SSN learning on capability strengthening

The concept of capacity development has evolved significantly since the mid-twentieth century. Within SouthSouthNorth (SSN), learning from the past 20 years has led to an evolution in thinking of this concept, from capacity building to capability strengthening. SSN’s capability strengthening approach acknowledges that capacity already exists within local partners, and focuses effort on breaking down the barriers that prevent the full potential of these capacities to be brought to bear on the complex development challenges in the Global South.

This paper draws on experiences from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the Southern African Climate Finance Partnership (SACFP), Support to the African Group of Negotiators, Mitigation Actions Plans and Scenarios (MAPS), the Africa LEDS Partnership (AfLP), and Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) programmes. It provides an overview of the approaches that SSN has found to be most effective in strengthening capability, and offers relevant principles that other organisations can apply to achieve capability strengthening.

SSN’s practice draws from the capability approach put forward by Amartya Sen together with experiential learning and reflection. It rests on four key points to acknowledge at the outset of a capability strengthening intervention:

    • Recognition of the deep and rich expertise in the Global South: Experience shows that when local expertise is applied to a problem, local decision-makers are more likely to take forward suggestions as the nuances within the context are better understood.
    • Appreciation of the time needed for capability strengthening efforts to be effective and successful in the long term: To adequately harness potential and overcome limitations of local experts and institutions, activities to improve capabilities need to be built iteratively over time. Furthermore, activities should focus on institutional capability to avoid restarting the process due to staff turnover.
    • Emphasis on respectful relationships based on trust: Trust and respect are vital for effective collaboration and knowledge sharing. When these values are present, it promotes greater uptake and flexibility for course correction, should interventions not be suitable.
    • Acknowledgment of the barriers and power imbalances that exist: Power imbalances may be at play within projects; it is key to identify and actively manage power dynamics to effectively provide autonomy to experts and institutions in the Global South to address these.


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