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Capacity Development - A UNDP Primer

UNDP (2009)

Published in: 2009
Pages: 64

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York, USA.


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This primer addresses the basic elements of the UNDP approach to capacity development. It provides a simple, cogent and accessible illustration of the UNDP Capacity Development Approach for the benefit of development practitioners both within and beyond the UN development system – a real-world guide to real-world applications to strengthen and contribute to national capacities for development. It focuses in on smart institutions, visionary leadership, access to knowledge and public accountability mechanisms as the drivers of capacity change, and draws from evidence and policies from across regions, synthesizing country-led experiences and institutional lessons with global research. The Primer refers, and offers ready access, to these resources, but it does not purport to capture all knowledge, views and practice in this extensive field. However, we hope it provides a convincing and enticing initiation into an area of development knowledge and practice that is at the heart of what makes human development results sustainable over time.

Content - Summary


There is now emerging agreement in the development community that capacity development is the engine of human development. In the face of the current economic, climate and food crises, developing state and societal capacities to design and implement strategies that minimize the impact posed by these crises will remain critical for sustaining progress towards achieving development objectives including the MDGs1. Capacity development starts from the principle that people are best empowered to realize their full potential when the means of development are sustainable – home-grown, long-term, and generated and managed collectively by those who stand to benefit.

But what exactly do we mean by capacity development? Confusion around the term seems to have grown along with its popularity. For some, capacity development can be any effort to teach someone to do something, or to do it better. For others, it may be about creating new institutions or strengthening old ones. Some see capacity developmen as a focus on education and training, while others take a broad view of it as improving individual rights, access or freedoms.


For UNDP, capacity development contains elements of all of the above. UNDP sees capacity development as the process through which individuals, organizations and societies obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time.

Simply put, if capacity is the means to plan and achieve, then capacity development describes the ways to those means. An essential ingredient in the UNDP capacity development approach is transformation. For an activity to meet the standard of capacity development as practiced and promoted by UNDP, it must bring about transformation that is generated and sustained over time from within. Transformation of this kind goes beyond performing tasks; instead, it is more a matter of changing mindsets and attitudes. 1 The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

Additional information

Question to consider while reading this primer: Based on your own personal experience, have you ever wondered why certain government institutions perform better than others?

Bibliographic information

UNDP (2009). Capacity Development - A UNDP Primer. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York, USA.

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Capacity development (WG1) English


Capacity Development: A UNDP Primer

Format: pdf file
Size: 1.49 MB

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