I want to thank Alan Wang, CEO of Be Better (www.bebetter.org.cn), for the opportunity to observe a recent two-day capacity building training delivered for his organization’s team here in Shanghai. China’s social sector is rapidly evolving and opportunities such as these are key for keeping abreast of the ever-changing landscape of nonprofits. Here are some of my important takeaways from the discussions and trainings:
- Relevant, experienced trainers. For the past five years, Aflatoun (a.k.a. Child Savings International) has been delivering capacity building trainings to the staff at Be Better. Aflatoun is a likeminded global nonprofit which like Be Better, focuses on providing financial education for youth. Because of this longstanding partnership between the two organizations, the trainer from Aflatoun understood the specific issues Be Better’s staff faced and was able to provide insightful suggestions. Unfortunately, more often than not, trainers leading capacity building trainings in China have very little experience or background in the specific subsector in which the trainees work. At SVG, we have found that when trainers are equipped with background knowledge of the subsector of the organizations to which they are speaking and understand the working culture of the organization, they can better train their trainees.
- Full team participation. I was delightfully surprised to see that the entire Be Better team was present for the two-day training. Often times, local nonprofits will send one or two of their team as representatives to similar types of trainings. Because many nonprofits have limited bandwidth and in order to keep their programming in operation, it is rare to see an entire team at a capacity building training. As a result, it is difficult for an organization to maximize the benefits of these trainings because one or two individuals will never be able to fully relay the lessons learned. Because the entire staff of Be Better was present, they had richer discussions with everyone there and were able to contribute their own ideas. They were also able to process the information as a team and see how as a team, they can implement these new strategies. Actually, Alan sat in the back and primarily observed during the sessions. Often times, you see the managing directors of other organizations take the lead in every discussion with the rest of the team quietly listening.
- Open to observation. Another interesting aspect of Be Better’s capacity building trainings was that they invited select guests to observe and participate. These third party guests included representatives from their stakeholders like myself and individuals from their peer NPOs. We were actively involved in the group discussions and used our expertise and perspectives to provide positive suggestions.
- Long-term capacity building. This training was the second in a series of three for the year 2014. Too often, capacity building trainings are delivered as a one-time session with limited follow-up. Thanks to Be Better’s strong leadership and sponsorships, they are able to approach capacity building over a long period of time. This way, they have time to digest the new knowledge learned and each session not only deepens their understanding of the material but also allows them to experiment in the application of these new strategies.
- Quality of translation. As China’s social sector develops, often times it is beneficial for local nonprofits to reference and leverage overseas experiences and models. Due to differences in culture, context, as well as language, we find that during capacity building events, the quality of translation may have a significant impact on the quality of the training. When using foreign trainers, SVG suggests NPOs use translators that have a strong background in China’s social sector. Ideally, these translators are strongly bilingual individuals that have previously worked or volunteered with these specific organizations.
Finally, we want to express our admiration for Be Better’s financial sponsors. They see the importance of NPO capacity building and are approaching it in a thoughtful, and long-term way. We hope we will see more and more philanthropic donors invest strategically in NPOs for a greater impact!
Contributed by Zoey Liu