Capacity building is a term heard frequently in academic and development circles – but what does it actually mean? There are many definitions depending on the background of the user, but one general definition is “the process by which individuals and organizations obtain, improve, and retain the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment and other resources needed to do their jobs competently or to a greater capacity.”
What does that mean in practice, though? And what does that mean when we’re talking about capacity building in migration or in migration and development? We’ve seen an increase in policy and programming and different educational programs that have been offered over time in the area of capacity building for migration. This is a key area that donors, such as the European Union, like to fund but what does that really mean and how is this concept used in practice? Does that mean building capacity of border guards to make sure they keep people in? Or does that mean building better understanding and nuances around migration for making better policy and programming? Does this mean enabling governments particularly in developing countries, but not only, to have better departments, stronger policy coherence, increasing their technical capacity? What does this really mean? Essentially, we see an adoption of all of these in practice.
In several programmes run at UNU-MERIT, we focus on building the individual’s capacity for analytical thinking – because the ultimate aim is to give people the tools to make better decisions. This philosophy is at the core of our Migration Management Diploma Programme (MMDP), held in Maastricht for students from around the world, and in Kigali for the Rwanda Directorate General for Immigration and Emigration. It is also key to our Post-Graduate Diploma in Migration Studies (PGDMS), delivered in cooperation with Kenya’s Department for Immigration, the University of Nairobi and the German Development Agency (GIZ).
Given the nature of our partners and funders, our programmes target not only practitioners but also policymakers, with the overall goal being for them to use their new knowledge and analytical abilities to create “better” policy and programming. Fine, but going further, what does “better” mean? Here we mean policy and programming that supports the Global Compact for Migration and its roll out, respecting certain principles in the area of migration while making sure that policy and programmes are substantially evidence-based.
Drop the patronising paradigms
I also think that we too often think of countries in the “Global South” when we discuss capacity building. It is extremely important that capacity be built across all countries. After all, can we really assume that wealth equals knowledge and correct decision-making? We see plenty of instances of poor policymaking or policymaking completely detached from evidence in the developed world.
Zooming in, capacity building is not just about knowledge transfer from teachers to students. It is also about transferring knowledge and knowhow from teacher to teacher, taking a “train-the-trainer” approach to ensure more sustainable capacity building. This takes place in multiple ways, especially in terms of tailoring courses for specific audiences and specific purposes. In creating the Post-Graduate Diploma in Migration Studies in Kenya, we went to great lengths to include various key stakeholders, like teachers and administrators, who might otherwise be overlooked. Why? Because they are key to the long-term roll out and success of all the above. This was done through the creation of high quality teaching manuals to give a strong base for anyone who would teach the courses. Workshops are held with staff at universities, government officials and additional trainers – with the end result being that already in the first year, 27 students were able to follow the programme.
Capacity building in migration should mean that individuals and / or organisations are able to obtain, improve and retain various skills, knowledge, tools and other resources to do their jobs in a successful way. This should then lead to better functioning organisations, policies and programmes which should, therefore, lead to better implementation of the Global Compact on Migration and to various Sustainable Development Goals.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Rwanda Directorate General for Immigration and Emigration