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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


Now that we have gone through the major stages of an income generating project - namely, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation - we need to get to the question of how to build the "capacity' of individual PWDs and the organization (or the project) to undertake all these activities.

The Entebbe Workshop defined "capacity building" as follows:

Capacity and capability building is defined as the empowerment which encompasses the ability, will and skills to initiate, plan, manage, undertake, organise, budget, monitor/supervise and evaluate project activities. Thus capacity and capability building are related to the organizational and functional levels as well as to individuals, groups and institutions. In the light of the above definition, and the paralytic effect of the lack of capacity and capability, the Workshop provided the following guidelines to capacity and capability building programmes or components of projects:

· Education, as the key to information and ability, should, as a matter of policy, be made available to all PWDs within the mainstream services subject to the suitable training of instructors or change agents to meet the specific needs of the various disabilities. This was an immediate need in respect of children.

· With regard to adults, it was recommended that a sufficiently structured adult education system which imparts skills relevant and useful to the various disabilities should be instituted.

· For integrated training and education services to take place, it was proposed that attention be paid to the need for technology inputs required by the adaptation to accommodate the needs of the PWDs.

· In addition to education and training, capacity and capability building should be pursued through informal approaches like networking, visits to similar projects within the country, neighbouring states and the continent whenever possible.

· Continuous learning can also be ensured through instruments like refresher courses, correspondence, personal reading, club and group membership and participation in special activities like seminars, feasibility studies, appraisals and evaluation projects.

· Finally, it was resolved and recommended that the professionals who work with people with disabilities should understand and have the experience and positive attitude to work with individuals, groups and organizations in building of local knowledge and experience with a view to strengthening their institutional capacity.

That says it all. However, we need to break this comprehensive and lofty resolution into analytical parts for highlighting some of its essential elements.


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.

The pedagogy of disability training

Training is important. But even more important is "how?" You can train a person, for instance, to repair a car, but in the process you can break down his self-confidence, his humanity, through, for example, being over-critical of him. The approach is at least as important as the substance of training. That's why there is an increasing tendency these days to emphasise "bottom-up" approaches to training rather than "top-down".

In this respect, the ILO study in Zimbabwe on Social Work and Disability has some good advice for social workers who work amongst PWDs. According to the study, social workers must have:

· an eclectic and wide knowledge base, which helps them to be effective link persons (unlike narrow specialisms such as medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy);

· training in community work, which can be applied very effectively to the field of rehabilitation;

· good communication, interviewing and counselling skills, which would be helpful in negotiation, consultation, debate and democratic decision-making in general;

· training in research methodology and project development, including evaluation;

· training in administration and organisation, unlike many administrators who have been promoted from professional positions; close, direct involvement with individual and family needs, and must be aware of what these are;

Women with disabilities and capacity building for IGPs

Once again, when it comes to "capacity building" it is necessary to make a special case for women with disabilities (WWDs). Generally women are among the disadvantaged groups but those with disabilities are even more disadvantaged. At the Entebbe Workshop they expressed the following anxieties:

· Lack of education and training;

· As a consequence they lack skills;

· They, therefore, remain unemployed.

· They stay too poor to meet even the basic living expenses like housing, food, appliances and educating their children, and therefore they live dependent lives.

· They lack awareness of their rights;

· This results in their being socially abused.

· There is also the problem of inaccessible public places.

· They are deprived of employment opportunities and health services.

· They lack confidence as they are left out of the development process.

· Even within the disability movement, their representation is often not in proportion to their numbers.

A "Top-down" Chain of Command

Source: D. Werner, Disabled Village Children

A "Bottom-up" Approach

Source: D. Werner, Disabled Village Children

The women at the Entebbe Workshop decided that they must hold awareness raising workshops for:

· the families, communities, institutions like schools, governments, and policy makers.

· fellow disabled women on rights, services available, and their role in society.

· disabled children, especially counselling and guidance to disabled girls and their parents.

Grace Mashayamombe and Alexander Phiri of Zimbabwe during a role play on seeking employment. (Photo by Marla Feldman)

The ILO runs a project in Zimbabwe called "Improved Livelihood for Disabled Women." It is funded by Germany. It is primarily a promotional programme, i.e., its main objective is to change society's perception of women with disabilities. The main problem of People With Disabilities (PWDs) is not their disability but rather society's negative attitude towards them. These negative attitudes deprive them (PWDs) of adequate education, training, employment and marriage. It generally excludes WWDs from participating in all mainstream activities. Yet these activities are very important in one's life.

