The term “capacity development” is often bandied about by those who are in the business of addressing development challenges on a national scale. Despite the ubiquity with which it is used, however, very few people outside of ‘the business’ actually know what capacity development means or what it involves.
As with many concepts, it has a variety of definitions that focus on different aspects of its applications. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), however, offers the simplest explanation, defining capacity development as the ability of people, organizations, and society as a whole to manage their own affairs successfully.
Capacity development evolved as an area of focus in the late 1990s. In particular, following the 2000 Millennium Declaration, people began to realize that technology and money were not the only factors necessary to help developing countries. An important human factor goes into aiding struggling countries: if development is to be sustained, it must engage the local professionals and organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. In other words, capacity development describes the effort needed to ensure that a given society will be able to set and work towards its own development goals (whatever they may be).
Today, this concept is so important that it is a main area of focus for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Their capacity development group offers assistance to governments, independent institutions at the national and regional level, civil organizations, and more, through a variety of initiatives. They provide policy advice based on direct experience and extensive research; they work as resource teams to train leaders; and they provide ‘technical support’ in developing systems to assess, execute and measure change in capacity over time.
The UNDP works in countries all over the world to promote capacity development. Their projects have ranged in scope from helping rebuild kindergartens in a devastated town in Uzbekistan to encouraging a a town government and local residents in Moldova to work together to improve basic services like garbage collection. Whatever the situation, the UNDP ensures the growth of capacity development by focusing on enabling the individual, organization and society to set, work towards and meet their own development objectives.
– Rebecca Beyer
Sources: UNDP, Capacity.org