On capacity building

In previous posts on the subject of programming in areas plagued by insecurity and conflict, I have stressed the important of having a strategy and knowing what you want to achieve before committing resources. I used the example of the logical framework of inputs, activities, outcomes and impact to illustrate this. This results chain is front of mind because this week I am joining my colleagues in Beirut on a week’s Project Management for Development Professionals (PMD Pro) course. This allows us to bring together our Lebanon country management team with our Palestinian and Lebanese colleagues who are together delivering the Palestinian Youth Project, supporting by DFID. I would say this of course but this is a great project that has now been running for seven years and impacted tens of thousands of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Lebanon whilst supporting stability in Lebanon more broadly. Those interesting in knowing more, please look at https://www.pyplebanon.com/

This course is one of three we have run with the support of capacity building provider Humentum https://www.insidengo.org/blog/humentum-partnerships-global-change. This augmentation of our programme and project management capability ensures that all our staff are technically competent to deliver high impact projects both efficiently and effectively. This is a significant investment for us a company, with the full capacity programme taking 6 months to execute at a cost of approximately $100,000. Our purpose for doing this is simple – delivering conflict and gender sensitive research-informed, evidence-based projects and programmes that are responsive and iteratively deliver for our partners, beneficiaries and staff, as well as our donors, is core to our business. Which brings me back to the original point. In order to delivery interventions in highly unstable environments, delivery teams need to be competent and capable, and that requires an investment in training and building the capacity of local staff, be they Palestinian, Yemeni or Somali, not just bringing in external expertise. For us the delivery of our projects is a project in itself – for the PYP for example we have an exclusively Lebanese and Palestinian delivery team, 85% + of whom are Palestinians. Hence the photo above – getting stuck in with our team to use the training to work through how we impact social, economic, governance and conflict dynamics in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon. 

We are lucky to have outstanding partners in DFID, but it is critical that donors managing portfolios of programmes in such environments receive similar investments in capacity building to ensure a true partnership with their implementers. In my experience this is rarely the case. By virtue of working for a government or an Embassy you are assumed to be able to manage complex programmes in highly insecure environments. How risks are mitigated, resources allocated and tolerances and decision-making protocols agreed are all things that are not just important in the training classroom, they can be critical on the ground. I recall providing project management training to an international Embassy back in 2003 in Kabul. I asked the two dozen assembled project and programme managers how many had received formal training on programme and project management before deploying. None had.

So, recapping – once we know what we want to do, and why, we then need to know how to do it. And that means an investment in building capacity, and not just of our partners and beneficiaries, but ourselves.

Alistair Harris, CEO, ARK


Dom Spiers