Interview with Sibry Tapsoba, Head, African Development Institute - Building Capacities for Africa
Question: What is African Development Institute; and what is its mission?
Answer: The African Development Institute is the focal point for the activities of the African Development Bank Group in capacity development. It is a Department located in the Chief Economist Complex of the Bank.
For an adequate appreciation of the role of the Institute, perhaps it will help to briefly review Africa’s recent economic performances. It is well documented that in the last one and a half decades, the continent achieved significant progress in real economic growth, notwithstanding the temporary setback caused by the global crisis which erupted recently.
But it is equally well documented that because of widespread deficiencies in human, institutional and organizational capacities in African countries, the development results achieved are low and grossly insufficient relative to the targets set by national plans and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Therein lies the critical importance of capacity development and why the Bank Group is facing the issue with utmost seriousness.
Since its creation in 1973, the Institute has come a long way. It has evolved to become a plain training centre in a multilateral development bank, focusing mainly on projects implementation training for regional member countries (RMC) officials. It is now far more than that; it is a thought centre or a think tank if you like, with the goal to contribute significantly to building sustainable capacity in the RMCs.
The Institute’s mission is as clear as it is thought provoking and challenging: capacities for today and tomorrow. The negative effects of the recent global crisis which slashed the continent’s annual real growth rate from 6.0% to 2.0% are still being felt in our countries. The effects are not temporary outcomes that will go away by themselves.
Today and tomorrow, sustainable capacity in all its ramifications is required in the countries, so that they can quickly return to their pre-crisis growth paths, and then to higher growth trajectories. The continent’s growth rates have to reach upper single digits or double digits. In simple terms, the Institute’s mission is to assist the RMCs in these endeavours, and also with regards to making them capable of responding adequately and proactively to emerging development issues.
Question:Weakness in capacity constitutes a serious obstacle for attaining objectives of poverty reduction. It poses problems of absorption of financial resources and its effective utilization. What actions are envisaged by the Bank in the medium term to help the RMCs in these regards?
Answer: Yes, you have observed rightly. The Bank Group has for many years been part of the global efforts for strengthening capacities in the RMCs for increased absorption and effective utilization of development resources. And it is true that the efforts have not yet yielded expected results. This is main reason for the Bank Group’s Capacity Development Strategy recently approved by the Board of Directors.
In line with the Strategy, three main programs of activities are in the pipeline, which will significantly contribute to strengthening capacities in the RMCs within the next five years.
- Improved collaboration with national authorities and institutions:
There are many national and regional institutions (public, quasi-pubic, NGOs and private), which are major providers of training and other capacity building services in the countries. I can tell you that in every African country, there are at least two public capacity building institutions, not to mention private institutions, and other individual capacity building experts.
The operations of these institutions are limited in most cases because their capacities are not strong or large enough to respond to the massive needs for their services. We have plan to select a number of these institutions for the Bank’s supports, so that they can be strengthened to deliver adequate and quality services. Given the large number of RMCs and the high level of demand from them, the Bank will carefully devolve many of its training programs to these selected institutions.
Success in strengthening of capacity development programs in the RMCs will depend on many factors, the most important of which is ownership by the client countries. Our countries and their training and capacity building institutions have to take responsibility and leadership for capacity development; and they therefore will need to be equipped to identify needs, design and deliver appropriate programs.
- Mass diffusion of knowledge products and learning materials:
Training materials on a number of courses and workshops regularly offered to RMCs staff are already available on-line and in compact diskettes. In the medium term, the Institute will scale up its activities on these, as well as on other forms of distance learning and e-learning.
The existing network of participants in the Bank Group’s training will be formalized. Members of the alumni and other RMCs officials working on Bank-assisted programs will have access through internet to relevant training materials, reports, and other intellectual capital of the Bank. They will be able to seek information from and share ideas and practices with members of the alumni. The Bank will also share innovations in development agenda with the network.
- Improved coordination of Bank Group’s capacity development activities:
Most arms of the Bank have been actively engaging in capacity development activities. At present, many of such activities are not being administered in a way that permits appropriate recording, monitoring and evaluation. A systematic Bank-wide planning and coordination of all capacity development activities is now being put in place, so that the Bank Group can achieve synergy and complementarities necessary for effective utilization of resources and accurate assessment of capacity development results on the ground.
Whilst there will be flexibility as need be, there will be standardization in the approach to capacity development cycle management, from needs assessment and justification all the way to design, implementation and ex post evaluation.
Question: Ad hoc approach to RMCs training has shown its limitations. What are the Institute’s plans to address the challenge of the need for a continuous and efficient approach?
Answer: Let me share some of the experiences and lessons learnt by the Bank Group regarding capacity building efforts by development partners in the countries.
Until the late 1990s, capacity development was generally perceived by donors as a technical process involving transfer of knowledge and organizational models from North to South. This led to an overemphasis on ready-made solutions, with ready applicability to all developing countries. Rather than in a holistic manner that can produce synergy, capacity development activities were carried out in piece-meals.
The consensus in the Bank now is that one program does not lead to capacity development. It should rather be perceived as one element in a wider context which must involve appropriate institutional reforms and organizational arrangements. Changes are more easily achieved through a critical mass than through the efforts of single individuals. Our emphasis now is on national training with more participants involved. Capacity development is a long-term process that requires commitment, systematic and continuous effort. There is no quick fix.
Further, and as I had earlier indicated, the Bank’s position is that capacity development should be an endogenous process, enjoying country commitment and strongly led from within the country, with AfDB and other development partners playing supporting roles. The issue raised in your question is one of the major factors which reinvigorated Bank Group’s resolve to see capacity building as a key ingredient in the development process and an end in itself.
I have explained the Bank’s plan to work more closely with the national and regional capacity building institutions. I have also hinted on our determination to invigorate the culture of continuous training through the establishment of an alumni network, distance and e-learning. This will assist in creating in a cost-effective manner a critical mass of experts in various sectors and at various levels in the countries.
Finally, the Institute will package knowledge and experience produced and gained by the Bank (e.g. project completion reports, evaluation reports, research products, statistical information etc) into specific learning products for dissemination to the RMCs.