Development management training – learning to depend on trade not aid

David Bonbright

Professional training for development managers in the developing world could be characterized as sluggish, supply-driven, ‘projectized’ and subsidized. There are no widely, let alone universally, recognized qualifications available. What is worse, there is no potential for scaling up training to meet the scale of need. Interactive multimedia training offered over the Internet could begin to provide a solution.

The appalling state of development management training today is largely a result of the way it is funded. This affects both demand and supply.

Virtually all development management training in developing countries is financed, one way or another, by international donor agencies, who stand several steps removed from the training itself. This is mainly through grants to non-profit service providers (often those based in their home countries rather than in the countries where the services will be delivered). To the extent that training services raise user fees, these also typically derive from donor agencies.

Demand for training

Development managers and the organizations for which they work do not seek out and pay for development management training. Rather they tend to wait passively for the donor agencies and service providers to offer them opportunities.

The contrast with the business world is striking. Business managers understand the value of and are prepared to pay for professional education. Business training is a large, fast-growing and diversifying industry.[1] Employers have sponsored over 60 per cent of the 110,000 managers that have enrolled at Britain’s Open University Business School since 1983. Currently, 5,000 managers are studying with the Open University for an MBA at a cost of £10,750, typically completed over three years.

Service provision

Development management training is a very young field that is delivered principally by two sets of actors, neither of which has any experience of market-based services.

On the one hand, there is a set of indigenous non-profit support organizations that have emerged in developing countries over the past 15 years. These local NGOs are dedicated to providing a range of services (including development management training) intended to strengthen civil society as a whole, particularly civil society organizations engaged in development.

These sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete with the other principal set of actors on the scene, NGO ‘counterparts’ from the aid-giving countries. One of the few published studies of this field notes:

‘Although a number of intermediary organizations (such as the German political foundations) have a track record, “civil society strengthening” is a new field of activity for many Northern NGOs … The types of support mechanisms favoured by donors will continue to revolve around a fairly conventional package of technical cooperation measures centred on training, workshops and study visits.'[2]

There are also some business training providers beginning to enter the field.

Taken together, these vehicles do offer some relevant services to limited numbers of clients, but they have not yet demonstrated approaches whose quality and costs are such that they can be scaled up to the actual need. A closer look at what is available reveals that it is largely:

Of poor quality
The fact that growth is dependent on donor funding rather than demand for services leaves service providers lacking in drive to achieve scale or systemic impact. They have little incentive to be innovative – indeed, they are often resistant to change. Training often has little direct application in the workplace. The fact that the payers are not the consumers leads to weak feedback systems and weak quality controls. Little or no effort is made to derive empirical evidence demonstrating the relationship between capacity-building inputs and the eventual outputs from those whose capacities are purportedly being strengthened.

Lacking a client focus
With funding for training largely coming from donors, NGO training providers, unlike successful businesses, tend to respond to donor agencies (and consultants) rather than individuals or CSOs or communities. There is an inevitable tendency to follow donor fads.

Training happens mainly as unrelated events. Development managers have very few opportunities to build their skills and capacities as part of a coherent, structured course that lead to qualifications with currency in the marketplace. Development managers tend to put little personal investment in training (either effort or finances) because it is not seen as likely to contribute much to professional – or personal – growth.

Typically designed as one-off events – or at best run for a year or two – development management training does not realize economies of scale or time. It is commonly designed and delivered by consultants, which is expensive. It also tends to make the training less embedded in the institution delivering it.

The overall picture
The result is the sluggish, supply-driven training system already referred to, lacking market discipline and, most importantly, the potential for demand-led growth. Growth depends upon that slenderest of reeds: donor agency largesse.

To date, the investments from the donor agencies have been extremely modest. The estimated combined public and private contributions for ‘capacity-building’ for NGOs and development management training in the 1990s averaged $160 million annually – less than a third of 1 per cent of total foreign aid and 10 per cent of aid categorized by the OECD under the broad heading of ‘governance’.[3]

Enter the Internet

Recent Internet developments offer the opportunity to fundamentally alter the character of development management training. The Internet can bring together high-quality material developed by different people and organizations in different countries, creating vast stores of information and training materials that draw on the most talented people and the best practices from all over the world.

From this it will be possible to construct meaningful and locally relevant courses for development managers in any country. Local organizations will be easily and cheaply able to customize and update particular components of courses to meet local and changing demands without having to change the basic course structures – or even to understand how the whole thing has been designed and put together. Eventually development managers should be able to construct their own individualized courses.

Technically, what will be needed are electronic databases that can be used to store, organize, and allow for multiple uses of these curricular materials.

Having comprehensive systems of uniform quality then opens up the possibility of developing national, regional and ultimately global systems of assessment and accreditation. In time, once it has been clearly established what learners need to achieve, what they need to do in order to achieve it, and how this achievement can be measured, it should be possible to assess and accredit prior learning and experience. Eventually development managers could have comprehensive personal profiles based on work experience, formal education, development management training and other criteria that would be recognized, and valued by, a wide variety of organizations – educational and training providers, national or international accreditation systems, their own and other organizations.

The challenge for present-day providers of development management training is clear: can they take advantage of these revolutionary tools? The technical tasks facing them are all very do-able. The much more difficult task will be to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurial providers of client-focused services and to shrug off their long dependence on aid rather than trade to shape their futures.

1 See eg Financial Times Survey: Business Education, 23 May 2000. The lead article in the 22 January 2001 FT business education survey of the top business schools noted the dramatic increase in online education, especially for ‘basic management material’. ‘[Technology] is proving particularly divisive, bringing the biggest advantages to the top-notch business schools, who increasingly use technology to support and deliver programmes, but disadvantages the lower-ranked schools.’
2 Alison Van Rooy (ed) (1998) Civil Society and the Aid Industry Earthscan.
3 It is extremely difficult to obtain a precise figure, as the reported data does not separate out development management training. This is a rough estimate drawn from patterns in the existing data available from the OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System, World Bank projects such as the Uganda Nutrition and Early Childhood Development Project (where 10 per cent of a $34 million loan was dedicated for civil society capacity-building), and the annual reports of private international foundations and northern NGOs.

David Bonbright is Director, NGO Enhancement Programmes, Aga Khan Foundation. He can be contacted by email at

Technology only a means to an end
Technology must not be seen as an end in itself. Providing access alone is rarely effective. Initiatives in and by low-income communities are far more likely to produce meaningful change when people introduce technology with tangible economic, educational and social end results in mind. This is the central theme of From Access to Outcomes: Raising the aspirations for technology initiatives in low-income communities, a report published by the Morino Institute, a non-profit that works to strengthen organizations serving the children of low-income communities. For most projects, the report suggests, no more than one-third of the funding should go to technology itself.
For a full copy of From Access to Outcomes, see the website at

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