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The ability of individuals, institutions and societies to perform functions, solve problems, and set and achieve objectives in a sustainable manner.

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2008b). “Capacity Development”. Retrieved on June 22, 2008, from

Fukuda-Parr, S., C. Lopes, and K. Malik (eds.) (2002). Capacity for Development Cooperation: New Solutions to Old Problems. New York/London: UNDP, Earthscan


Fukuda-Parr et al (2002, pp 8-9) state that each society has the capacities that correspond to its own functions and objectives. Non-industrial societies, for example, have few formal institutions, but they do have highly developed skills and complex webs of social and cultural relationships that are often difficult for outsiders to comprehend. Most important of all, by a process of cooperative and cumulative learning, typically passed on orally, they have worked out how to survive in often difficult and harsh conditions. Modern post-industrial societies have their own set of capacities, although they seem very different. They too have complex social structures, but tend to have more diverse and specialist activities, and rely on extensively codified knowledge bases, myriad organizations and a plethora of specialist skills, many of which can only be acquired over years of education and training.

As countries transform themselves, they have to develop different capacities. But it is important to recognize that they do not do so merely as an aggregate of individuals. National capacity is not just the sum total of individual capacities. It is a much richer and more complex concept that weaves individual strengths into a stronger and more resilient fabric. If countries and societies want to develop capacities, they must do more than expand individual human skills. They also have to create the opportunities and the incentives for people to use and extend those skills. Capacity development thus takes place not just in individuals, but also between them, in the institutions and the networks they create—through what has been termed the “social capital” that holds societies together and sets the terms of these relationships.

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