Today PSO will close it's doors after 27 years of supporting capacity development in developing countries. Worth reading is their final document. Time for a personal recap.
My first encounter with PSO was a visit to the office in Scheveningen to discuss labour conditions for my ZOA posting in Ethiopia. Following two associate expert postings in Egypt and India I felt the need to finally get my hands dirty and take some responsibility for project implementation. One of the former ZOA directors was amongst the founding fathers of PSO and ZOA clearly managed to reap the benefit from this engagement by having a substantial portion of its personnel costs subsidized by government. However, in my case, the situation was a bit more complicated as my salary was supposed to be covered by the European Commission as lead-Technical Advisor for one of their ACP projects. However, it appeared that the project approval process faced considerable delay. Hence during the first two years the bill from PSO could not be sent to the EC delegation and had to be covered by ZOA. Nevertheless I was glad conditions of employment were well covered by an independent body. No need to negotiate with my employer on house rents, schooling fees for children and the like. In my view still one of the most undervalued services PSO offered to its membership.
Nevertheless at some point in time ZOA played equal and was ready to expand on the programme in Ethiopia attrackting an additional staff member. This triggered my second encounter with PSO. Unlike my own intake at PSO some years ago, this time the contract had to be 'framed' as a capacity development project. What we all implicitly knew for years already, finally also had come to the attention of the policy makers. Our technical assistance was not there to stay. We needed to plan right from the beginning how we would develop capacity that could release us from our heavy responsibility in due time. It took me a couple of e-mails up and down to the PSO account manager in Apeldoorn to have our application match the requirements of the donor and have the salary of our new Program Advisor, as she was called, covered by PSO.
My third encounter with PSO was upon my appointment with Prisma where I learnt that local partners of Prisma member organizations took part in a PSO supported capacity development training program. Though I was attracted to administer the MFS1 grant provided by the Dutch government, I also had PSO temporarily under my care and corresponded with my (future colleague) Pieterbas Buijs on the achievements of our training program.
My fourth encounter with PSO was when I applied for a job following the successful administration of the MFS1 grant and having contributed to securing a second grant MFS2 for Prisma, time had come to move ahead and take on another challenge. I managed to convince colleagues at PSO that I could successfully deliver on the closure of the Humanitarian Aid portfolio. In the process I also became responsible for administering 7 learning trajectories of humanitarian aid organizations. It was fun to find my own salary details in the PSO system and review the correspondence we had years ago on housing allowances and the like.
I quickly realized I was invited to wittness the gradual demise of an organization that in my view had a lot of potential in terms of their focus and methods of working, facilitating complex change processes, but lacked the skills to manage its own change. I still am convinced that PSO could have turned their work in a successful business model serving both its former membership of NGOs, government administrations and businesses locally and abroad as several cross-sector partnership initiatives were getting shape.
Nevertheless, PSO has helped develop the capacity of 30.000 development professionals and helped build the capacity of numerous international and local development organizations. Several of my former colleagues found challenging new opportunities to contribute their knowledge and skills in facilitating change processes as a group of consultants (through Double Loop) and Partos and Humanity House will be hosting some of the esablished learning platforms. Personally I hope to transfer the lessons learnt to students at Van Hall Larenstein, where I have been appointed as Lecturer Capacity Development. I am really looking forward to this new challenge which I hope to combine with a continued contribution to quality cross-sector partnerships through URAIDE and looking forward to further build my own capacity while supporting others to do the same. Wishing you all a blessed new year.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.