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close this bookSustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)
close this folderSection II: Building economic self-reliance
close this folderChapter 9: Capacity building: Skills training and institution building
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentEmpowerment
View the documentThe pedagogy of disability training
View the documentWomen with disabilities and capacity building for IGPs
View the documentAction guidelines


Capacity and capability building was defined at the Workshop as "empowerment...."

"Capacity," somehow, sounded a bit too technical, like the capacity of a motorcar, not human enough. Also, "capacity building" sounded somewhat "top down," like filling a bottle with medicine. Capacity building is a mechanical concept. Empowerment, on the other band, goes well with the contemporary trend towards a participatory, "bottom-up" approach to development.

Empowerment is the new embellishment on the older concept of capacity building. It is also different in its emphasis. It emphasises the notion of power. People must be empowered to do their own things - nay, people must self-empower, they must not wait for somebody else to empower them. Linguistic revolutions provide useful insights into new trends. The word empowerment is one such concept. However, we shall treat capacity building and empowerment as essentially meaning the same thing.

What are its ingredients, its components?

Empowerment has many aspects to it. Let us put them in some analytical order - in our usual form of a continuum, starting, on the extreme left, with 11 the inner self," and going on to the extreme right, with the ability and skills to lobby society. In between are skills and resources that are necessary for PWDs to enable them to gain self-reliance.

People are not empty bottles to fill. They are candles with inner energy to light


Self-respect and self-confidence to be self-reliant (Self-actualisation)

Conceptual analytical and research skills

Knowledge and information

Productive resources
a) natural e.g., land
b) managerial

Appropriate aids

Lobbying and advocacy skills

Self-respect and self confidence to be self-reliant

Let us recall part of the definition of "development" that we quoted from Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in Chapter 2. He defined it as:

... a process which enables human beings to realise their potential, build self confidence, and lead lives of dignity and fulfilment. It is a process which frees people from the fear of want and exploitation....

In its definition of "capacity and capability building" the Entebbe Workshop, too, emphasises the point about "the ability, the will and skills..." that PWDs must have to undertake various tasks related to income generating projects. The most powerful personal quality here is "the will"; it is the inner energy that motivates the individual. It is the most dynamic force.

In Chapter 4, we gave the analogy of the chicken and the egg - the inner energy is the force inside the egg that hatches it into a chicken. We did go on to say, however, that the external environment (humidity, warmth, etc) are also important to enable the inner energy to fulfil its potential.

Thus, although without a strong motivating force that moves the inner spirit forward, a PWD will probably never succeed in pulling herself or himself out of the limitations, there must be an environmental support for her/him to allow that energy to ripen the potential. That is where education and training come in.

Conceptual, analytical and research skills

We put this as the second most important "capacity" to develop. Vocational training (for example, furniture making or printing) is, of course, important. But even more important is the ability to conceptualise, to analyse and to carry out research. Without these the PWDs will find themselves always at the mercy of "experts" who can do these things.

Earlier, we gave examples of how experts" seize and occupy concepts such as "planning, monitoring, research and evaluation" and monopolise them. These concepts are no mysteries. Anybody can handle them with a trained mind that can conceptualise issues and analyse them. The ability to carry out research is an essential component of that faculty. The impartation of these skills should be one of the most important components in the education of PWDs, especially children.

"Development" Code Sketch from Narendra Basnet

This is one more reason why disabled children should not be isolated from mainstream educational institutions, for that impairs their conceptual and analytical skills. It gives them a derogatory, inferior, bias about themselves and kills their self-esteem.

Knowledge and information

Much of our educational system is based on "the bucket" principle - you fill the bucket with "information." But true knowledge comes through putting to question all received knowledge. Why? Because "knowledge" is not neutral. It is an embodiment of existing cultural practices (even prejudices) and power structures. The PWDs know this from their own experience, and have had to fight to remove these prejudices and power configurations.

Of course, information is important. Without it you are in the dark. We need to be informed on all matters that affect our lives. But we need also to give information. We are not simply recipients of knowledge and information packaged by others. We are also creators of knowledge and information.

Into this category also we may put the knowledge about vocational occupations. PWDs need to be provided with technical and vocational skills pertinent to their projects. Such institutions of learning as are equipped to provide these skills must have both the human (training staff) and tools that are sensitive to the accessibility and communicative needs of the people with disabilities. (See below: on the pedagogy of disability training).

Productive resources: natural and human

Next in importance, for successful income generating projects, are the resources with which to engage in productive activity. We have discussed these at some length in the chapter on "planning" (Ch. 6). We need only to repeat here two important elements:

One is that the human resources are often more important than material. Too often IGP holders assume that if only they are given "capital" everything would be solved. Wrong. Money can create its own problems unless it is taken and used with the right spirit. The spirit, the human dimension, is the more important. In relation to IGPs, in particular, it is important to cultivate the qualities of openness, leadership, accountability, humaneness, diligence, the ability to resolve personal differences, the capacity to face up to challenges, and so on.

