Capacity Building across Cultures and Contexts: Principles and Practices

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article provides an opportunity to look at issues related to capacity building--how the concept has evolved and how it is currently being applied--and a review of the components of effective capacity building in working with individuals and organizations. This is followed by a description of capacity-building projects undertaken by ECDVU students that illustrate the application of these principles at all levels of society--from working with parents as they support their children's development, to providing training and support to caregivers, to building the capacity of those responsible for creating and evaluating programs, to developing community capacity to sustain programs, to raising the awareness of civil society at large to issues related to early childhood development. In spite of the variety of audiences for whom capacity-building activities were created, the set of projects reviewed in this article have several commonalities, a key one being the fact that the capacity-building activities created have been developed within the context of the cultures where the projects were operating. Another notable quality is that the capacity-building activities were developed in consultation with those who were seeking new knowledge and skills.

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    Let us understand capacity building as a journey, or a series of
    journeys. There is a path, and a facilitator.... There is an inner
    as well as outer journey. Therefore a capacity building journey must
    be understood in both senses. One is of the organic body of the
    organization, the other of the minds of the people working there.
    (Sakil Malik, 2003)

As African countries increase their efforts to address poverty and social inequities, the demand within Africa (and from external donor agencies) is for the development of local capacity. From the community perspective there is recognition of the need for support in the development of civil society (Fowler, 1997, 2000). From the donors' perspective there is a realization of limits in the absorptive capacity of government and country-based organizations to handle the breadth of work that could be funded (Cisse, Sokona, & Thomas, n.d.; Eade, 1996; Gupta, 2004). As Malik (2003) notes, the link between needs and supply is weak, and there is a need for capacity building support to accomplish change.

These issues also arise in relation to the field of ECD. As awareness has increased of the crucial importance of ECD, this has led to greater investment in programs for young children and their families, resulting in an increased demand for people who can implement effective early childhood programs. However, to date, many capacity-building programs in relation to ECD: (1) have seldom provided a holistic perspective on children's development; (2) often have not provided people with the knowledge and skills required to work in a specific context; (3) have tended to be highly Western-oriented; (4) have only sporadically been built on local strengths and wisdom; and (5) have frequently been conducted by institutions and organizations that are isolated from others attempting to undertake similar activities (Evans & Ilfeld, 2002).

What is capacity building? One definition states that the purpose of capacity building is "to strengthen or fortify the operation of systems and the skills of individuals" (Evans, Myers, & Ilfeld, 2000, p. 392). Malik (2003) states: "Capacity building is much more than training and includes the following: human resource development, the process of equipping individuals with the understanding, skills and access to information, knowledge and training that enables them to perform effectively" (para. 1). While technically these definitions are accurate, they do little to emphasise the importance of process in the development of human capacity. A more dynamic interpretation of capacity building is provided by Ahmed (2004, quoting Ball, 2000, p. …