LAFF’s work in Peru has always focused on educating, empowering and enabling its partner organizations, allowing them to function sustainably by offering on-the-ground support that is tailored to each partner’s needs. One component that plays a major part in this is capacity building.
There is an expression often used in the world of International Development that goes “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” With this in mind, generally speaking, we can define capacity building as the efforts made to strengthen the abilities of either individuals or institutions in developing societies so that they themselves can overcome problems they are faced with, in a sustainable manner.
Some have described capacity building as a conceptual approach to development; a trend in the field that complements the idea of empowerment by imparting knowledge and skills onto those with more direct involvement and that crucially, shares out the responsibility for the problems that need to be addressed. Deborah Eade summarises it as “an approach to people-centred development”, taking into account the belief that “awareness, learning, self-esteem and the capacity for political action are mutually reinforcing”. The term can then really be used to describe any way in which an organisation can become more competent in order to improve its future prospects. Some of the ways LAFF do this are through the provision of vocational training, income generation support and cost-reduction initiatives.
Considering the emphasis this approach has on people, effective capacity building can really only result from identifying specific individual needs and offering assistance in developing skills where there is a proven requirement. One example of how LAFF has recently put this into action is in providing technical assistance to our partner organisations. The director of Azul Wasi recently requested LAFF’s help in becoming more computer literate, and was delighted with the skills he acquired after we organised for him to attend an intensive computer course at a local university here in Cusco. As well as positively affecting his own understanding and self-esteem, according to LAFF’s International Partnerships Manager, “having access to better technologies is not only an incentive but increases his capacity of communicating and providing accurate accounts,” improving the long-term sustainability of his organisation.
Recently, capacity building has been a particular point of interest within LAFF, after our International Partnerships Manager and Social Enterprise Programme Coordinator produced their own training workshop in December 2012, entitled ‘Starting and planning your Social Enterprise’. This was successfully delivered to one of our partners, Sacred Valley Project, with the objective that in the future they would be able to launch a social enterprise whose profits will be reinvested into the project itself.
However, as well as this, LAFF delivered the same workshop to its staff and volunteers, the idea being that we apply the concept of capacity building not only to our partners but also internally (see YouTube link below). If anyone can be an agent of change, then it is important to build potential within the LAFF team and deliver the same training sessions to ourselves, and in this case, also to the staff of another partner NGO, GirlSportsWorks. The training session was immensely interesting and useful to all in attendance, and since it is likely that many of the LAFF and GSW representatives will continue to pursue careers in development, the skills and knowledge acquired will remain relevant for their future involvement in various programmes and contexts.
In all shapes and forms, capacity building for development is undoubtedly a continual process rather than an immediate solution. One example given by Eade is that delivering a single workshop on racial awareness to the staff of an organisation will not necessarily prevent any discrimination from occurring in the future. As always in the sphere of development, creating tangible, sustainable change takes time and effort, but LAFFs results are showing that capacity building can certainly be an effective way for NGOs to encourage participation and accountability among those whose interests they seek to serve.
Maria Cunningham, January 2013