While starting the work as Green Fins assessor on Malaspacua, I also got assigned to a personal project aiming to further develop my professional skills and support the Green Fins team in its activities.
Here is the title of this project:
Develop and deliver advanced capacity building for the Green Fins Ambassador Programme in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Instead of detailing the various actions I am trying to put in place to achieve the project’s objectives, I prefer sharing my reflections on what capacity building means… what a challenge!
The first objective of the Green Fins ambassadors programme was to establish a permanent presence of Green Fins in different locations where there are active members. This would ensure a continuous support to dive centres and communities for minimising their environmental impact on the marine environment.
Of course, for achieving such objective, it was rightly deemed necessary to identify the motivated local people and to build their capacity for implementing Green Fins values.
When consulting my friend Wikipedia about capacity building, this is the definition he provided me:
Community capacity building (CCB), also referred to as capacity development, is a conceptual approach to social or personal development that focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations from realizing their development goals while enhancing the abilities that will allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.
Thanks to the advices of my other friend Google, I have received the opportunity to consult an interesting book:
“Capacity-building: An Approach to People-centred Development” – Deborah Eade 1997
While the author insists on the fact that there is a panel of definition for capacity-building, this is her understanding of capacity-building:
Capacity building is an approach to development – Strengthening people’s capacity to determine their own values and priorities, and to organise themselves to act on them, is the basis of development. (Eade and Williams, 1995:9)
The word “capacity building” is not new to me as you can hear it being used quite often by NGOs and politicians, often mentioned as THE solution to a lot of problems, especially in development cooperation. However, when I have started concretely working on it, I have realised how complex is the issue and started to think that a lot of people are using the word without really understanding all the ins and outs.
Don’t get me wrong… I don’t consider myself as an expert on capacity-building… far from it!
Let’s say that I have a lot of open questions that, in order to be answered, will probably need a lot more experience than the one I will acquired on Malapascua… which shows the complexity of the process.
I will not be able to develop all my current questions, so here is a sample:
Is capacity building only about training?
Training seems to be one important basis for capacity building, but what would happen if people are trained without knowing how using their newly acquired knowledge?
Whatever the quantity of training provided, if people don’t understand how it applies to their own reality, training may not have the expected impact.
So… training for the sake of training is probably not an appropriate option. On the contrary, complete different tools (other than training) may need to be developed. This cannot be identified without a deep understanding of people’s needs and gaps, based on their personal experience.
How can you be sure that the appropriate tools are provided?
Once people’s needs and gaps are identified, it sounds logical to develop the adapted training (or tools), but how can you ensure that to training/tool is adequate?
It has already happened that training/tools completely failed to tackle the related issues because it did not take into account all the aspects of people’s life.
It is especially true when it comes to tackling environmental issues. Indeed, if some conservation work is done with local communities, but without taking into account their social, economic and cultural realities, the training/tool may not be appropriate.
Limiting your understanding to the needs and gaps is probably not enough and extending it to the global picture would then become a necessity. In addition, it also appears important to take some distance with your own way of thinking and functioning, as what works for you may not work for them.
Who is actually learning?
Lots of people would think that capacity building is about having somebody who knows, teaching solutions to people who don’t know.
When looking at the current stage of my project, I am definitely learning more from the ambassadors than the contrary.
So, what if it was a win-win situation, where both parties were learning from each other?
From this perspective, some of the tools or procedures developed through the capacity-building activities can be adapted in other locations, and become the basis of a revolutionary process. However, we should keep in mind that this revolutionary process would never have been developed without the input of the local communities at first.
What this is all about then?
As you can see, my reflection is still scattered, not mature and needs some more development.
My current and personal understanding indicates that capacity-building is firstly about listening!
It’s appears essential to always listen carefully to the experience of local people … to their issues … to their successes … to their way of thinking … to their way of working … to their way of living.
Secondly, it is about taking the necessary time!
It will probably take years to develop revolutionary tools for capacity-building… to understand the local and global picture… to test the various ideas… to follow-up on them… and to see how it goes once you step out of the process.
I will definitely not have enough time to tackle all those aspects, but it’s a time I am really happy to devote on such interesting topic.