Monday, February 19, 2018

C4(H) - Pow!

Greetings, readers, and hope this blog post finds you all well.  I alluded in the last entry to the seminar that Carla and I attended earlier this month, and now I would like to expand a bit on what we learned....

Held at MS-TCDC, a training center for development cooperation located in beautiful Usa River, we conferenced amidst these colorful murals about African power and governance.  The grounds were also abundant with vibrant flora and, of course, there was that fabulous library which I wrote about last week (

Capacity 4 Humanity (C4H) was a conference dedicated to learning and capacity-building innovations in Africa.  It was put on by Humentum (, a group of young, international development professionals who met forty years ago at a workshop for financial managers in Washington, DC.  Realizing the common challenges they were facing, they began to share ideas and solutions, and created a support group to give each other advice.

Focused on networking, human resources, and advocacy, Humentum’s mission is to inspire and achieve operational excellence for those organizations working for positive social impact.  Their current membership is 350 organizations strong, offering 150 learning events in 20 countries this year alone.


The C4H conference held on February 7th and 8th, 2018 was one such event.

In partnership with ActionAid and with support from CIVICUS, Gateway Academy, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, and MS-TCDC, this conference provided a space for capacity-builders and thought leaders in East Africa to convene, collaborate, and learn from each other.

Sessions included topics such as: Instituting Behavior Change in Local Communities; Strengthening Capacities Among Responders and Humanitarian Organizations; How to Create an Organizational Learning Culture; Fostering a Work Environment Conducive to Learning Transfer; How Organizational Learning Will Make Stronger, Happier Staff; and, Valuing Local Perspectives: Lessons Learned from Participatory Reflection and Review Process. 


The keynote speaker was Adriano Campolina, General Secretary of ActionAid International.  Even if he had not said it, Carla would have identified him as Brazilian, given his implicit reliance on Paolo Freire's The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  The key term for both of them is "oppression."


According to Adriano, we need new approaches to capacity-building given current global trends such as climate change, the rise of right-wing politics, joblessness, disputes over natural resources,  but most especially the erosion of humanitarian values in the public arena. 


Thus, we need to: a) begin by reading the context of oppression; b) find ways to empower local communities, working on the premise that knowledge comes from both within and without; and, c) develop strategic actions that would include consciousness-raising, economic empowerment, building alliances, and solidarity movements.  Most specifically, we need to be aware of the gap that exists between national policies on the one hand and programs of the local level on the other, and find a way to integrate them. 


"Capacity-building" is defined as the "process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes, and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world."  Specifically, in relation to NGOs, capacity-building encompasses "actions that improve non-profit effectiveness," in terms of organizational and financial stability, program quality, and growth.

One of the conference-goers, a French woman named Victoria Fontan, told us how contested this term actually is.  Initially, it was invoked from a neo-colonial perspective to indicate that the West was bringing its "vastly superior" capacity-building knowledge to help former colonial populations.  More recently, local native communities have been fighting back, insisting on their own specialized knowledge of local needs and capacity to build.  There is currently a struggle between these two opposing points of view. 


Victoria is the author of Decolonizing Peace, available in both English and Kiswahili.  Victoria says, "Decolonizing Peace offers a vivid critique of what I refer to as the "peace industry" and the neo-colonial Northern addiction to helping, hence infantilizing, the Global South.  The book looks at social complex adaptive systems for peace which do not rely on Northern funds, or well-meaning peace missionaries.  I use chaos theory, cybernetics, and panarchy as post-Cartesian lenses to analyze the sustainablity and resilience of local peace initiatives."


This got Carla and me to thinking about the instability of power within organizations, including our own The Toa Nafasi Project.  The director (me) and board (her) ostensibly have power since Toa is "our" organization.  But power may also shift to local authorities who may impose their own rules (define who is and who is not a "teacher" or a "professional") or to the staff who may accept or refuse to do the work.  So it would seem important to recognize these different forms of power and to try to balance them out.

I think we are on the way to doing that now.  Our "teachers" are on the right track though they may not have the necessary qualifications or certificates that local government authorities would like.  However, the training Toa provides them and the benefits they receive have professionalized them.  To a certain extent, even more than the government-employed teachers. 

Our administrative/managerial staff takes a back seat to the work of these professionalized, capacity-built native women, so that Adriano's main point of empowering the local community and providing services on-the-ground while still balancing the needs and wants of the central government and trying to effect policy change is a part of Toa's agenda. 

It's a lot to process, and even more to think about and realize into action.


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