Therefore the project aims at integrating women with disabilities in particular, and PWDs in general, in the main stream community activities. The programme utilizes income generating activity as a tool to integrate women with disabilities in the mainstream economic life.

Dorothy Musakanya and Euphrasia Mbewe of Zambia communicating in sign language. (Photo by Marla Feldman)

In order to be productive, women with disabilities need various types of appliances which are essential for their full participation in various activities. These are supplied under the programme. The use of appropriate appliances increases their self-confidence and self-esteem. For instance, a woman might be crawling, but if she is given a wheelchair her mobility is facilitated and she can do a lot more. It also helps to restore her self-confidence.

The Entebbe Workshop recommended that organisations of disabled persons should encourage the participation of disabled women by ensuring that they have at least 50 percent representation in decision making, designing, planning, implementation and evaluation of various programmes.

The question, however, is what strategies could be used to empower women with disabilities? The workshop recommended the following:

· Women should identify the factors or reasons why they are poor. After identifying these factors, they will at least be conscious about what to do with them. Women should participate in decision making in the household. This will empower them.

· They should choose their own leaders.

· Women should demand their rights and should form groups and clubs for lobbying and advocacy purposes.

· They should struggle to get education and to attain equality.

· Disabled women, through their governments, should be encouraged to promote equalisation of opportunities in legislation.

· Disabled women should conduct legal education programmes to achieve legal empowerment.

· Sign language development should involve deaf women.

· Disabled women should take up the initiative of joining other women to promote integration and mainstreaming.

· Men should identify and share the specialized skills they have acquired with women without dominating them.

· Laws should be enacted to protect disabled women and children. The biological fathers of the children abandon them and leave the burden to the disabled mothers.

· The United Nations system and ILO should give more consideration to supporting disabled women initiatives in their programmes.

· Often forgotten are a special group of women who bear the burden of day-to-day care of severely disabled children and adults. They need also to be supported and their IGPs provided for.

Action guidelines

A. For Persons with Disability

· They must motivate themselves. Our inner self is our first asset.

· They must not limit themselves to purely vocational training. They must also demand education in the broader sense to enable them to undertake research and analysis.

· If they are organised as a cooperative, they must rely largely on their own efforts to build institutional structures that are democratic, transparent and fully accountable to the members.

· If they are organised as individual enterprises, they must take advantage of public and private institutions that offer management courses.

· They must fight against prejudice and discrimination when it comes to training in business management and the professions.

· They must refuse to be treated as empty bottles to be filled through the "top-down" approach; they must insist on the participatory approaches to building capacity.

· MWDs (Men with Disabilities) must ensure that WWDs are fully integrated in their programmes (and in their homes) as equal partners.

· They must not isolate themselves from the rest of civil society; they must join forces with other organs of civil society to influence policy and the socio-economic environment.

· Those PWDs who have attained success in their enterprises should encourage and help others with development efforts.

· The parents of children with disabilities should be actively involved in development enterprises.

B. For the Government

· The government must create the enabling and institutional environment to help strengthen the individual capabilities of PWDs. (Also see Ch. 4)

· It must take affirmative action to enable PWDs to have access to public institutions of higher education as well as vocational training.

· Since most PWDs work as groups or as cooperatives, it is important that the government provide adequate cooperative training to them, including extension and monitoring facilities.

· The government must formulate policies to cater for the needs of parents of children with disabilities.

C. For IGOs and NGOs working with PWDs

· They must not limit themselves to providing finance only; they must also support capacity building programmes.

· They must involve the PWDs in development projects using the participatory approach.

· (NGOs) which have had experience in working with groups and cooperatives must write up manuals based on these experiences so as to help strengthen cooperative institutional capacity.

· They could play a positive role in addressing specific concerns of women and children with disabilities and caters of people with severe disabilities.

Same Areas for Further Discussion

Why is it important for PWDs to acquire broader conceptual, analytical and research skills, as well as vocational skills?

Is it true that cooperative institutional building is more difficult than capitalist-based enterprises? If so, why, and how can cooperative structures be strengthened?

How do you ensure that women's participation in IGPs is truly empowering?

Who lights the candle that empowers the people?