The second essential element that needs repeating is that the "hard" resources (land, capital, etc.) must begin with one's own assets and savings. Loan capital is sometimes very necessary for the initiation and survival of IGPs, but borrowed capital cannot build the long-term sustainability of projects. The addictive donor dependency syndrome is one of the most negative "capacities" to create among PWDs (as, indeed, among all those aspiring to start IGPs of their own). Unfortunately, it is a virus that has affected most IGPs. It is fatal for the spirit of self-reliance.

Appropriate aids for PWDs

A simple ramp in a village

Source: D. Werner, Disabled Village Children

These are necessary. There can be no argument about this. However, there is an argument about how they arc produced, who produces them, and what kinds of support can the state, or the community, or the IGOs and NGOs provide in securing them. Where possible, it is better that PWDs are provided with skills to make these themselves. David Werner, in his book Disabled Village Children, has excellent illustrations of these.

Many of these devices are better "home-made" purely from the view of practicality, convenience, adaptability and maintenance. But, of course, there are aids that have to be commercially designed and made, even imported. These must be subsidized and duty-freed by the state under the policy of affirmative action.

The Entebbe Workshop also emphasised the importance of consulting with PWDs before supplying them with assistive devices. An example was quoted of a politician, seeking favour for votes, donating a wheel-chair to a blind person in a village. To the able-bodied person, all the disabled people are the same: they all need wheel-chairs!

Lobbying skills

IGPs that are isolated from the mainstream economy can fail if the policy environment is not conducive to them. It is not enough for PWDs to concentrate on income generation. They must also influence policy, both economic and social. To this end, their capacity to interact with the rest of the civil society must be nurtured and developed. This is one of the stronger arguments in favour of the CBR strategy that we discussed in Chapter 4.

PWDs must network with organizations such as consumer associations, trade unions and human rights groups in order to join forces With them, and to learn about how lobbying can help protect their human, consumer and worker rights. More about this in the next chapter.

Building Institutional Capacity

Developing individual skills is only one aspect of "capacity building." The other aspect is "institution building."

Organisational matters are at least as important as developing individual competence and talent. The capitalist form of organization, in many ways, is easier. Since the capital is owned either by an individual or by a corporate body, the workers are not responsible for critical decisions that affect the sustainability of the enterprise. The "bosses" take all the important decisions. Also, after all the costs have been paid out (including the wages of workers), the profits are all taken by the owners of capital.

In a cooperative form of organization, on the other hand, the assets (land, machinery, etc. and the final products) are all collectively owned. Hence, decisions regarding production and marketing have to be collectively taken. Also, the profits have to be shared between the members in a manner that is acceptable to all. Both these aspects of cooperative production involve difficult human as well as technical considerations. Hence, a cooperative organization is often more vulnerable (exposed) to human failures than a capitalist enterprise. (See Chapter 5 on the advantages and disadvantages of group as opposed to individual enterprises.)

But we should not, on the other hand, exaggerate these differences. Human relations are very important in any set-up. Even capitalist enterprises, these days, are realising the importance of involving workers in certain decisions. The important point is that often enterprises fail not because of lack of skills or technical competence on the part of individuals but because of organizational incapacity to handle difficult human relations within the enterprise.

That is why it is as important to build "institutional capacity" as it is to develop individual skills. To some extent, the capitalist world system has been very innovative in developing specialised courses for institution building. This system has mapped out organisational strategies for all kinds of conceivable situations, and PWDs engaged in individual production can take advantage of these courses in various public (e.g. universities and vocational institutes) and private (e.g. commercial colleges) that offer certificate, diploma- and degree-level proficiencies. It is the cooperative forms of organisational strategies that have so far proved generally difficult. That is not to say that these don't exist. They do. But precisely because the human and the contextual (or situational) dimensions are so important in a cooperative organization, it has been difficult to rationalise these courses in training institutions in the manner in which those organised along the capitalist lines have been able to do.

All productive activity is social - whether, it is based on employing wage workers or on a cooperative basis.

Therefore, for those PWD enterprises that are organised along cooperative lines, it is important for them to try to work out their own system of organising production and conducting human relations. They can get some assistance from public institutions offering courses in cooperative management, but they should not count on them too much. They must depend largely on their own innovative skills, and positive human conduct, as a basis for building their institutional capacity. And that means, largely, a good leadership - a leadership that is transparent, open, visionary and accountable to the members. In short, a democratic organisation. The leadership of the DPOs should have the ability and humility to tap the skills of non-disabled people.