Module 5 - Capacity Building for Sustained Change

Challenges of Capacity Building

A capacity building mindset may not be embraced by everyone because ...

  • Capacity building demands a different kind of partnership, where both parties contribute and learn from one another and where the focus is on two things: the community work itself and effective ways to make the community work last over time. Sometimes, you or your community partner simply want to get the work done and not spend time on making the changes that are sustainable over time.

  • Capacity building requires a longer period of time to achieve and, as a result, does not necessarily lead to an immediate sense of satisfaction. Sometimes, you or your community partner may want to celebrate a "quick win" or feel a sense of accomplishment at a job well done.

  • Capacity building focuses on sustaining change, which often requires underlying, structural power differences to be addressed. Changing power structures is often more difficult than addressing a symptom caused by the underlying problem.

  • Because capacity building is often intangible, it is often difficult to provide evidence of its results or to celebrate its impact. For example, it is much easier to show a photograph of an orphanage freshly painted by undergraduates on an alternative spring break trip than it is to show how undergraduates worked with a grassroots community organization to adopt orphanage painting as one of its annual service projects for the community in which it is located.

  • Capacity building is dynamic; it may strengthen or weaken over time.

Despite these challenges, capacity building is an important element of lasting community work.

Pressure to Just Get the Work Done

Alicia continued working at Riverfront. Each week, she would meet with Zoe to go over the content she had written the previous week and talk about new content that she was to work on in the upcoming week.

For the most part, these meetings focused on managing the to-do list, which was especially important because Riverfront was going to launch a new initiative funded by a big donor. The newly revamped webpage was supposed to be ready for a big reveal on that day.

Alicia kept thinking about the importance of capacity building but was a little frustrated. In her service-learning journal, she wrote:

I wonder how I will ever be able to build capacity when there is so much pressure to just get the work done. Everyone's so busy working to meet the upcoming deadline.


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