Capacity development: Key to achieving sustainable results

Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba Correspondent
The tone for business in the Second Republic, explicitly not business as usual, was set in earnest following the swearing in of Cabinet ministers on Monday.

It is serious business towards real transformation in line with President Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030 and expectations among stakeholders are sky-high in the dawn of a new era.

The capable team of newly appointed minsters also heightened the nation’s hopes as they expressed the desire to transform the economy and promised to hit the ground running.

However, the reality of the situation is that the task at hand is for all of us because it is impossible for the Presidium and the team of Cabinet ministers to bring about the necessary transformation without full and committed participation of every stakeholder in his or her own sphere of influence.

Accordingly, we all have to be ready to judiciously assume our specific roles and responsibilities in the processes that lead to development and transformation of the economy under the leadership of this highly capacitated team.

And, logically, such action calls for possession of the requisite capacity which needs to be acquired or developed.

There is near consensus in strategy development community that “capacity is development” and, therefore, capacity development is the primary mechanism for economic transformation and human development. Such capacity refers to the ability of an individual, group, organisation or system to perform functions and create value for others effectively, efficiently and sustainably.

Empirical evidence shows that all entities have an obligation to create value for self and others, one way or another and, therefore, all require the necessary capacities which are obtained through the implementation of capacity development initiatives. Literature identifies four core elements that drive capacity change, and leadership is just one of them.

The other three elements are institutional arrangements, knowledge and accountability which relate to all stakeholders. In the same context, capacity for implementing development initiatives exists at three levels namely the individual, organisational and societal levels.

That is, all entities including leaders, individuals, organisations and societies contribute, positively or negatively, towards the achievement of the related results. Leadership is the ability to influence, inspire and motivate others to achieve or surpass their goals as well as anticipate and respond to change. It can be identified and assumed both formally and informally at any level within the organisation.

However, team members, in the context of development programmes, also need to assume leadership roles, as necessary, to support the leader and also to ensure smooth continuity of processes in the absence of the latter.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the biographies of the “Dream Team” are testimonies to the adequacy of this first element.

Nonetheless, some followers will need to assume certain leadership roles and will thus need to acquire or develop the necessary skills. Institutional arrangements, comprising policies, practices and systems, including formal written rules plus unwritten codes of conduct and accepted values, are aimed at promoting the effective functioning of an organisation or group. The crafting of such policies involves a wide range of stakeholders who also need to acquire the necessary aptitude to ensure soundness of the deliverables.

Knowledge refers to the information and skills that the individuals or organisations possess to allow them to execute their functions adeptly. This includes, among others, critical functional capacities to engage stakeholders, execute budgeting and monitoring tasks for the effective management of results-oriented development projects.

In addition, there are technical capacities associated with specific areas of practice such as financial management, gender and governance. These critical capacities are identified, in literature, as seriously lacking in Zimbabwe. Accountability relates to the willingness of project implementers to meet their obligations as well as their readiness to be answerable for their actions to other stakeholders.

As a result, the effectiveness of an institution is significantly determined by its capacity to obtain information on its performance and make adjustments accordingly to improve both the quality of service delivery and communication with stakeholders. Explicitly, accountability also signifies the willingness and abilities of institutions to design systems and establish mechanisms to engage stakeholders, capture feedback on performance and effectively utilise it to inform development processes.

Such accountability also entails capacitating stakeholders to utilise these platforms for effective interaction and meaningful participation. This often leads to creating a sense of ownership among all stakeholders, as well as improvement of performance in the implementation of development projects.

Literature shows that all these basic elements of capacity, notably accountability, were lacking in Zimbabwe and significantly contributed to the poor performance of past programmes.

In fact, most of the stakeholders were reportedly not aware of their roles and responsibilities in the implementation of programmes, as well as their need for such capacity. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to consider timely investment in capacity development initiatives to promote organisational effectiveness and improvement in performance towards the achievement of sustainable results and Vision 2030.

Capacity development refers to the long-term continuous process through which individuals, organisations and society systematically acquire, improve and retain skills, knowledge, tools, equipment and other resources. This is in an effort enable them to innovate and perform their core functions more competently, at the same level, or perform at an extended scale in response to societal needs. Extended scale includes increased responsibility, larger scale, larger audience or to cause a larger impact such as the much-needed shift in Zimbabwe, from “business as usual” towards the achievement of measurable and sustainable results. Such capacity development process follows a cycle as depicted in the figure below. The terms capacity building and capacity development are often used interchangeably.

