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Building sustainable partnerships between training providers: are we making headway?
Anna Lear

Earlier in 2016, in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit, the Training Providers Forum [1], organised a workshop which brought together thirty people involved in training provision and capacity strengthening [2] for the international development and humanitarian sector. Within the framework of the Grand Bargain [3], and as localisation would emerge as a key topic in Istanbul, our objective was to look at whether training providers based in the North have a role to play in supporting training provision and learning services in the global South and to examine the challenges and risks involved.

Of course, capacity building and supporting national NGOs have been part of the development discourse for many years. And today, we note that training providers based in the North are also embarking on a shift in their strategy. As well as delivering training, a number of training providers based in the North increasingly support or collaborate with training providers based in regions where the humanitarian response is taking place, or in neighbouring countries. It is this parallel trend that interests us, both in terms of understanding whether we have added value and how we can collectively improve the way we work together.

When we examine some of the challenges that emerge from this shift in strategy, there is the obvious risk that the delivery of training from external organisations may end up flooding the market, inadvertently weakening local initiatives. This is primarily a question of short-term versus long-term impact. In the short term, an external training may respond to a specific need for learning, and this will hopefully have a positive impact and help to strengthen national capacity in terms of the response itself. However, in the longer term, this approach may divert funds from emerging national training providers and have a negative impact on the learning sector as a whole.

There is also an inherent issue of power dynamics in this type of international collaboration, where one party has access to funds and the other party needs the funding. In capacity building programmes where a training provider is being funded to support another training provider, both organisations have a dual accountability to both the donor and to those benefitting from the learning activities. Yet the notion of what constitutes quality training will vary depending on a number of factors, including our culture and indeed our own individual experience of learning. Indeed, if we fail to recognise the risk of imposing our ‘expertise’, models and ideas about what constitutes best practice, then we surely run the risk of eclipsing national context-specific approaches and dynamics.

Another challenge for both parties in this type of collaboration is clarifying expectations and ways of working together at the outset in order to build trust and avoid misunderstandings. Despite commitments on paper to build local ownership, our experience shows that organisations who are responsible for managing capacity building funds do not always find it easy to ‘let go’ and hand over access to training content and responsibility for training management in practice.

[1] The Training Providers Forum is an informal group of like-minded training providers who enjoy working together. The Forum aims to improve access to, and the quality of, training in the international development and humanitarian sector through greater collaboration between training providers; sharing learning and good practice; and advocating the importance of training in the sector. The forum is currently attended by Bond, CHS Alliance, Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, Groupe URD, IECAH, INASP, Institut Bioforce, INTRAC, Mango and RedR UK.

[2] There is an ongoing debate over the terms ‘capacity development’ and ‘capacity building’. Some practitioners are concerned that these terms place too much focus on the role of ‘experts’ bringing capacity and not enough focus or recognition of capacity that already exists amongst the individuals, organisations and societies in question. With the aim of redressing this imbalance, the term ‘capacity strengthening’ is becoming more popular. Alternatively, another term, ‘capacity sharing’ places a greater focus on the importance of recognising and nurturing two-way learning.

[3] The “Grand Bargain” is the name for a package of reforms launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.