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
Feature Writer

Sources: UNDP,
Photo: Dreamstime

The restored canal in Cambodia has transformed lives for small rice-farming communities that depend heavily on rice for their livelihoods. Rice farming is the main source of income for 80% of Cambodia’s 14.5 million population, however, for years, farmers in the region have only been able to expect one rice cycle. Thanks to the restored canal, those in the area have enjoyed three harvests in just nine months, increasing total rice yield three times over.

Previously, the canal that zigzags across the rice paddy in the southern region of Cambodia was shallow, meaning that farmers had to depend on rainwater for a successful crop yield. Rainfall can be erratic and unpredictable. Two years before the restoration of the canal started, a bad drought destroyed rice crops, leaving scores of people hungry. The restoration involved dredging and enlarging 47 kilometers of canal in order to feed water to more than 41,100 hectares of rice in 12 provinces. Now at 6.5 kilometers wide, the canal is linked to a lake, and provides farmers with enough water to grow rice in three cycles of three months each. As a result of the project, approximately 11,240 families across the 12 provinces will have better irrigation for farming.

The restoration of the canal was funded by Sweden and Australia, and the work was carried out by an NGO in conjunction with local authorities. It was launched in an effort to help communities in vulnerable areas manage the risks of climate change. With the impacts of climate change expected to adversely affect the production of rice, it has been a goal of the UNDP to put mechanisms in place that will help to guarantee food production and food security in the future.

With rice yields already on the increase, farmers in the region are beginning to feel the financial benefits. Lim Savoeun, a rice-farmer, said the increased profits have made a big difference for her family. “In the past, we struggled to scrape by and sometimes had to loan money from others to fill the gap [in the income],” she said. “But we can avoid that since we are now able to grow rice for often that before. As long as there is water, we will keep working tirelessly on our land. We can’t complain.”

– Chloë Isacke

Sources: UNDP, United Nations
Photo: New York Times

Poverty in Guyana remains a problem. Guyana is a small country located in Northern South America that borders Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname. Initially a Dutch colony in the 17th century, Guyana came under British control in 1815. The British first used African slave labor to man their sugar plantations, but slavery was finally abolished in 1834. The abolition of slavery in Guyana led former slaveholders to import indentured servants from India, maintaining ethnic and socioeconomic divisions in the colony. Though Guyana achieved independence from the U.K. in 1966, the country is still experiencing the aftereffects of its colonial background.

Societal Divisions in Guyana
Today, approximately three quarters of Guyana’s population descends from slave or indentured servant populations. 43.5% of Guyana’s population is of East Indian descent, and 30.2% is of African descent. These dominant ethnic groups frequently clash, backing ethnically based political parties and voting almost entirely along ethnic lines. Roughly 43% of Guyana’s population lives below the poverty line, with indigenous people comprising the biggest fraction of those affected.

Education and Economy
Though Guyana reports a literacy rate of 91.8%, the poor quality of education and teacher training combined with its suffering infrastructure contribute to a much lower level of functional literacy for most of the population.

Guyana’s emigration rate is also one of the highest in the world, with 55% of its citizens living abroad. The country is one of the largest recipients of remittances relative to GDP out of Latin American and Caribbean countries. 80% of Guyanese citizens with tertiary degrees have left the country, depriving those living in Guyana of invaluable services, including healthcare.

The Guyanese government owned more than 80% of industries until the 1990’s, but mismanagement combined with falling commodity prices and high fuel costs caused the standard of living to fall drastically. The government has since divested itself of many industries, but problems such as deforestation, violent crime and widespread poverty continue to threaten the economy.

Poverty Statistics
Roughly two-thirds of Guyanese citizens living in poverty, or 29% of the population, can be classified as being extremely poor. Most of the poor live in rural areas and work as agricultural laborers. Though Guyana’s farmers have access to adequate land resources, their productivity is extremely low.

Guyana has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America, with 280 deaths per 100,000 live births. Its infant mortality rate is the 66th highest in the world, with 34.45 deaths per 1,000 live births. These grave statistics can be attributed in part to the low density of physicians, with just .59 doctors per 1,000 people. 1.2 percent of Guyana’s population is living with HIV/AIDS, a rate higher than that of most other Latin American countries.

Solutions to Poverty in Guyana
The World Bank is currently working in Guyana to refocus public expenditures to improve the infrastructure and the quality of health, education, and water services. Advocating for the privatization of most industries, the World Bank hopes to increase opportunities for investment and conserve government resources.

The United Nations Development Programme is also working to empower vulnerable people in Guyana by improving the economic status of indigenous groups and establishing community livelihood projects that will create jobs.

Though Guyana ranks 117th out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, continued aid and humanitarian assistance will ensure that its citizens can overcome past subjugation and establish a strong infrastructure.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: CIA, World Bank, UNDP, BBC
Photo: California Historical Society

Digital Divide Data (DDD) recognizes that many young men and women around the world who do not have access to good jobs or higher education still possess the motivation and talent for employment. DDD empowers their staff with the skills and experience needed to escape the cycle of poverty.

Once identifying and recruiting qualified youth, they are trained and employed with a fair wage, and offered scholarships to attend university. DDD alumni eventually move on to high-skilled positions where they earn four times the average regional wage. Not only are these individuals able to escape poverty, but also they are equipped with the resources to send family members to school, while raising their household’s standard of living.

DDD has data management locations in Cambodia, Laos, Kenya, with sales and client support in the United States. The workers are connected to the world market and trained to produce outstanding quality of work and meet client requirements. Since 2001, DDD has pioneered the ‘Impact Sourcing model’, which works with young people in countries with untapped talent and ambition. They are given employment opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach, creating better and more secure futures. Through this Impact Sourcing model, clients are provided with quality services, while lives are changed.

The world is taking notice of the work DDD is doing and the organization was ranked at #25 in The Global Journal’s Top 100 NGOs for 2013. 450 organizations were evaluated on three criteria: impact, innovation and sustainability. DDD was recognized as an “Incubator of Human Capital” which combines the mission of an NGO and the profitability and sustainability of a business enterprise. The Global Journal ranking falls alongside additional recognition by international media and opinion-makers.

The mission of DDD has made them a more responsive partner to clients such as Stanford University,, and Benetech. Their Impact Sourcing model has been recognized by Boeing, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and the United Nations Development Programs, among others. Donor support from individuals and institutions makes it possible for DDD to provide training and educational scholarships to their staff. To donate to the cause of DDD, visit:

– Ali Warlich

Sources: DDD, The Global Journal
Photo: DDD

Despite the fact that Belarus has one of the lowest poverty rates of the post-Soviet states, poverty, though not extreme, threatens the welfare of her people. Only 1% of Belarusians are living on less than $1 a day, but a more concerning 27.1% are below the poverty line, with 17.8% living below the minimum subsistence level. The “minimum subsistence level” is defined per the Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as “a minimum level of income, which is considered to be necessary to ensure sustenance and other basic personal needs at a level allowing the individual to survive.” The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus identifies the “rural population, children, and single-parent households” as the most vulnerable victims of poverty.

Fortunately, the UNDP is executing a poverty reduction plan in Belarus that fosters the development of small businesses and, therefore, encourages a vibrant private sector. The plan is spearheaded by multiple players, from the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank to the Belarusian government and small rural Belarusian businesses. The UNDP hopes that the installation of an agricultural business sector will rejuvenate rural Belarus and bring an end to poverty in the Eastern European country.

Rural initiatives are especially necessary in former Soviet territories where local economies have declined due to the rocky transition from collective to private farming that occurred after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990’s. Agricultural workers were completely unprepared to grow crops on their own. This resulted in a situation in which uneducated farmers with limited resources in a now free-market economy were unable to maximize the productivity of their land.

Part of the UNDP’s strategy has included the establishment of the Rural Business Development Center outside of Minsk, the nation’s capital. The Center is the legal hub for the development of former Soviet collective farms into efficient private enterprises. The director of the Center, Alla Voitekhovich, describes the day-to-day activities of the Center as including the “registration of small enterprises, the conducting of market surveys, (and) the facilitation of job creation,” among other efforts. The RBDC also holds workshops for small business owners and entrepreneurs and has recently begun to encourage local farmers to exploit agro-tourism as a means of job creation in the region.

The UNDP says that rural poverty has been significantly reduced in Belarus in the last decade, stating “From 2000 to 2009, the share of poor households dropped by 7.4 times in rural areas.” Surely, the UNDP has made great strides in Belarus, breathing new life into an agricultural system that only a short time ago seemed irreparably broken. The success of the UNDP in rural Belarus is truly a testament to the resourcefulness and efficiency of the United Nations.

Josh Forgét

Sources: UNDP Belarus, CIA World Factbook, Czech Republic Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Photo: Spotlight

Women from rural and marginalized communities can play a key role in ending corruption. Developing countries often have the reputation for corrupt governments which in turn prolong their impoverished condition. It is usually grassroots women, the vulnerable and least empowered in these countries, who suffer the most. The irony is that it is women who are the key to ending poverty in these countries. Decision makers should not neglect to involve women when forming anti-corruption strategies – it would be counter-productive to their development not to.

On June 13th, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at her husband’s Global Initiative activism event. Her speech advocated for the advancement of women and girls, and improving the economic condition in developing countries. “When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society,” said Clinton. She explained that when women are educated and economically empowered, her family benefits and more get educated, grow healthier, and become even more empowered. Further, when women are involved in decision-making, the world becomes a safer place. Women are the primary caretakers of their households and communities, and as such, enabling women empowerment is a key strategy for lifting a majority out of poverty. Similarly, when women participate in politics, the world becomes a safer place.

Between 2011 and 2012, the UNDP–along with other development groups–conducted a research study on the gendered impact of corruption in poor communities. The research covered 11 communities across 8 countries – interviewing 392 women and 79 men about the grassroots women’s perceptions and lived experiences of corruption in developing countries. The findings and recommendations were published in a 2012 UNDP document titled, “Seeing Beyond the State: Grassroots Women’s Perspectives on Corruption and Anti-Corruption.”

The results?

Comprehensive anti-corruption efforts require the combined efforts of international agencies, national and local governments, and–more importantly–the women and communities who are directly affected. The state has an instrumental role to play in the creation of an enabling environment in the form of gender-sensitive policies, legislations and mechanisms to combat corruption. International agencies should focus on facilitating a supportive environment for women and men to organize around and fight corruption, including the gender dimensions of corruption. To ensure that programming and policies are relevant and effective for poor communities and women especially, grassroots women should be involved at all stages of anti-corruption interventions, including design, implementation, and evaluation.

Specific strategies that were recommended include (but are not limited to):

  • Establishing anonymous and safe spaces for women to report corruption with clear channels for redressing incidents
  • Forming women-led community monitoring groups
  • Raising awareness about bribery’s different impact on men’s and women’s everyday lives by using media, public hearings, theatre and art, and other communication vehicles
  • Hosting public, but safe, dialogue forums with local government so women can discuss and report corruption, thus ensuring that elected leaders understand local contexts and develop constituencies among grassroots groups
  • Organizing public registration days for births, marriage certificates, etc., a strategy that increases the openness and transparency of what were previously private transactions vulnerable to briberies
  • Allowing a free and independent press that is enabled to investigate, report, and publish on corruption.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: CGI, UNDP
Photo: Guardian


A new project, initiated by UNDP with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been launched in Cambodia in order to better integrate biodiversity conservation into tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Currently, In the northern plains of Cambodia, biodiversity faces threats from overexploitation, in particular from uncontrolled commercial hunting, logging, and destructive fishing practices. Rural communities depend on eco-system goods and services as means for financial sustenance, and as biodiversity comes under threat from the overexploitation, the survival and well-being of the communities are left at risk.

In partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia and Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC), the UNDP and the GEF are utilizing the project to promote eco-tourism initiatives that generate income for local communities. One project that is part of the initiative is the Tmatboey project, which focuses on a community-managed approach to eco-tourism. The northern plains of Cambodia plays host to a community of large mammals and wetland birds that are found nowhere else in the world. By using the endangered and extremely rare giant and white-shouldered ibis birds as a tourist attraction, the program has established a local tourism enterprise that is using the revenue as an incentive for the local community to protect the wildlife.

WCS drew up land-use guidelines. Locals agreed not to hunt the birds, and in return they would receive assistance with developing tourism. Yin Sary, a former poacher who now works as a tour guide in the Tmatboey project, said, “Eating a bird, I can only fill my family’s stomach once, but guiding tourists to see the bird I get $5 each time. Our community is earning thousands of dollars showing the same birds over and over again.”

With the Tmatboey project, WCS and local NGO partners established a training program for community members that taught them how to work as a tour guide and maintain accommodations. As tourism bookings increased more than 25% annually over the first four years, there were major reductions in the hunting and trade of wildlife species. The income that the village has received from tourism has benefitted the entire community, through investments in community development projects, agricultural support, road improvements and the construction of new wells.

As a result of its huge success, the Tmatboey Ibis project won the Wild Asia Foundation’s prize as best community-based eco-tourism initiative. Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has subsequently requested that another six sites be sourced and developed for nature-based tourism.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: UNDP, WCS
Photo: The Richest

Rano Isaeva, a healthcare worker in Uzbekistan, took time off of work to attend a training session that teaches her how to provide palliative, or relief focused care, to those living with HIV.

