Saturday, October 30, 2010

Does capacity building have to take a long time?

Dear Colleagues

This past week I attended a 2 day conference at Columbia University on the Extractive Industries and Sustainability.

One has to wonder how it is possible for extractive industries to be sustainable ... but lawyers and academics seem to have found something to talk about. More on this another time.

But in the course of the conference various panelists suggested that it takes a very long time for human capacity to be built in developing countries ... and it was left at that without much comment. I alerted the audience to the issue in a brief question from the floor, and some of the audience seemed to take note.

The point I tried to make was that over the past several decades there had been huge progress in human capital investment in developing countries. When I first worked in developing countries in the 1970s things were better than they had been 20 years before ... and over the past 40 years human capacity building ... education ... has continued and progress has been made.

But structures to employ well educated young people have not changed very much ... the cultures reflect respect for the elders ... who missed out in many cases on the education that has reached their children and grand-children. International organizations have not helped very much ... and experts have tended to complicate things rather than to facilitate the empowerment of local professionals.

It is not surprising that a huge number of educated professionals from developing countries are employed in rich countries ... and doing well.

The idea that capacity building takes a long time is wrong ... it takes a long time when the things that need to be done never get done. Training people and walking away from the work needed to get structures changed is not the work that will do capacity building successfully, but that is what has happened for the past several decades!

Peter Burgess

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