Capacity building as a development strategy attempts to solve some of the shortcomings of humanitarian relief and technical assistance as a type of foreign aid. The term “capacity building” in the development world first gained visibility as an outcome from a symposium “A Strategy for Water Sector Capacity Building” held in Delft in 1991 and organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering. In the context of this symposium capacity building was defined as:
The creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks; institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular); human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems.
UNDP recognizes that capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate (ministries, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and water user groups, professional associations, academics and others). [UNDP Briefing Paper, http://www.gdrc.org/uem/capacity-define.html, accessed on January 9, 2007]
In other documents, the UNDP states: Capacity is the ability of individuals, organizations, and societies to perform functions, solve problems and set and achieve goals. Capacity development entails the sustainable creation, utilization, and retention of that capacity in order to reduce poverty, enhance self-reliance, and improve people’s lives. (NCAR site)
And from an UNDP sponsored meeting in Ghana in 2002, comes this advice: “Scan globally; reinvent locally.”
The United Nations “Agenda 21” stated in 1992, “Specifically, capacity-building encompasses the country’s human, scientific, technological, organizational, institutional and resource capabilities. A fundamental goal of capacity-building is to enhance the ability to evaluate and address the critical questions related to policy choices and modes of implementation among development options, based on an understanding of environmental potentials and limits and of needs as perceived by the people of the country concerned. As a result the need to strengthen national capacities is shared by all countries. . . . Skills, knowledge and technical know-how at the individual and institutional levels are necessary for institution-building, policy analysis and development management, including the assessment of alternative courses of action with a view to enhancing access to and transfer of technology and promoting economic development.”
Among the objectives of Agenda 21 are “Shifting time horizons in programme planning and implementation addressing the developing and strengthening of institutional structures to enhance their ability to respond to new longer-term challenges rather than concentrate only on immediate problems.”
As the phrase became better known, other organizations adopted it and added their own emphases. The Urban Capacity Building Network points out that “Local government, communities and NGOs are the main clients [of capacity building], but central government and