OE is thinking about ways in which we might support building a strong NGO sector in countries or regions in which the Packard Foundation works (such as South Asia, the Western Pacific, or Sub-Saharan Africa). This could mean mentorship and peer learning programs among NGOs across countries; weaving strong NGO networks for resource sharing and joint action; investment in NGO infrastructure such as management support organizations; leadership programs; financial and legal capacity training; nonprofit management courses in universities; technology training and capacity building; or other ways to build non-profit capacity, particularly in the fields of conservation and population/reproductive health. Funders: what have you tried in this space? Non-profits: what kind of capacity-building support do you think is most needed in the country or region where you work? Everyone: What has worked well and what hasn’t?
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Kanter/504747699 Beth Kanter

    This is a terrific question!   A few things that work well, I think – based on my experience so far:

    *  A mix of developing/supporting local expertise and consultants from outside the area – to bring in new ideas or create a fusion.
    * Peer learning networks — the powerful capacity building projects  (in technology at least) are those where there is group sharing of knowledge versus one on one assistance.   
    * Train the Trainer – if you have the right instructional materials and master trainers who can train others – and the trainers themselves form a community of practice
    * Social platforms to support knowledge sharing and ongoing contact – I know this can be a problem for places that face issues like electrical blackouts and Internet connectivity isn’t the greatest – but taking advantage of private FB groups (that can be accessed via mobile phones) has worked really well.   Also, wikis for sharing materials.

    • Rachael Barrett

      All of the above. The connectivity issue can be a significant barrier in some countries (see 

      • Cheryl Chang

        wow, a 2,360% increase in connectivity in the last decade in Africa!

    • Cheryl Chang

      Hi Beth, Great points, and all ones you have used in your work. I wonder how funders can be most effective in supporting less tangible items from the list like social platforms and peer learning networks– through supporting a facilitator or coordinating organization?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Kanter/504747699 Beth Kanter

        Cheryl:  You asked a great question!!   The in-country team in Pakistan has been invaluable so far because they understand capacity building programs, organizational resistance issues, and technology.    They also have a terrific relationship with the group and we are working together towards realistic outcomes — so having a base in the country is important.     I think sharing what we’re learning about how to support and sustain peer learning on social platforms and the facilitation techniques can also help.  

  • Rachael Barrett

    In the US, in the east coast, where I work, two barriers to undergoing capacity building come up. First, money; consultants, technologies cost; and only a few foundations support capacity building projects, a number further decreased when capacity building is offered only to current grantees. Second, sometimes nonprofit leaders do not value capacity building. I do not understand fully the underlying psychology behind this, but I have observed either a complete denial that capacity building is worthwhile or a reluctance,after going through a capacity building project, to implement (e.g. change). 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Beth-Kanter/504747699 Beth Kanter

      Rachael,  yes connectivity can be an issue and I’ve experienced that first hand – especially working places in Cambodia where there might not be electricity – or in Lebanon and Pakistan where there are rolling blackouts.   

      I’ve just launched a program in Pakistan … we’ll see how it goes – but I’ve designed to get around some of the challenges that I have faced in delivering remote technical assistance over the past 15 years …To kick it off, we did a face-to-face training.  It will be followed by 6 months of peer discussions and an action learning project (a small pilot in social media).     Participants include two from each organization – the hands-on social media/tech person and a senior staff level person responsible for communications strategy.     

      In selecting the participants for the program,  I worked closely with the Packard in-country team to identify organizations that:

      -Communications strategy and baseline digital presence
      -The mindset to make work in the project a priority – the CEO/Executive Director had to sign a Letter of Agreement that would commit 10-15 hours of staff time per month to the project in order to participate
      -That timing was right – that there was another pressing priority or issue

      I did a comprehensive assessment of the digital presence and social media – and technology attitudes, comfort, and skills level — as part of the curriculum design process for the Face-to-Face session.

      The four-day training – we had the senior staff for two days with their social media/technology folks – and then the technology folks stayed on for more skills-based training.  The first two days were focused on: organizational change, building networks, and social media strategy.   We did a little bit of hands-on – getting the senior staff on Twitter and also onto the Facebook Group.  There were many candid conversations about organizational reluctance to change and strategies formulated about to onboard the other staff at the NGO to social media.

      The social media people will be responsible for implementing an action learning project – we opted for Facebook.  The senior staff will be working a social media policy and strategy – with support from their social media folks.  This is what we will discuss on our monthly calls.

