Institutions in developing countries are under increasing pressure to adapt to the uncertain economic climate and deliver efficient public services. Organisations need a high level of dynamism to manage their human, financial and physical assets and increase their chances for success. Here we outline six challenges organisations often face when designing and implementing capacity building programmes.

Balancing expertise

Organisations are increasingly recognising the need to balance building technical skills with ‘soft’ management skills to heighten effectiveness. Public sector organisations have traditionally focused on developing technical skills but we have seen that many are now taking a more holistic and sustainable approach to capacity building. For example, there has been a distinct shift towards building leadership and management skills in the financial sector. “Financial sector organisations are investing in this model of all-round professional development, with leadership skills seen as an absolute priority,” says Ian McIsaac, training programme leader.

Contextualising learning

Furthermore, through our work developing organisations in Africa, we have observed that most training, particularly in leadership but also generally, has been developed for the private and public sectors in America and Europe and therefore must be contextualised for Africa and other developing countries. More effort is therefore needed to develop tailored capacity building programmes that are tuned to individual situations to ensure that learning is both relevant and applied in the workplace.

Institutional development

Aligning capacity building programmes with organisational structures and culture is crucial for institutions to achieve their goals. Building people skills has little value if they are not supported by sound institutional frameworks. In South Sudan, we have been helping the government and Trade Mark East Africa to transform the customs administration in order to increase revenue collection and boost trade. Combining capacity building with implementing a code of conduct, engaging stakeholders, modernising procedures and instilling a sense of pride and increasing awareness amongst employees was essential to establish a more effective and accountable organisation.

Assessing impacts

Successful institutions plan capacity building programmes around their organisational goals but how many include a detailed monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure a return on investment? We find that certain capacity building interventions can be measured easily, such as the ability to use software or savings derived from streamlining processes. Assessing the long-term impact of management training initiatives is more challenging due to the long-term nature of learning and other factors such as individuals’ prior knowledge, experience and opportunities to utilise their new skills.

Keeping up with technological advancements

Developments in IT, smart phones, tablet computers and other devices call for an on-going rethink on how emerging technologies can help organisations to move forward. Ten years ago, people did not have computing devices in their pockets, while today millions of unbanked consumers in Africa have leapfrogged to mobile banking bypassing the traditional modes of service. Can technology facilitate effective capacity building and can capacity building help organisations to drive value from technology? The best capacity building programmes do both.

Diversifying the workforce

The value of diversity is increasingly recognised by forward-thinking organisations. A World Bank study has revealed that eliminating all forms of discrimination against women could improve productivity per worker by up to 40%. The banking industry in Nigeria is one example of a sector that aims for 40% of senior management and 30% of board level positions to be occupied by women by 2014. One final challenge is to ask whether your capacity building programmes are helping to build a diverse and strong workforce?