Capacity building: how to reach sustainable success for real
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. A more suitable quote for capacity building in developing countries doesn’t exist! As consulting agencies and partners, we can deliver turn-key systems, content and much more. Eventually, though, the benefits of these efforts fade, and the beneficiary organisation ends up in the same position as before. The ideal solution? Transfer knowledge and teach organisations how to do it themselves: capacity building. Of course, capacity building doesn’t come without challenges, but all success stories have three characteristics in common. Check out our capacity building trinity below.
In the seventies, development cooperation realised education goes a long way. This triggered a shift in focus from simply delivering services to training and coaching. This also applies to the area of trade promotion. Yet, successes don’t come easy, even after four decades of capacity building. So, why is it so difficult to achieve?
A look from close by
With over 20 years of experience in capacity building of professionals in business support organisations, we have celebrated sustainable success, but, in all honesty, we have also encountered multiple challenges that prohibited success. By being so involved, we are able to share some imperative good practices with you. In our experience, these organisations really stand out as capacity building success stories they managed to exceed all of our expectations. These are the cream of the crop, best of the best, real home-run hitters. Let’s have a look:
Starting in 2018, Globally Cool supported IPPA in the development of new export support services. The focus was on online services development through the state-of-the-art platform, Es, featuring export readiness checkers, interactive export guides, exporter directory, market information factsheets, and video animations.
The key characteristic of this project was the obvious strong leadership within the organisation. From day one, there was a great commitment to become the next good practice. IPPA’s top management was convinced that changes needed to be made to strengthen their services – especially if they wanted to keep up with competition. By presenting good practices and success stories, a let’s go get it, motivational mentality arose within IPPA as they grew more inspired. This was apparent in their strategic choices; weaknesses were vigorously solved and (human) resources were made available to bring the project to a success. By making it into this blog, IPPA can now proudly say that they are the next good practice. For instance, the interactive export guide with do-it-yourself wizards makes fellow BSO’s mouths drop.
Branding and promotion Vietnamese pangasius and Indonesian tuna and seaweed
To unlock Vietnam and Indonesia’s potential and support a sustainable growth of their products, Globally Cool played a lead role in converting their enormous market potential. Together with the business support organisations involved, we developed brands for Indonesian tuna and seaweed and Vietnamese pangasius, which are now still successfully managed and maintained.
The organisations immediately understood the return on investment of enhancing their image and creating brand value. Export had been depressed for years, and it was perfectly clear that action had to be taken – quickly. This led to a major commitment and strategic vision in the management. Now, years along the road, the brands are still going strong. Currently, the Vietnamese pangasius brand (Youreverydayfish.com) even reaches a million users a year through social media and its websites.
Promotion of Ecuadorean food as premium delicacies
Together with ProEcuador we embarked on a journey to promote Ecuadorean delicacies, such as speciality coffee, fine chocolate, and first-class shrimp. We had to create top-of-mind awareness in selected priority markets. By amplifying the export marketing and branding strategy for these products, we were able to come up with a sustainable concept that has been thriving for almost a decade. You can still experience the Ecuador Exquisito concept in many international events.
On this case, we had very strong good practices to show, such as a case from Chili that had a well-proven concept which had been shown to deliver great results. This led to a total shift of mindset within ProEcuador. The sense of urgency and ambition to follow in the footsteps of the regional champion became the drive and fuel in achieving all set project objectives. Commitment, a multi-year strategy, and a strong organisation proved to be a formula for success.
Sri Lankan trade promotion and ecommerce portal
In 2008, the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB) and experts of Globally Cool joined forces to develop a trade promotion portal with ecommerce features. As goes with pioneering early adopters, the project wasn’t without its challenges. After a slow start and some technical hiccups, EDB was determined to make the platform succeed. Currently, the robust platform is one of the cornerstones of Sri Lankan’s trade promotion and a good practice for other trade promotion bodies. Their commitment, drive and leadership were great factors in making the project successful. Have a look at Srilankabusiness.com and see for yourself!
Critical success factors
Of course, these are some success stories, but not every project triumphs. In many cases, it’s not an easy run. Often the key is in activation – finding a strategy to inspire management and staff to embark on a journey in a different direction, to engage and co-create. This behavioural and organisational change doesn’t come easily. We see 3 key conditions in business support organisations for capacity building to succeed:
Seeing the added value of the project and the drive to bringing it to a successful ending is essential. Though, it has to be noted that commitment comes in different degrees. Is the commitment really intrinsic and long term or only for the duration of the project? This makes a huge difference in how the organisation approaches the project. Many organisations may express their commitment, but let’s face it: many organisations want many things at the same time… The difference lies in priority setting. So how do you know that an organisation is committed? The ultimate test is whether the management is willing to allocate the required resources, on the short and longer run.
But how do you get (and keep) a team committed? From our experience, a good way to go is by identifying good practices and implementing quick wins. Fast successes drive enthusiasm, energy and motivation to carry on.
2. Strategy and leadership
Commitment, strong leadership, and strategy are often intertwined. Without a clear vision and the commitment to stick to it and invest in it, a project will never see the light of day. This always requires a prioritisation of human and financial resources. A drawback here is that, in many developing countries, leadership and strategies change regularly following sporadic political changes.
Showing good practices and success stories leads to new management perspectives. Showing how far ahead competing organisations or countries often inspires leadership, which is a must. Usually, this creates a sense of need and must have with capacity building directed toward a new strategy for trade information or promotion.
3. Organisational strength
The third factor is organisational strength. Always assess if the organisation is strong enough to carry the project. An unstable party or lack of human and financial resources definitely prohibits meeting your objectives. Some elements to include in an assessment:
- Implosion risk of the organisation: detect weak management or strategies
- Financial basis and HR capacity and policy: budgets for export promotion are often only secured for 1 year. After that period, it may be harder to have sufficient resources allocated to the project. This prohibits the execution of long-term strategies. If an organisation is unable to allocate human resources, capacity building cannot be realised.
- Qualifications and competencies of staff: Capacity building is the name of the game. In order to realise change and co-create enhanced trade promotion, digital marketing, or trade information services, a certain level of knowledge, skills, and experience is required. That may not always be available, which may result in a significant dip in morale.
- Absorption capacities: Countries may become ‘donor darlings’ and be flooded by projects overnight, leading to overstretched organisations. Until the recent military coup, Myanmar was such a typical case. In the Middle East, Lebanon and Jordan are examples of countries in the donor spotlight, and, as a result, a genuine risk has evolved that, despite best intentions, capacity building may turn into capacity competition.
In the end, we firmly believe capacity building is the way to go – but always carefully tailor your efforts. Make sure true commitment, strategy, leadership, and a competent and stable organisation are in place, and you’ll definitely enhance the success rate of your capacity building project.