Capacity Development: In Conversation with Adiel Mbabu, CIP Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa


My basic training is in rural sociology, specializing in social change and development. I began my research career as a socio-economist in a multi-disciplinary and multi-organizational initiative – the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Programme in Kenya. I later did my post-doctoral research with the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR). This is where I picked interest in research management in general and capacity development in particular. Since then I have worked with national agricultural research organizations (KARI-Kenya/NARI-PNG), a sub-regional organization (ASARECA), an international research organization (IFPRI) and a donor organization (AusAID), in support of capacity development. I am now pleased to have been recently appointed to the position of Regional Director – Sub Saharan Africa for the International Potato Center.


I began working in agricultural research as a socio-economist. From there, I pursued my research from an academic perspective, leading to the award of a PhD degree. However, when I did my post-doctoral work in research management, I realized the role of organizational and policy innovations to translate technological innovations into impact at people level. I also realized that this perspective needed to be popularized in what were entrenched bio-physical scientific cultures. With this in mind, I joined forces, in the early days to build capacity for socio-economists to contribute to people-focused organizational strategic plans and translating these plans into medium-term programs and short-term projects. We also worked to institutionalize engendered monitoring and evaluation systems at different levels of operation. In more recent years, I embarked on developing capacities for organizational and management systems for complex partnerships that would deliver impact at people level.


The purpose! The purpose! Understanding the purpose for capacity development is key to success. An entrenched purpose for capacity development has been for building individual knowledge, skills and attitude. Capacities that have been inadvertently ignored despite their significance include multi-disciplinary team capacities; organizational learning capacities; and innovation system capacities. These capacities are necessary for effective technological, institutional and policy innovations necessary for agricultural transformations envisaged by CGIAR and their partners. These capacities should be envisaged in the emerging theories of change, and aligned along the relevant impact pathways.


A key recipe for failure in capacity development is in the mismatch between type of capacity development provided and the intended purpose for capacity development. The second critical problem is the notion that academic achievements may automatically translate into individual, team or organizational behavior change. Change processes essentially entail learning processes, not mere acquisition of information. Thus, it matters how capacity development initiatives are delivered.

Adiel Mbabu


Contributing to the intended purpose and the associated impact pathways will mean a shift in thinking, case in point:

Advanced studies for example as a means for Capacity Development is one way: “We need more Masters and PhDs but if we stop there, the potential gained will remain trapped under the weight of non-supportive bureaucracies, inappropriate institutional arrangements and non-conducive policy environments. We also need to distinguish between training and learning processes for different effect. Only when we come to terms with this complexity shall we succeed in delivering expected outputs and achieve longer-term outcomes and impact.

Second we need to start focusing more on purpose driven partnerships: Not about the numbers but about the purpose for which individuals and organizations partner. To understand why we need a partner we also need to increasingly appreciate the intertwined nature of organizations, so that when you remove one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, you know who has the moved piece, to where and how it moved, including who may have other pieces that you may need to complete the whole puzzle as a basis of partnership.

“Partnerships”: When driven by shared needs, they are like when two people are in love. If what brings us together is resource allocation, we become rivals; sometimes leading to destructive competition. “If it is about cake sharing, not cake-baking, then we’ve lost script”.

REFLECTIONS ON CGIAR – Capacity Development Community of Practice Workshop (ILRI Nairobi):

Reflecting on the October 2013 CapDev CoP Meeting, I can say I was in the right place at the right time. The content developed during the workshop for mainstreaming Capacity Development into the CGIAR Strategy & Result Framework also subsequently contributed to a Chapter for Capacity Development in the CIP Strategy and Corporate Plan (forthcoming). The challenge now is to develop the capability within the organization for implementation”.

I am also glad to see that some of the ideas generated during the Capacity Development Community of Practice workshop have translated into concrete action and are now taken up by the CGIAR Leadership for integration into the structures and process of the system. For example, development of the guidelines to help CRPs integrate Capacity Development in the planning process is strategic and critically important.

I have also been following updates shared in the Capacity Development Community of practice and find this very encouraging. I am keen to see how the development of the proposed guidelines for supporting planning processes of CRPs will unfold. As time allows I want to be part of this.


CRP Planning: CRPs are providing important platforms to map out short, medium and long-term results. With this in mind we shall be able to assess available competences and organizational capacities; consequently determining the gaps that should define capacity development strategies and initiatives.

Value based leadership: It would appear that we have built lots of management capacities (ability to deliver results efficiently and effectively), but not so successful in developing effective leadership – value driven visioning leading to innovative approaches, holistic thinking guiding in harnessing complexities, and strong people skills to inspire and motivate people.

Interview and article by Terry Kiragu, ILRI

Photos by Sara Quinn, CIP

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