Capacity building refers to actions that improve effectiveness; in this case, actions that improve access to basic care. This may take a variety of forms, from training medical professionals in relevant techniques, to improving transportation to health centres, to educating the public about the importance of skilled birth attendance. In low-resource countries, capacity building is particularly necessary. Small, low-cost initiatives can dramatically improve care: for example, maternal death audits can help gauge the effectiveness of a health centre and determine areas for improvement with relatively little spending.
When it comes to reducing maternal mortality, a major challenge is making sure that the required resources and infrastructure exist. We know the major causes of maternal mortality: bleeding, infection, high blood pressure associated with pregnancy, prolonged or obstructed labour, and complications from unsafe abortion. We also know the best interventions for avoiding or resolving those complications in low-resource environments: access to a skilled attendant at birth, access to emergency obstetrical care in the event of complications, and a functional referral system that guarantees emergency care if it becomes necessary. However, in many developing countries, even the most basic of these interventions is available to only a fraction of the population. Constantly improving and broadening available care is one of the best way to reduce maternal mortality. Building capacity helps organizations and health providers take concrete steps towards that goal.
The Specifics of Capacity Building
Capacity building is not only about training individuals and developing their technical skills. The SOGC believes that capacity building involves supporting professional associations in developing the capacity to perform their functions effectively, efficiently and sustainably in support of their mission and long-term goals. The support provided by the SOGC to the professional associations varies according to needs and the reality of the country. It can include strengthening leadership roles, clarifying the organizational structure, and defining governance practices in an effort to improve the efficiency of a professional association and enabling it to undertake more activities. It may also involved changing the “social club” mentality of professional associations away from one catering only to individual interests, and towards a leadership role in sexual and reproductive health initiatives. Professional associations can also be critical in training and mobilizing health professionals. Programs such as the ALARM International Program work to expand capacity this way.
Lessons in Capacity Building
Over ten years of experience in building organizational capacity brings the SOGC to draw the following lessons:
- Capacity building processes must be driven by the professional associations themselves. Capacity building is most successful when associations take full ownership and responsibility for their evolution and integrate organizational capacity development within an overall strategy for evolution.
- Measuring and evaluating organizational capacity development is possible. Through its work in these specific areas, SOGC has developed an organizational capacity methodology which enables the tracking and monitoring of change based on objective criteria. This includes tracking changes in the culture of the organization, its operational capacities, its performance, and the way it is perceived by other stakeholders in the field.
- Building capacity takes time and resources, financial and otherwise. Through its Partnership Program, the SOGC believes that a three to five year cycle of support is needed to enable professional associations to make meaningful gains with regard to their organizational capacity. In some countries, it can take even longer especially for them to be financially viable.
Capacity Building of Professional Associations
Professional associations are unique contributors in the fight to improve maternal and newborn health. Strong professional associations provide leadership and set standards of education, practice, and professional competency assessment. Professional organizations can also work with governments and other stakeholders, negotiating from the unique position of a group of professionals with expert knowledge and first-hand experience.
For professional associations to assume this leadership role, they must first be healthy, viable associations capable of meetings their planned objectives and fulfilling their organizational purpose. This is not always the case in low resource countries, where professional associations face many challenges in ensuring their financial viability and in developing the needed capacity to carry out their activities sustainably. This is where the SOGC’s International Partnership Program and other capacity building initiatives come in. By focusing on building organizational and technical capacity in the ob/gyn professional associations of developing countries, we work together to create a foundation from which professional associations can develop.
Capacity Building Resources
For more information about SOGC's Capacity Building methodology and tools, please visit our Media Library. Be sure to check out the following resources:
"Putting in place the health workforce needed for scaling up reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services is an urgent task, and we believe that the support of health professional organizations will be crucial."
– UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid