Professionalising the local capacity builder framework in Zimbabwe
SNV Zimbabwe has a long history, having started operations in 1983, moving from a model of institution embedded volunteers to implementation and then advisory services by 2002. During this period, SNV remained a little known Dutch NGO, with its office, a house in a modest neighbourhood. The irony was that, for some reason, our clients kept mixing up our abbreviation; with NSV being the popular distortion. That irony was a true reflection of our place on the development psyche of Zimbabwe. We were just not visible on the development arena.
SNV Zimbabwe went through a growth cycle from 2003 through to 2005 followed by a stabilisation period with around 22 advisors through to 2008. Since 2009, SNV Zimbabwe has gone through a contraction in line with the localisation strategy and budget cuts, leaving an advisory staff complement of 14, including management.
Faced with a dwindling budget, SNV embarked on resource mobilization. Unlike previously when we operated with a known budget and staffing levels, suddenly the programme scope changes from one year to another and also within the year as new opportunities arise. When we started resource mobilization, one reality that dawned on SNV was the market perception that our daily rates for advisory staff were way too high. With a changing scope of assignments, we had to find temporary SNVers somewhere.
Today, the workers who carried the SNV Zimbabwe banner from 1983 to 2005 can hardly recognise the organisation today. SNV has transformed to a well known brand in Zimbabwe in the development sector, various government ministries, private sector and civic society. This is because SNV has now implemented high profile national programmes with probably its smallest advisory compliment ever. This has only been possible through the support of local capacity builders (LCBs). By developing and implementing a local capacity builder (LCB) framework, it has been possible to build a bigger programme with less SNV staff. In the SNV framework letter of 2007-2015, an LCB is defined as in box below.
A local capacity builder is a national (sometimes regional) organisation that provides a significant volume and quality of non-financial capacity development support to meso-level organisations. Local capacity builders can be drawn from the public, civil society or private realm. Their services can include a variety of roles and techniques, such as training, advice, organisational development, change trajectories, coaching, multi-actor processes, institutional and policy development work, knowledge brokering and learning programmes.
The strategy of engaging LCBs presents a lot of opportunities. The more notable are:
- LCBs are an efficient way of augmenting SNV's own work – presenting additional skills set, additional hands for outreach, appropriate skills level per assignment and flexibility in hiring and releasing extra hands as the workload demands.
- LCBs enable SNV to reach out more clients, partners and targets beyond our own very limited internal advisory capacity.
- LCBs tend to be more affordable, allowing SNV to implement programs where we were previously considered too expensive.
- In Zimbabwe, with the unemployment levels over 80% in the last decade, and one of the highest literate levels in Africa, the pool of LCBs is very big. Even professors make themselves available to capacity build farmers.
However, the LCB strategy, with almost equal intensity, presents a lot of challenges.
While the pool of LCBs in Zimbabwe is huge, most have general skills and present themselves for any assignment. There is not enough work for LCBs to specialize. Their value adding therefore tends to be low.
- Most LCBs are trainers presenting mostly generic products that are of little value and relevance to the target beneficiaries. Yet the bulk of the assignments require advisors, who respond to real challenges.
- Most LCBs are individuals who present risks of lack of continuity and flexibility. Some are in between jobs. Any capacity building will be of benefit to them and not to the long term benefit to the SNV programme.
- LCBs should be SNV's additional hands and therefore should measure to our quality standards and value systems. However, this is a challenge and a lot of time has to be invested in monitoring to ensure they deliver the acceptable quality
- Donors in Zimbabwe have tended to pay very high rates for LCB work, which is not commensurate with the value added. This has distorted the market for LCBs.
In our PIE reviews of 2009 and LCB policy development workshop of February 2010, advisors agreed that we were getting a poor return from LCBs. Yet, with huge national projects taking place in all provinces, SNV had to find a way of turning the potential in the pool of available LCBs into a professional unit that we could rely on to carry the SNV banner. While we are not yet there, we are happy with the result of our efforts thus far.