“Patronage nurses bring relief to patients and educate relatives to provide care and support. Often they turn into family members and counselors, trusted and relied upon.” she says.

The main goal of UNDP’s HIV project in Uzbekistan is to provide relief and comfort to families as well as patients. UNDP has trained over 2,000 nurses in several different regions of Uzbekistan. To reach as many nurses as possible the training sessions are offered in Uzbek as well as Russian. During the training, the nurses improve their knowledge about HIV infection, the effects on the body, stages of the disease, signs, symptomatic treatment and pain relief therapy. So far over 35,000 people in all regions of Uzbekistan have been reached by HIV-prevention services.

By the end of 2013 over 5,100 nurses should be trained and able to spread their knowledge in their respective communities.

“Many people in the community ask questions on HIV. Now I am able to answer any questions on prevention measures, how the virus is transmitted and not transmitted, what the consequences may be, and whether it can be treated.,” says Zarifa Jonova, a local community nurse. “Thus, I will make my input in wellbeing of my community,” she says.

The program will also begin to focus on spreading awareness to at-risk populations in the area, including young women, drug users, commercial sex workers, and homosexual men. The program has already offered 10,000 information sessions on treatment as well as prevention.

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: UNDP
Photo: Facebook

The UN and other aid organizations are working to address food security in the world’s poorest countries. According to the UN Development Program’s (UNDP) African Human Development Report, food security is key to improving the lives of many of the world’s poorest people.

At the heart of eradicating extreme poverty is addressing the widespread hunger and malnutrition that kills hundreds of children every day. Food production is a determining factor in the achievement of other human development goals such as education and health care. Without adequate nutrition, people lack energy to pursue economic activities.

A productive approach to addressing food security is more complex than simply growing more food. The chief economist for the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, Pedro Conceicao, argued that economic growth does not necessarily reduce poverty and food insecurity. This suggests that accessibility, empowerment, and purchasing power drive change, and that a strategic, interdisciplinary approach is necessary to address food security. The Report focused on four ways to address food security:

  • Food production: investments in agricultural research, infrastructure, and inputs will increase food production. This will improve food security, especially for agricultural communities.
  • Adequate nutrition: improving food security does not necessarily improve nutrition. Efforts to alleviate malnutrition should be coordinated with developments in sanitation, clean water, and health services.
  • Resilience: building resilience is key to decreasing the need for emergency aid. Systems such as crop insurance and employment guarantees strengthen communities and reduce vulnerability.
  • Empowerment: gender equality, access to good land, technology, and information on good agricultural practices are necessary for achieving food security.

Sustainable progress does not happen overnight. As the Millennium Development Goals demonstrate, long-term coordinated efforts in multiple sectors are needed to improve food security. In order to achieve sustainable rather than short-term food security, development organizations also need to address environmental conservation, natural resource management, and the often opposing influences of big agribusiness and local ecology.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN News
Photo: Security and Sustainability Forum

UN's Conversation on Millennium Development GoalsThe United Nations recently released a report entitled “The Global Conversation Begins,” which serves to illustrate progress towards the universal understanding of and support for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Almost a quarter of a million people from nearly 200 countries were contacted, all in a variety of ways which included conferences, mobile apps, and paper surveys. This project focused on communicating with those groups who normally do not have the means to make their voices heard, such as native tribes and the disabled. By developing more diverse lines of communication, the UN hopes to fine-tune its strategies for achieving its MDGs.

The Millennium Development Goals have served as an overarching global framework for improving the lives of the billions who do not benefit from (and sometimes are actively harmed by) today’s globalized economy. Several categories have benchmarks designed to measure and improve the factors which contribute to poverty and development traps, like poor maternal health, a lack of education, and preventable diseases. Projects all over the world are ongoing every day to help bring everyone forward, even if it is only a little bit at a time.

“The Global Conversation Begins” report will be distributed to over 100 Member States, which take part in the negotiations which cover the creation and implementation of these goals. Major findings called for an acceleration of progress, while also pointing to the desire of people all around the world to help oversee and implement programs that work towards the MDGs. John Hendra, Co-Chair of the MDG Taskforce, explains that he sees “huge energy and appetite to engage in these global consultations,” and for that reason, many at the UN are optimistic about humanity’s ability to coalesce around development goals for the benefit of our common future.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP