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Ownership, Leadership and Transformation
Publisher:Earthscan / UNDP
Year of publication:2003
This book is about developing the capacity to transform these choices and means
into real progress. Grounded in ownership, guided by leadership, and informed by
confidence and self-esteem, capacity development is the ability of people, institutions
and societies to perform functions, solve problems, and set and achieve
objectives. It embodies the fundamental starting point for improving people’s lives.
There is now a growing understanding that capacity development unfolds
over the long-term, and can easily be undercut by insistence on short-term
results. An endogenous strengthening of existing capacities and assets, it takes
place across three overlapping layers: individual, institutional and societal. Each
point involves learning and adopting acquired knowledge to meet local needs.
This learning is always voluntary, includes trial and error, and is open to the wealth
of opportunities from “scanning globally and reinventing locally” (Stiglitz, 1999).
Capacity development is not power neutral. Questions of capacity “for what?”
and “for whom?” quickly touch on power differentials, and are subject to political
influence and vested interests. Capacity development flourishes where incentives
— monetary and non-monetary — are conducive, and dwindles where they are
not. It thrives upon civic engagement and in places where people have control
over the systems and resources that shape their lives.
Today, there is a rich body of literature on capacity development. A difficulty
remains, however, in pinning down what it actually implies in practical terms. This
may be due to the fact that the discussion often relies upon abstract notions that
are hard to translate into actions and objectives. As well, countries vary so widely
that generalizations tend to become broad and meaningless, skirting the real
issues. Yet a set of core principles can still be identified and applied.
This starts with a reconsideration of the default setting for conceiving, negotiating
and charting a locally appropriate path towards transformation. With development
long viewed mainly from the cooperation side, it is first of all time to switch
to a national perspective. As much a matter of changing mindsets as it is of bringing
people together around national priorities and processes, the onus for this will
rest primarily on national leaders and their constituencies. In addition, the understanding
needs to grow among all development practitioners that the fundamentals
of capacity development are universal. Principles of national ownership and stakeholder
accountability need to be upheld even in difficult circumstances, and in no
situation should the size of the task detract from the commitment to the effort.
Even with basic principles in place, there are no simple blueprints. In a constantly
changing world, innovations are generated or reinvented locally, power
shifts, interests arise, and “chemistry”, whether between individuals or institutions,
opens and shuts doors. Successful development responses account for this
reality, and tend to be found where national agents, local communities, academia,
the private sector and external partners come together and devise tailored
responses, taking into account the uniqueness of each situation.
Part A of this book explores these issues, examining a range of long-standing
development dilemmas that relate to capacity development, and demonstrating how
it is driven by the learning and advancement that stem from particular circumstances
and experiences. Key considerations are summarized in bullets under
each section. Subsequently, Part B presents a compilation of case histories from
around the globe that support the strong links between ownership, leadership
and transformation. These real-world examples show that capacity development
is not a utopian idea. Never intended as recipes for replication, the cases instead
document promising practices and innovations, and underline critical factors that
strengthen capacities. They should be regarded as good rather than best practices.
If there is one central message to single out, it is that we can do better for
capacity development. Development literature in the 1960s and 1970s emphasized
the need for implementation, only to replace this notion in the 1980s by commitment
and political will. We are now in a phase of talking about ownership, even if
understanding varies widely on the meaning of this word. By one definition, it is
the exercise of control and command, from the idea to the process, from input to
output, from ability to results (Edgren, 2003). Still, while a strong case can be
made that ownership is a pre-condition for commitment and capacity development,
true transformation requires an important additional element: qualified leadership.