community in which the technical assistance is applied has no means of maintaining the organization or structure created for them. And the consultants have little or no leverage in seeing to it that their contribution will survive their departure. More damningly, leaders on the ground in Africa acknowledge: “Today, the goal of helping people in need is virtually becoming untenable, owning to bloody conflicts, corruption and excessive reliance of poor countries on handouts fro foreign donors who are reporting dwindling financial resources.” (Africa News Service, April 8, 2004)
Another weakness in the technical assistance model is the very real through of burdensome and oppressive duplication of effort. A former diplomat from Fiji complained, for example, that his country has no ocean policy, pointing out that it is already pulled in all directions by ten different regional organizations with overlapping focus.
A perspective for engineering educators
The popularity of capacity building is directly attributable to growing dissatisfaction on the part of development specialists and the wider population with more traditional forms of assistance. Starting with William Easterly, but certainly not ending with him, questions have been raised about why massive infusions of foreign aid from developed countries into developing countries over the past several decades have brought about no discernable reduction in poverty or increase in living standards. And the strategy of importing specialist consultants for technical assistance has been brought into question by frequent reports of drop-in drop-out experts who leave behind equipment no one knows how to use, organizational models no one understands, and unfulfilled expectations. A capacity building approach, going back to its original defining documents, contains key elements which promise more results in the form of poverty alleviation. The key words are institution development; long-term; partnerships; sustainable; enhancement of self- reliance; technical know-how; transfer of technology and economic development, long-term challenges.
A report from Sierra Leone states: “. . . Capacity Building [is] a practical model that talks about the ability of poor communities to utilize the resources in their environment for human development with the help of government, NGOs and educational institutions, both internal and external. . . . This concept . . . is a process designed to achieve an end, meaning, empowering people in need with the requisite trainings and skills to arrive at self-sufficiency and self- reliance. The intent of capacity building is not only to transfer knowledge, but also to reduce or eliminate dependency and holistically address community needs.”
So engineering educators would do well to examine possible international development initiatives in the light of what we are learning about the failings of past development strategies, and select for their students projects which bear the hallmarks of capacity building. One of the world’s leading experts in development is Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In his address to the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2006, giving the Hinton Lecture, Professor Juma spoke on “Redesigning African Economies: The Role of Engineering in International Development.” Juma’s presentation outlined how reinventing engineering education was a key to Africa’s future prosperity and self-sufficiency. He outlines changes that must be made in