EWB Resources

Capacity Building


EWB Australia believe strongly in the strength of supporting people, organisations and institutions to support themselves. EWB Australia’s International Development Program places professionals with partners in Cambodia, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste to build sector-wide capacity through long-term partnerships, knowledge sharing and education.


What is capacity building?

Capacity Building is a community development approach which recognises people are capable and able to solve their own challenges, identifies barriers to achieving developmental goals and works to overcome them. The United Nations Development Programme defines capacity as "the ability to perform functions, solve problems, and achieve objectives" at three levels: individual, institutional and societal (3). The term has a long history with developmental organisations like Oxfam International, The World Bank and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development using, and defining, Capacity Building in their own terms. The Cambridge Dictionary defines capacity as, ‘the total amount that can be contained or produced, or (especially of a person or organization) the ability to do a particular thing’ (4). Capacity can be measured by the skills, knowledge, abilities and behaviours that individuals and communities possess. Fundamentally capacity building recognises that no development initiatives are truly sustainable unless they can be planned, implemented, monitored and reviewed entirely through local capacity.


How does capacity building apply to my EWB Challenge design?

In the context of the EWB Challenge it’s important to recognise what capacity exists in the community and what additional capacity may need to be built. A truly sustainable design may need to include elements of knowledge sharing, or education, or recommend the types of partnerships that would need to be established for a thriving future. Further investigation should be completed to understanding capacity building and what it may mean to your project.


How do I find out more?

For a good overview of capacity building in the Australian context refer to the Sustaining Community Website and EWB Australia’s Professional Skills Development Program in Timor Leste.


“During my placement in India as an appropriate technology officer I was tasked with creating technology that would improve the productivity of an NGO medicinal herb facility. What I came to appreciate quite quickly was the great skill and expertise of the team in the area of medicinal herb processing. My knowledge and training in engineering and human-centred design proved to be useful in transferring the knowledge and tools essential for technology development to the management team. After running one brainstorming workshop for potential technologies my counterpart picked up an old chair back and said, ‘Look! We could use this as a sieve by putting mesh on it.’ Instead of relying on me to build technology they became champions of the design process and empowered to design solutions based on their own needs.” - Bianca Anderson, EWB Australia Field Professional, India 2014