The Learning Agenda on Local Capacity Development

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This year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a local systems framework that outlines the agency’s vision to promote development that is “locally owned, locally led and locally sustained.” Through this new approach, USAID seeks to engage in more local partnerships to help local communities be the engines of their own growth. In order for USAID to engage in more effective partnerships, a global research initiative called the Learning Agenda on Local Capacity Development was undertaken to assess the realities local organizations face on the ground.

According to the Learning Agenda, development has increasingly become equated with capacity, rather than a process of capital accumulation – there has been a shift from viewing development as the delivery of money and services, and instead to “knowledge, institutions and systems linkages.” Since the 1980s, there has also been a move to include notions of “participation” and “ownership” of development by the people at the local level who are affected by it. The Learning Agenda was formed within the context of this development paradigm shift. Two underlying principles of this initiative include the recognition that: (a) “stronger institutions and organizations are the keys to sustainable development and county ownership,” and (b) even though outsiders can advise, local actors must “define their own capacity needs.”

From May 2012 to August 2013, the Learning Agenda interviewed 325 organizations in nine countries and the USAID Mission Chiefs in those countries to understand how local organizations function and how they relate to donors. One of the findings from the interviews suggests that donors and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) have not kept up with the rapid changes happening within the local organization space and in the field of development itself. In a report submitted to USAID, the Learning Agenda made a set of recommendations, which included:

  • embracing “peer-to-peer approaches to capacity development” and moving away from standard training;
  • prioritizing “the development of local organizations in their own right rather than as agents or instruments of USAID projects;” and
  • fostering “respectful [and] more clear communication with local organizations.”

The Learning Agenda has also compiled cases studies and reports on capacity building from the perspective of local partners – the website also has toolkits, guidelines and blog posts.

The Learning Agenda for Local Capacity Development has taken an introspective look at how development is currently conducted and provides useful  on how to address some the challenges, and how local actors can be the drivers of their own development. You can read more about the initiative here.

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