July 9, 2024

At World Learning we know investing in the capacity strengthening of local organizations is imperative to foster sustainable social and economic development.

For decades, World Learning has actively engaged in institutional capacity strengthening for civil society organizations, higher education institutions, and the private sector. We provide targeted support that helps address the unique needs and challenges of communities. We do so by recognizing that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

In a two-part series, World Learning experts discuss various approaches to capacity strengthening and explain how World Learning is implementing these approaches with partners to help maximize impact in local communities.

Part One: Local Expertise Advancing Development

Headshot of Munguntuya Otgonjargal.
Munguntuya Otgonjargal (Mungunuu), a program specialist who worked on World Learning’s Leaders Advancing Democracy program

We spoke to Munguntuya Otgonjargal (Mungunuu), a program specialist who worked on World Learning’s Leaders Advancing Democracy program.

Specifically, Mungunuu specialized in implementing World Learning’s exclusively designed capacity strengthening approach Local Expertise Advancing Development (LEAD). This approach fosters deeper sustainability by matching local organizations’ needs and areas of expertise and shifting the dependence on external facilitators to local proficiency across a country or region.

Here is what Mungunuu had to say about implementing this strengths-based approach.

Could you explain why and how the LEAD model was developed for civil society organizations in Mongolia?

The Leaders Advancing Democracy program helped young leaders tackle issues such as poverty and unemployment, the environment and urbanization, and government transparency and anti-corruption in their country. During the implementation of the program, we partnered with many local and national civil society organizations (CSOs) and invited them as thematic experts, trainers, and collaborators. Many of our participants also represented a wide range of CSOs from the education, health, energy, women’s rights, youth empowerment, and governance sectors. After the final completion of the program, we heard from program alumni about the types of activities they wanted moving forward, and they shared the idea of a dual capacity strengthening and networking workshop.

“One of the key objectives of the LEAD model is to empower the local CSOs through a peer-to-peer learning model.”

This idea originated from an understanding that since 2020, the civil society space was shrinking and struggling to sustain itself. However, not much research had been done as to why and how the CSOs are being operated, what helps them to be sustainable, and what challenges and best practices they are experiencing. CSOs in rural areas are especially under-studied and underserved, and that is one of the key reasons we wanted this type of workshop — to reach CSOs in the rural provinces and help them connect with each other as well as larger organizations based on the capital.

Can you talk more about the purpose of the LEAD model?

One thing we heard a lot through our Leaders Advancing Democracy program and the needs survey we sent to help shape the workshop was that CSOs, in general and especially the ones in rural areas, lack capacity-building opportunities and are often stuck at the initial stage of development. CSOs are also spread across Mongolia, a very large country, and have limited opportunities to connect with like-minded organizations around shared goals.

One of the key objectives of the LEAD model is, therefore, to empower the local CSOs through a peer-to-peer learning model. This contrasts with many capacity efforts that are very assessment-focused, driven by donor requirements instead of organizational priorities, led by international experts, and often lack the necessary practical support to make improvements.

With this in mind, and unlike traditional trainings which include a standard agenda, we wanted all sessions to be demand-driven and reflect real needs and interests from participating organizations. To come up with an agenda that would be effective and worthwhile, it was important to understand what they needed and what they aspired to learn. Therefore, we created a comprehensive survey to include along with the application to attend the LEAD workshop, in which organizations could select topics they wanted to improve on. They also prioritized areas that they felt comfortable leading an interactive skill-building session on during the workshop. This initial needs survey was very informative in designing the workshop. The results helped us design an agenda that was driven by the specific needs of the CSO participants and provided the space for these same local CSOs to demonstrate their expertise in specific areas.

Mungunuu discusses the LEAD model.

Could you outline a few of the major steps involved in implementing the LEAD model?

As mentioned, we did the needs survey first to get to know the CSOs through our application. One of the key aspects of the application was to learn about both the CSO’s priorities and the experience/skills/knowledge that a particular CSO wanted to share with others. We then coded the responses to identify the topics to be covered. Based on this analysis, our workshop covered topics such as social inclusion, financial resources for CSOs, citizen engagement, advocacy, digital communication, and strategic planning. 

“The results helped us design an agenda that was driven by the specific needs of the CSO participants and provided the space for these same local CSOs to demonstrate their expertise in specific areas.”

We then paired each topic with one of our participating CSOs for them to present. Each CSO shared their own experiences, which was one of the highlights of the workshop. Prior to the workshop, we provided online consultation and coaching to help each CSO hone their skill-sharing sessions and prepare for the workshop to ensure an impactful session on their designated topic. Through this experience, our participants understood that each and every NGO has something to offer to the others; each of their experiences is unique and valuable.

What is unique about the approach, and what was particularly effective?

21 adults pose for a group photo with half standing and half sitting next to a banner that contains the World Learning logo.
Participants of the LEAD model who convened for a two-day workshop.

The LEAD model is very flexible, as it is purely driven by local organizations’ needs and strengths. For this program, we designed it as a two-day program, allowing us to cover a multitude of topics but not requiring too large of a time commitment from our participants. Participants were initially a little skeptical of a capacity strengthening workshop facilitated completely by Mongolian CSOs with no external experts. However, when I talked to the CSOs and their representatives at the end of the two days, they were all very satisfied and said they learned at least one skill or bit of knowledge that they can use for their future work. All participants shared they would go to another workshop with this format.

I think the workshop was also a successful one because it was demand-driven and needs-based. And two, it had a great share of peer learning. By the end of the workshop, approximately 90% of the participants were confident in most of the covered topics. Prior to the workshop, only 26% knew how to create a digital presence for their organization, compared to 89% at the end of the workshop, and only 42% knew specific ways to ensure their organization was inclusive, compared to 95% by the end of the workshop.

In what types of environments outside of Mongolia do you think the LEAD model would be best implemented?

I think this model would be best implemented in any environment where there is a need for development of local CSOs. Depending on the needs, of course, the two-day agenda could look a little bit different. However, the main concept of connecting local organizations and elevating them as experts in their field remains valuable in any case.

Last year you conducted follow-up interviews with some of the participants of the LEAD model. What types of impact did the LEAD model have?

I think this feedback was even more interesting as it was after a whole year, and I did not know what to expect. It was a two-day workshop and to be honest, I was not sure whether the CSOs would remember what they learned.

“The LEAD model is very flexible, as it is purely driven by local organizations’ needs and strengths.”

To my surprise, not only did they remember, but some of them are still using the skills and knowledge they acquired through the workshop and have applied or are still applying them in their work. One of the examples I like the most is this initiative in Bayan-Ulgii province, where our participants identified the lack of services and centers for psychological services, especially for youth. After the workshop, they collaborated with the local government and the lifelong learning center to conduct psychological tests and training for 12th graders, as well as created a short video promoting mental health.