Wheelchair users in Africa
ADD International

Capacity building: the game changer for disability inclusion

In a results-focused climate where we measure what is easiest to count, capacity building is often misunderstood as a soft intervention with woolly outcomes.

But ADD International’s long experience of capacity building with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) shows that capacity building can make the difference in the lives of persons with disabilities between isolation and exclusion from every aspect of life on the one hand, and becoming agents of change on the other.

In fact, an independent review last year of ADD International’s capacity building work with DPOs in Bangladesh and Cambodia found that:

  • Capacity building of DPOs has contributed to real improvements in the lives of individuals with disabilities, and more inclusive society/development processes benefiting all persons with disabilities
  • The capacity building outcomes have been sustainable, with organisations continuing to thrive many years after their initial, intense engagement.

If we are serious about implementing the global goals, we need to make sure the people who have been left furthest behind are at the centre of developing, implementing and monitoring strategies for inclusion. How else will development deliver for the most marginalised?

To do this we need to invest in building capacity, partnering with DPOs to make sure they take centre stage – “nothing about us without us”. Anything other than an empowered and representative disability movement, claiming their own rights and holding governments and INGOs to account for how billions of development dollars are spent, would be the antithesis of value for money. And it would fail a generation.

It is, of course, easier said than done. But over 30 years ADD International has developed an effective approach where capacity building is not viewed as a stand-alone, technical intervention but is central to our thinking of how change happens in each context. For the first time this approach has been captured in a new learning document which:

  • Explains why capacity building with the disability movement is a valuable strategy for achieving change in the context of the ‘Leave No One Behind’ agenda
  • Recognises that capacity building is complex, takes place over a long period and requires different interventions at different times in response to changing needs, opportunities and challenges
  • Summarises the different elements of our approach, emphasising the value of ‘accompaniment’ – supporting DPOs to ‘learn by doing’ through joint implementation of projects and through brokering links with other organisations
  • Explores some of the risks and challenges of capacity building

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Disability has moved steadily up the development agenda since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities a decade ago, but approaches which focus on “providing for” or “doing to” persons with disabilities risk undermining the disability rights movement and disempowering persons with disabilities.

Interventions that engage directly with DPOs and prioritise the voice and perspectives of persons with disabilities will not only have more effective short-term outcomes but will also contribute to long-term systemic change through building the capacity of the disability movement. At ADD International we call this “being an ally” to the disability movement and we strive every day to learn to do this better.

We urge all development actors to join us: To be mindful of how our work impacts on the disability movement; to take responsibility for our role in building the capacity of the disability movement; and to support the empowerment of persons with disabilities.