February 2017: Empowering Women by Acting Locally, and thinking Nationally

A common criticism of traditional approaches to capacity building in international development is a tendency to focus resource inputs on the provision of a narrow set of outputs, such as the delivery of training sessions, in order to show concrete evidence of progress to the client financing the initiative. While it can be satisfying for the implementing agency to report back on a job well done by utilizing this approach (hundreds trained, courses delivered, minds exposed to new ways of working), at the end of the day such efforts can leave open to question the ultimate impact of the work conducted on participants' well-being. It can also mean missing opportunities to institutionalize new skills, systems and approaches through policy measures that can guarantee a much wider impact. This challenge applies equally to efforts to improve health service delivery as it does to reforming education systems or expanding access to clean water. Critically, it also applies to interventions to promote the economic and social empowerment of women. Fortunately, new approaches are beginning to emerge that illustrate how investments in capacity building (improving the performance of people and organizations through training, coaching and advisory services) can yield much broader, deeper and more sustainable change that can have a tangible impact on women's well-being for the long-term. In Cowater's experience, this model can best be captured by combining the phrase "act locally, think nationally" with three critical interventions: strengthening the policy advocacy skills of local organizations, influencing local change agents, and utilizing data as a tool for introspection and widespread take-up of 'smart practices' defining more effective ways of working.

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