How we do international capacity building

January 27, 2010, by Michael Gillenwater

In the climate change policy world there is plenty of talk about capacity building, especially for developing countries — though occasionally for developed countries as well. Less frequently, however, is what is meant by “capacity building” specified. The concept comes from the broader field of international development. The United Nations Development Programme defines it as:

Capacity building: the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems, [recognizing] that capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate (ministries, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and water user groups, professional associations, academics and others).

But, even here we are left with only a vague concept that relates to community, human capital and institution building activities.

I have spent a good portion of my career, as have several others here at the GHG Management Institute, undertaking international capacity building work around the world on GHG issues. This experience has, in large part, shaped how we have set up the Institute.

Many climate change-related capacity building efforts adhere to the following model:

• Hire a consultant.

• Set up a workshop in the capital of a developing country at a western style hotel.

• Send an invitation to senior government, and maybe NGO representatives to attend.

• Fly the consultant and attendees from around the world or region in for a one to four day workshop.

The consultant spends several days flipping through PowerPoint slides on a screen and talking. The workshop closes, everyone goes home and that is the end of it. There is often little follow up after the workshop.

In addition to receiving training, a large incentive for many developing country representatives to attend these training workshops is that they receive a Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA).  For government employees in many countries, this DSA money can represent a significant fraction of their salary. Additionally, going to fancy international meetings is a prestigious honor back at home. The point here is that the incentives are not necessarily there for government ministries and NGOs to send the right people to the workshop — those that can really use and implement the skills gleaned from the training.

Here at the Institute we take a different approach to capacity building. Focusing on the process of professionalization and the establishment of associated community norms, we take a more systemic approach. We strongly believe that professions — like law, accounting, engineering, medicine, etc.—have had a powerful influence on economic and social development. An emphasis on professional competency, quality, and ethical behavior provides the kind of social infrastructure that make it possible for larger things to happen that the broader society would otherwise not have confidence in doing. This point is especially relevant where the issue involves a public collective action problem, like addressing GHG emissions.

Building a professional community is a challenging project for anyone. Doing so both globally and quickly is even more difficult. Luckily, we have new communication tools to help facilitate the process and create the kind of infrastructure for training, community networking and norm setting, standards development, and professional certification that our parents could only have dreamed of. It is this infrastructure that the Institute is focused on building, in collaboration with partners around the world.

Our grassroots approach to capacity building is founded on centuries of human history. Professionalization is a powerful and enabling force. GHG measurement, reporting and verification will make up the foundation of nearly all climate change policies. But for society to have confidence in these metrics, they will have to be produced by personnel they trust. Right now we don’t have that trust, a shortcoming that must soon be rectified if we are to sufficiently scale climate change mitigation efforts. Our vision and solution to this trust gap is a community of professionals that support each other and police each other’s behavior.

Many of you may also have noticed that we charge for our training (although we provide generous financial aid and even full scholarships to many), while most other international capacity building initiatives provide training for free. We think this is an important difference. To develop the type of high quality training programs consistent with university degrees and other professional designations, it is essential to leverage resources beyond those that are available through international development funding.  It is also important for there to be a self selecting process for those that want to join this new community of GHG professionals. We want to have the correct people in the “room” that will be the experts and champions for the future of the profession. Ultimately, the profession must be viewed by society as earning their credentials in a credible manner.

I welcome your thoughts on how to best address the capacity building needs related to climate change and GHG management.

4 responses to “How we do international capacity building”

  1. let me know if you publish further guidance in this area. i agree entirely with the above

  2. Asia Wang says:

    Many thanks for this great article. Could you please share us your survey/study on professional competency model, if any?

  3. Asia,

    Unfortunately, we do not have a formal report detailing our research on other professional competency models. The research was done, but was not written up or published. I agree this would be a wonderful thing to do, but unfortunately, we do not have the resources to do it.


  4. Asia Wang says:

    Dear Michael,

    Many thanks for your reply and expect more great things from you. I realize that you are using LinkedIn. May I add you to my network for some synergies in the future?

    Thanks, Asia

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