This year started with the demise of a great singer-songwriter David Bowie. It was clear that he did not want his departure to go unnoticed. This was true for his lifetime as well, adopting various identities to bring marginalized groups to the fore. He probably realized you only die once, and turned it into a piece of art that has astonished many. What got to me was the image of him holding a book, which looked like a heavily used bible, with a black-star on the cover. It represented his gospel of total freedom which was mirrored by his life choices. It occurred to me, everyone lives by a certain gospel. A message of good news. In times of transition such as ours, a new gospel may be required more than ever.
When PSO, the demised Dutch expert organization for capacity development of civil society, was about to close its doors, it published a series of success stories on innovation. Various innovative learning modalities were developed at PSO that received an excellent uptake with civil society organizations. PSO invested in collective learning processes like that of the Community of Practice on Migration and Development. Ironically enough, the heading of the final document read "Don't miss the boat". The irony speaks in various ways. Many refugees do not want to miss the boat today. At the same time the international community does not have the ideas nor the capacity to create an 'Ark of Noah' for bringing people into safe waters away from war or create the right conditions for them to remain on shore away from conflict areas.
At the time PSO actually missed the boat in failing to grasp the momentum. Several transitions were already ongoing, aid and trade agenda's were combined and fragile states and migration had come up as important thematic areas and joint learning processes were successfully initiated and communities of practice formed. How come PSO was not able to use this momentum and continue delivering on these important learning agenda's? Today the proceeds of these collective learning programs would have made excellent input into programs that are currently hastily designed to deal with the huge case load of refugees and remain vigilant in fragile contexts. I belief PSO failed to formulate a new gospel that would address the capacity challenges at the time in an effective manner. On a positive note: many NGOs still maintain learning agenda's and have joint learning programs as part of their capacity development interventions: self-organized learning, peer-2-peer review systems; multi-stakeholder processes and a realist approach to evaluation acknowledging complexity while addressing attribution challenges are all results from this eagerness to learn amongst NGOs.
Today I sat together with knowledge organizations and a variety of other actors involved in building capacities for education and knowledge systems organized by PIE and EP-Nuffic. The assumption that universities may be best placed to build capacities of other universities may be questioned. Actually, while working with a university I experienced first hand how capacity development of universities in developing economies was not perceived as bringing much value to the primary process. However the possible outcomes of these interventions in terms of improved connectivity to universities abroad and as deliverables on the internationalization agenda for various disciplines recently gained some traction. This will be the frame to embrace in holistic capacity development. The realization that always two blades sharpen each other creating win-wins is gradually winning territory in the development landscape.
Charity or reciprocity
Some institutional realities still prefer a charity perspective to capacity development with a recipient and provider perspective. I hope this frame will soon be replaced by the rightful claim for reciprocity and interdependency that acknowledges outcomes at both sides of the partnership equation, even if the primary aim of the intervention from the donor perspective remains building local capacity. Capacity development could then deliver for the frontiers of finance, economic affairs, home and foreign affairs (including humanitarian aid, safety and security and asylum policies) and made part of the internationalization agenda of educational institutions. I bet this new gospel already counts a number of followers within the line Ministries following recent initiatives by Mrs. Ploumen, our Dutch Minister for Aid and Trade, to engage with other colleagues in the cabinet and their line Ministries in delivering on international commitments. Please pray for more converts so that their numbers will increase and policy coherence achieved. This will be an important pre-condition for effectively pulling together public and private forces and resources to protect the public goods and deliver on the sustainable development goals.
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.