The latest issue of Capacity.org’s journal includes an article on rethinking capacity building. The author points to some very important points that i feel are more than relevant in Egypt. The author mentions some of the causes that he believes have led to many of the instances of failure to bring about improvements in efficacy.
First, “the providers of capacity building often misunderstand the capacity needs of their grantees.” True, in most cases. I think this can be improved in situations where local staff play significant roles in programming and implementation. But perhaps it’s the initial premise that’s a problem. “The expectations of short-term results, frequently associated with logical frameworks and results-based management matrices, can often be at odds with actual grantee needs.” While i acknowledge the brilliant methodological advantages of systematizing processes made possible by LogFrames and RBM, it is such a complex hassle. For one thing, the overhead required to design and maintain such a system is often beyond what is reasonable for the scale of actual activities.
Whereas i think the first problem may be a lot easier to remedy (paying more attention to local needs; thinking and operating on a long-term basis; simplifying complex bureaucratic procedures) the second cause he mentions are a little more problematic:
[C]apacity building efforts tend to focus on ‘technical’ capacities in NGOs, such as financial management, strategic planning, and indicator development. These technical skills do not strengthen an organisation’s analytical capacity – that is the organisation’s ability to step back and critically review its work and the changing environment in which it functions. Nor does traditional capacity building strengthen an NGO’s adaptive capacity – its ability to change behaviour as a result of that learning and reflection.
This is really right on the mark. One frequently thrown about bit of jargon is “learning organization.” I’ve yet to hear it from an NGO that i felt it applied to. Yes, the type of capacity building is problematic be it of the sort he mentions (i would call that administrative, not technical) or of the more substantive (what i would call technical) such as human rights, gender, etc. At the risk of generalization, i would say that Egyptians are lacking in critical and analytical skills which, naturally, is reflected in organizations.
One implication for donors is that they need to look at capacity building projects in the long term. This requires a shift towards an expectation of results over years rather than quarterly or annual budget cycles.
Another implication is that donors need to accept some responsibility for failure and ambiguity in capacity building. Non-profit organisations that lack analytical and adaptive capacities cannot be expected to identify their own capacity needs.
For NGOs, the greatest challenges lie in understanding the fact that capacity building is not just a ‘quick fix’ to satisfy donors. Building analytical and adaptive capacity requires organisational commitment to painful self-scrutiny.
This is perhaps easier said than done for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this is a culture that doesnt think too highly of mistakes, or of acknowledging and learning from them.
But, more significantly, there is the issue of intent, or motivation. I would say that the vast majority of individuals working in development in Egypt are not in it out of any sort of interest in change, passion for their nation or any other altruistic reason. They’re in it for the money. The fact about development is that it’s its own little sector with pay and benefits well above the national average. It cant be normal – or healthy – for non-profit salaries to be comparable to finance, IT and marketing. It strikes me as unnatural for people who got shafted with studying community service because their grades didnt get them into any other schools to be getting paid more than those that were at the tops of their classes. And not for any really valid reason other than that the funding is budgeted in dollars (or euros). To a Western official 1000 dollars a month may be negligible, but that’s immense amounts of money in Egypt.
This may seem like a minor problem, but it creates an unhealthy environment. One where nepotism, cronyism and back-scratching are the norm (you consult for me, I consult for you). One where people are just doing a job, not pursuing a vision. One where funding is sought to pay salaries, not address needs. One where “volunteers” really means people from the community that are paid on a non-salary basis. One where even the beneficiaries know what the “correct” responses to visiting foreigners’ questions are.
Very worrying, really.