One of the primary aims of capacity development is to effect significant and sustainable positive change in mindsets and attitude, among all stakeholders, in an effort to enable them to address socio-economic problems judiciously.

This makes the strategy potentially sound remedy against the negativity that is currently prevailing in some quarters of our society, as evidenced by a reports in the media, pieces shared in the social as well as comments passed in several forums.

Empowering stakeholders to actively participate in development initiatives can help to create a sense of ownership and a positive attitude as well as augment their contribution to the transformation process. The process also focuses on understanding the obstacles that hinder the achievement of measurable and sustainable results. Against the background of past failures relating to the implementation of development programmes in Zimbabwe that continue to breed elements skepticism among most stakeholders, such focus can prove to be useful as it cultivates a culture of learning and improvement.

Basically, capacity development is a continuous improvement strategy that encompasses whatever is needed to take the associated entity to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organisational maturity, so it may advance its mission into the future more effectively and efficiently.

This feature also enhances the potential utility of the strategy in Zimbabwe where there is an urgent need for mechanisms to support and shape organisations towards effectiveness and sustainability as the nation makes efforts to solve its current intractable problems. Furthermore, the continuous nature of the strategy also increases its suitability for the context where sustainability is regarded as key.

Both capacity and capacity development are viewed from three distinct but related levels namely the societal, organizational (or institutional) and the individual levels. This implies that everyone possesses an element of capacity that impacts on the implementation of development programmes.

These levels are related in the sense that strength of each depends on and determines the strength of the others, thus signifying that the behaviour of every stakeholder is equally relevant and important in determining the quality of programme implementation.

The societal level embodies the wider social system, including political institutions, the private sector, civil society and academia, within which individuals and organisations function. It is the enabling environment that sets the overall latitude for both economic and capacity development and encompasses rules, laws, policies, power relations and social norms that regulate economic and social engagement.

Capacity development at this level involves the whole society, thus promoting the provision of a wide variety of perspectives that are necessary to determine the needs as well as the required capacities relating to the whole society.

Implementation of the such capacity building initiatives in Zimbabwe are likely to birth the much-needed unity of shared sense of purpose and drive towards transformation and sustainable development.

The organisational level refers to the internal structure, policies, systems, strategies and procedures that enable an organisation to operate. Accordingly, these elements also determine the organisation’s effectiveness. At this level, capacity development goes beyond increasing the capacities of staff as it aims at strengthening organisational capacity to achieve its goals and fulfil its mission.

The benefits of the enabling environment are put into action at this level as they support the crafting of sound policies, organisational structures, and effective methods of resource and process management. In our environment, most organisations and systems are reportedly applying themselves to these activities, and likely to continue in future, again making capacity development more relevant than ever before to ensure the successful completion of the associated tasks.

The individual level relates to the skills, experience and knowledge, vested in individuals, communities and groups, that allow these entities to perform their functions competently. The related capacity development entails the provision of conditions that sanction the building and enhancement of knowledge and skills as well as engagement in the process of learning and adapting to change.

This is achieved through formal education and training or doing as well as observing, in a bid to find information, gain insights, change perceptions, values, practical skills, attitudes and style. The need for such initiatives among all stakeholders in the context of the new dispensation cannot be overemphasised

Essentially, the behaviour of stakeholders, besides the leadership, significantly impacts on the achievement of development results. The former, therefore, need to acquire the appropriate skills and information to allow them to effectively perform their functions.

Accordingly, considering investment in capacity development by way of design and implementation of distinct capacity development, 100-day projects may prove to be worthwhile.

The targeted capacities, to be acquire, improved or updated, can include budgeting and financial management, stakeholder engagement, situation analysis and project formulation and measurement of outcomes, among others.

The related activities for such capacity development can encompass combinations of in-person training with help of consultants or skilled volunteers, mentoring, which entails gaining access to free advice guidance and support from experienced mentors, exposure visits, peer-to-peer cohorts as well as informal networks and communities of practice, among others.

Experiential evidence also shows that, in the long term, commitment to continuous learning and improvement can be more effective than reliance on periodic training sessions.

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