledge and skills in management, governance, rights, gender, and organization structures. In Ethiopia this translated initially in the requirement to spent at least 70% of the organization’s budget on activities that directly benefitted the communities -read “hardware”- and a maximum of 30% on management and human and social skills – read “software”. Rights and gender issues were specifically excluded from the work INGOs, and NGOs were expected to do. This changed over the past few years but the notion that capacity building should mainly focus on material support is still there.
Today, capacity building is commonly understood as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world. It is obvious that thus defined, capacity building is much more than material support.
In designing their programs and projects that are meant to support organizations and communities, development partners, must therefor ensure that sufficient resources and budget are earmarked to build their capacity with this wider understanding. From a sustainability point of view, it becomes even more crucial as we now need to work towards a situation, whereby the supported organization or community can carry on their work after the support has faced out. Common funding cycles do not exceed three or five years, so there is no time to lose. In fact, the capacity building project should be designed with in mind what is needed in terms of capacities, to continue the work at the end of the project period. This would include all four kinds of capacity building, three of which are often referred to as so called software. However, without this software, the organization or community will not survive and thus the software in fact becomes the hardware. Think again.

Ton Haverkort

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