      As part of the face-to-face training, we spent a day introducing participants to the different online and telephone platforms we will be using to communicate – and a change to practice.   I selected the tools to be the simplest as possible.    We will have monthly conference calls using SKYPE OUT, which is slightly more robust then regular skype and can support a conference call.  I’ve scheduled the calls so they are night time my time and business hours in the remote country so grantees can call in their offices where they usually have better bandwidth to connect.    We are recording the calls so those that face electricity/connectivity problems can listen to the recordings later – and view slides/ notes. We are also using a Facebook group for daily communication.  All participants are on Facebook and able to access it in-country with their mobile phones or computers.     Here we are doing check-ins in-between our calls, providing support, and links.    I brought in an assistant trainer who has worked with NGOs in country and spent a lot of time there — she was very valuable in helping me localize the curriculum. I’m sure we will encounter issues, but the participants, in-country advisor, and I boldly set our indicators for success as:
      100% of participants complete action learning project100% write social media policy
      100% complete strategy 

      I will be measuring along the way  - as this will be a participatory design … so I’m sure issues will emerge, but hoping to find out what works and what doesn’t! 

      • Gurpreet

        By the way Beth, I’m really excited to meet you once you get back to the Foundation! Thanks for sharing your experiences on this site; I’m looking forward to hearing more about what worked and didn’t. 

    • Gurpreet

      Your point on some nonprofit leaders not valuing capacity building is definitely a challenge for OE as a field, and it makes me curious about the magnitude of this feeling/mentality. *commence a bunch of rhetorical questions* Would most nonprofits rather focus on their core work and not bother looking inward? Or are most nonprofits hungry for further building their capacity and organizational infrastructure, but simply do not have the time and resources to do so? Maybe it’s simply that some nonprofits–most of which are stretched thin and constantly face an uphill battle–haven’t even thought about how they can improve internally. I’m also curious about how this mentality varies across geographies, focus areas, organizational maturity level, and other factors. 

      Roughly speaking, Packard OE provides the financial resources (though the funding is restricted to current grantees), but it really is up to the organization to carve out the time and internal effort required to implement suggested improvements. Beyond finances though, what are the biggest obstacles to initiating a capacity building project? If it’s the mentality, then it seems as if that is something OE funders should look in to. I don’t know where we’d begin, but I imagine there’s a lot that can be done to further engage organizations, advertise the usefulness of capacity building projects, and facilitate conversations between grantees that have and have not undergone a capacity building process. But, should funders even reach out in this way? Hmmmm …

      I don’t think capacity building is a hot topic among nonprofits, but Packard OE’s Goldmine Research demonstrates that it can have a significant impact on organizations (page 5 of 
      http://packard-foundation-oe.wikispaces.com/file/view/Final+OE+Goldmine+Executive+Summary+October+30+2011.pdf). I don’t know what it would look like, but maybe a clearly communicated cost-benefit statement might spark something!  Anyhow, it’s nice to e-meet you Rachael. I’m new to Packard OE and am trying to dig deeper into these issues. Thanks for your input so far!

      • Rachael Barrett

        Hi Gurpreet, nice to meet you. Regarding the uptake of capacity building at a nonprofit. 

        Say the umbrella term (as Beth noted) is Organizational Resistance, flowing from that we have 1) hungry-no time or resources; 2) focus on core work (ain’t broke too much, dont fix it); 3) unmanaged ego (why should I,  as ED, open the organization up to some collective serious self-reflection, self-analysis (which is at the end of the day what any good capacity building project will accomplish to some degree) and (god forbid) have a third party (consultant) picking up on our weak spots, then my failures as ED will be laid bare, my power diminished.So, it is an interesting nut to crack when all the evidence suggests capacity building does an organization good — good for beneficiaries, good for staff, good for board. And this is what I find really interesting, there is enough collective knowledge that has been tested/verified demonstrating the type of work environments (which can be developed vis-a-vis capacity building) that are good for employees and good for the company’s bottom line (for or nonprofit)…why then do we continually fail to hear those messages and/or integrate them into our practice? Beth’s work has a clearly defined set of processes, inputs and anticipated outputs. It is likely to have impact. Will the process be adopted elsewhere (modified as necessary according to place and culture)? Will it reach scale? I guess I keep coming back to the idea that while a sound process will make the project work better; it will not gain traction or even get a chance to start unless attitudes change (Knowledge, Attitudes, Behavior) which would result in behavior change.I realize I am probably mashing up capacity building with management theory. For the record, I do understand the range of capacity building projects an organization could undertake that would not engage in alot of deep thinking (e.g. buying new computers), so apologies if taking this off course and thanks for the opportunity to think through.

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