There’s training, and then there’s capacity building

After today’s sessions, I conducted an interview with three of JSI & World Education’s leading capacity building experts:
Barbara Durr, Chief of Party, New Partners Initiative (NuPITA)
Gill Garb, Executive Director, Bantwana Initiative
Philip McMinn Mitchell, Project Director, New Partners Initiative (TA-NPI)

Lauren: What makes for good capacity building?

Barbara: You must understand basic human needs when you’re talking about HIV; for example, you can’t talk to people about prevention if they don’t have something to eat today. Organizations work the same way. Look at their hierarchy of needs; they must keep money flowing, so strengthening those systems first is essential.

You must also build trust with organizations. You can’t approach the partnership with a top-down mentality; that does not build capacity, that just furthers your own agenda. Once you have covered the basics to make sure that the partner is solvent and has the systems in place to continue to operate in a transparent way, you come to the point where you must give the partner what they want.

Gill: We scale the same model down to our small CBO partners: Build their capacity to manage the organizational side, so they can continue to operate; also build their capacity on technical side to make sure they’re taking care of kids. At the end, you must make sure that what they do as a result of your partnership is better than what they were doing before. Work with them as partners – identify what their gaps are, what they think their gaps are, and through a dialogue and assessments, come to a standing off where you can work together to build both managerial and technical capacity.

Philip: Also, the training we do this month relates to the training we did three months ago – it’s a pattern of support.

How do you build trust with your partner organizations?

Philip: We have to be seen as credible. We hire a team of people who have actually been on the ground working in similar situations as our partners. Once we have delivered on our promise to provide real technical support, an additional level of trust is developed, which allows us to then have frank conversations. E.g. Why are you offering the services you provide? Are those services what your population needs? Why is your organization the best one to work with this population?

Gill: In our school-based work, we work in extremely resource-deprived areas. For them, it is not really about training, it’s about delivery of services. We do constant supervision after training. We go and visit them 1 week later, 3 weeks later, to see if they are able to implement what they learned. If you come and build the capacity of these schools, and then they are actually able to deliver the services, that’s building capacity. Coming in and doing a training once a year does not count.

Where does capacity building fit into the broader HIV picture?

Barbara: There’s always been capacity building. World Education was predicated on this concept – and that was 1951.

Philip: For a while, the trend was basic service delivery: We open a site, perfect the model, open another site, and repeat, like clones. The difference with NPI is that there is already an organization in place, with staff, values, and community respect. We are just taking the organization’s own model and helping to improve it. It goes back to JSI’s idea of bringing a proper business sense of delivering health care.

Gill: For many of our organizations, a sticking point is monitoring & evaluation. How will they use the data they collect to improve their programming? For many of the organizations we work with, the practice of using their own data to make decisions is an a-ha moment.

Tell me about more “A-Ha” Moments?

Gill: We try to build capacity around innovative services for kids, such as psychosocial support (PSS). At the beginning of our PSS work, we realized a lot of the concepts we were considering were very western. We needed to look at what was in the communities; we had to listen and talk to people, and then we could develop materials that built on those conversations.

When the push for OVC launched 5 years ago, the focus was on individual kids. We learned from our baseline, most vulnerable kids aren’t always orphans–sometimes they are kids living with sick parents. We shifted our whole program to make sure we were serving vulnerable children, and not just orphans.

Philip: Today, I attended two Global Fund sessions about community systems strengthening (CSS) and could see many similarities between how we work with our partners and the way the Global Fund CSS framework is formalizing how they would like CCMs to work with civil society in their country.

In the theme of doing capacity building trainings that feed into each other, we did one in which we taught our partners the social ecology model, looking at HIV issues from individual, village, community, and political levels. Many of our partners had not thought about the individual level. We came up with a checklist to help partners evaluate their own curriculum from an individual’s perspective: Can your curriculum help an individual answer his or her questions? After repeating the exercise with a proven and tested curriculum, we asked partners to re-evaluate their own. Many partners decided to adapt the proven curriculums to their own clients because they realized that their curriculum, and even their referral directories, were written for district audiences, not for the people actually using the services.

What makes the JSI & World Education models of providing comprehensive, targeted technical assistance sustainable?

Philip: It’s not just about JSI talking to one grantee. Grantees can also learn from each other and share challenges at multi-grantee trainings. We do the legwork by bringing the partners together and break concepts down. We work with organizations like modern teachers; our mode of technical assistance is not one size fits all.

Barbara:
Exactly. Organizations learn at different levels and in different ways. One person can sit in on a training and get it, while another needs one-on-one assistance: We find the best way to work with each partner. We have evolved the NPI technical assistance process well beyond the original proposal.

Gill: Now that we’re working with larger NGOS in Tanzania, vs baby ones we usually partner with, we can borrow these lessons learned from NPI – we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

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