Linking Sustainable Capacity Building Activities to Organizational Sustainability

Linking Sustainable Capacity Building Activities to Organizational Sustainability

News from the HIV Capacity Building Partners Summit in Nairobi, Kenya

On the second day of the first ever Regional HIV Capacity Building Partners Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, one of the key issues that continued to dominate the conversations in various sessions was sustainability.

Many speakers noted that despite a mild increase in organizational capacity building efforts by donors, governments, and nongovernmental organizations in the Eastern and Southern Africa region, the documentation and dissemination of these efforts and their effects on HIV & AIDS programs and other health programs and systems remains limited. Apparently, several factors have contributed to this situation.

First, the group noted that evaluative research for questions of program sustainability were primarily based on the objectives, work plans, timeframes and measures of sustainability that had been developed by individual projects. In most cases, these projects were donor funded and had their own agenda and hence did not take an organizational-wide approach in their approach to measuring sustainability. They just focused on the project deliverables.

Second, some definitional issues around what actually constitutes organizational sustainability remain either unclear or not commonly understood. Dr. Ranga Taruvinga, Executive Director of MANAGA Center, Swaziland said, “Just because my organization has successfully won a round of Global Fund grant does not make us sustainable. The true measure of sustainability is how well we are managing the grant, how many clients we are reaching.”

However, there was a general consensus around the following types of long term sustainability measures:

  • Diversifying funding sources, and perhaps beginning to rely more on local sources of funding
  • Continuing to serve substantial numbers of clients with products and services that are needed
  • Building, nurturing, and sustaining effective partnerships
  • Gaining control of organizational change and achieving self-independence without being tied to the generosity of others outside our communities
  • Innovating, sharing, and disseminating what we know works

Lucy Nganga of The Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS Service Organizations made interestingly simple but creative links among capacity, resource availability, and sustainability. She said, “no capacity, no resources; no resources, no capacity...and in such a situation, you may as well forget about sustainability.”

Another delegate summed it up this way: “the desire and commitment to succeed comes from within and not without. That is what generates sustainability.” In other words, when communities, organizations or teams are empowered to manage their own pace of change, they are not being told what to do and they have options that are culturally appropriate and accessible, that is when they get onto the road to sustainability.

Another interesting organizational perspective was the growing realization that achieving any desired organizational change that will be sustainable involves more than strengthening the skills and competencies of individuals within the organization. What is perhaps more important is the effect of the right policy environment, effective systems and practices, as well as informal practices, beliefs, values and attitudes that must be understood and integrated into organizational capacity building efforts. Of course, building knowledge, skills, and attitudes can have a positive effect on an organization, but to achieve and sustain change those individuals need an appropriate work climate and the proper mix of incentives and opportunities in which to apply the acquired knowledge and skills.

In one of the break-out sessions, several speakers found fault and some even expressed their frustration with the common approaches that rely on training workshops or providing information through the dissemination of materials and tools as the prima facie basis for capacity building. They suggested that such approaches are more likely to succeed and contribute to organizational sustainability if they are combined with tailored individualized assistance and coaching. Such a multi-faceted approach may be resource-intensive, thereby limiting the number of organizations that can be reached but knowledge or tool transfer alone is insufficient to foster long term sustainability of any organization.

Ummuro Adano is a Senior Technical Advisor, Capacity Building, for the AIDSTAR-Two Project. He attended the Regional HIV Capacity Building Partners Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, March 16-18.