the private commercial sector also need support.” Counterpart International pointed out that “Another essential mechanism for capacity building is partnership development.” A rapid scan of a variety of data bases comes up with the term associated with projects as far ranging as urban development, elementary education, information technology, toxic pollution, non-profit management, politics in Africa, service learning, justice systems, psychology, financing strategies, welfare reform, food security, indigenous populations, and bicycle parking schemes. The agencies involved in capacity building, the individuals, organizations of systems targeted by capacity building, the “clients” or intended beneficiaries of capacity building, the sources of funding and the definitions of successful capacity building and how it should be measured are all different. Non-specialists are to be forgiven for having a less than clear understanding of the meaning of capacity building, and for struggling to understand what makes it different from two other familiar development strategies, humanitarian relief/aid and technical assistance.
Humanitarian relief – providing people with immediate basic needs for food, water, shelter, sanitation – is perhaps the most familiar form of aid since it features so strongly in media reports of natural and man-made disasters. The purpose of this aid is to sustain life and alleviate suffering, and emphasis is on rapid delivery of goods and services directly to affected people. Challenges may include setting up housing for 9000 people under adverse weather conditions, finding ways of feeding hundred or even thousands of people over sustained periods with no lead time, negotiating entry into disputed territories with warring parties in order to delivery medical supplies. Life, whether in a developed or developing country, is suddenly (think of Banda Ache and New Orleans) or chronically (think of Darfur) disrupted and help must be provided. While the generous nature of this work needs no explanation, in recent years a couple of issues have emerged to force a rethinking of how it might better be done. Unsettling stories came out about how many donors (countries, individuals and organizations) had to be pressured to make good on pledges for humanitarian relief. In addition, questions are being asked about the link between solving the immediate human crisis and improving the overall conditions of the people after the crisis is resolved is seldom articulated. Consider that if widespread vaccination programs are put into place in a development vacuum, that could result in the population of people living in poverty growing larger and living longer under persistent desperate conditions. Recently, leaders in relief agencies have begun to give thought how their work can fit within a more coherent development strategy, so that as a crisis is resolved, the work of improving the lives of the people can continue.
Foreign aid, in the form of technical assistance, is urgently needed, but not necessarily deemed an emergency. In this it differs from much of humanitarian relief. Typically, experts in some field, often engineering, are called up (hired) to come to a region to perform a specific task. The advantage of this approach is that an outside expert can apply a proven solution to a problem efficiently and effectively. The disadvantage (which is becoming more and more apparent) is that the expertise leaves with the consultant, all too often with no ties to the permanent population. The missing link in foreign aid, especially in the use of imported technical assistance, has been tie-back with the indigenous people for sustainability. All too frequently the