Technical Capacity Building in Developing

Countries for Economic Development


Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E.


Committee on Capacity Building

World Federation of Engineering Organizations


In the pursuit of a more secure, stable and sustainable world, developing countries seek to enhance their human, institutional and infrastructure capacity.  To do so they need a solid base of technologically prepared people in order to effectively improve their economies and quality of life. Such a base of qualified engineers and technologists will facilitate the infusion of foreign capital through attraction of multinational companies to invest in the developing country, assist in making the most of foreign aid funds, and provide a basis for business development by local entrepreneurs. In a coordinated approach, UNESCO and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations are mounting major efforts at technical capacity building in developing countries.


The need

“Let me challenge all of you to help mobilize global science and technology to tackle the interlocking crises of hunger, disease, environmental degradation and conflict that are holding back the developing world.” - Kofi Annan, United Nations, 2002

“We need to encourage international commitments to promote the kind of engineering and technology that contributes to lasting development around the world.” - Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO, 2000

Capacity building is a dedication to the strengthening of economies, governments, institutions and individuals through education, training, mentoring, and the infusion of resources.  Capacity building aims at developing secure, stable, and sustainable structures, systems and organizations, with a particular emphasis on using motivation and inspiration for people to improve their lives.


Previous efforts

In a detailed study of the results of foreign aid to developing countries over the past several decades, William Easterly concludes, in his book “The Elusive Quest for Growth” (MIT Press, 2002):

        Previous efforts have tried to use foreign aid, investment in machines, fostering education at the primary and secondary levels, controlling population growth, and giving loans and debt relief conditional on reforms to stimulate the economic growth that would allow these countries to move toward self sufficiency

        all of these efforts over the past few decades have failed to lead to the desired economic growth

        these massive and expensive efforts have failed because they did not hit the fundamental human behavioral chord that “people respond to incentives”

Having concluded that past efforts at stimulating economic growth in developing countries have failed, Easterly outlines what he thinks would work. He argues that there are two areas that can likely lead to the desired economic growth in developing countries, and can lead them toward economic self sufficiency:

        utilization of advanced technologies, and

        education that leads to high skills in technological areas


What outcomes are desired

         Technical capability is needed for developing countries to engage effectively in the global economy.


 A base of qualified engineers and technologists will facilitate the infusion of foreign capital through attraction of multinational companies to invest in the developing country


         Indigenous science and technology capacity is needed to insure that international aid funds are utilized effectively and efficiently –  for initial project implementation, for long-term operation and maintenance, and for the development of capacity to do future projects.


An engineering approach serves to reduce brain-drain, showing people that they can partner with donor nations in helping build their own homelands.


         In order to stimulate job formation, a technical workforce pool is needed, made up of people who are specifically educated and prepared to engage in entrepreneurial startup efforts that meet local needs


 An engineering approach, when coupled with entrepreneurship, results in societal as well as personal benefits.

Two complementary approaches are being pursued in parallel to achieve these desired outcomes:

         UNESCO “Engineering for a Better World” proposal, to enhance engineering programs within that organization

         WFEO Committee on Capacity Building , to provide an action oriented program for forward motion


UNESCO plans for capacity building

In 2003, the United States of America rejoined UNESCO after an absence of 18 years. The US government indicated to UNESCO that it wanted a significant portion of the increased funds that it would provide to its budget to be allocated to enhancing its programs in engineering and engineering education. A major proposal on how to mount an enhanced program, entitled “Engineering for a Better World”, has been developed by the US engineering community and UNESCO’s engineering staff and submitted to UNESCO for consideration.

The overall objectives of the “Engineering for a Better World” proposal are to strengthen human and institutional technical capacity in developing countries, to promote engineering to young people, and to provide an interactive and catalytic role for the application of engineering and technological resources to sustainable economic and social development and poverty eradication. There is specific reference to the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting gender equity and empowering women, and developing global partnerships for development.

The program strategy to promote human and institutional capacity building in engineering will focus on the need for:

·        strengthening engineering education, training and continued professional development;

·        standards, quality assurance and accreditation;

·        development of curricula, learning and teaching materials and methods;

·        distance and interactive learning (including virtual universities and libraries);

·        development of engineering ethics and codes of practice;

·        promotion and public understanding of engineering and technology;

·        development of indicators, information and communication systems for engineering;

·        addressing women and gender issues in engineering and technology;

·        inter-university and institutional cooperation, including fellowships;

·        development of engineering and technology policy and planning to promote the above.

The “Engineering for a Better World” proposal is currently before the UNESCO organization for funding consideration, with a level of $2.5-million per year requested for each of the next six years.


WFEO Standing Committee on Capacity Building  

Motivated by a renewed interest in engineering and engineering education at UNESCO, at least partially driven by the decision of the United States of America to rejoin UNESCO after an 18 year absence, the Word Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) Moved in October 2003 to establish a new Standing Committee on Capacity Building, with the United States as the host of the international organization. The activities of the new Committee will include:

·                    Providing pathways for the technical and professional societies of the developed world to make their expertise available to engineers in the developing world – including technical publications, conferences, codes of practice, and ethics

·                    Utilizing state-of-the-art distance learning technology to deliver needed information and interactions to engineers and engineering educators in developing countries

·                    Strengthening engineering education, both initial and lifelong learning, in developing countries – including making available global best practices in curriculum reform and engineering practice

·                    Providing an information resource for teaching and learning materials, laboratory equipment, software, etc. for the engineering education needs of developing countries

·                    Addressing pipeline and diversity issues in providing the needed quality and quantity of engineers for the world’s needs

·                    Promoting collaborative efforts between institutions in the developed and developing worlds

·                    Promulgating quality assurance standards and accreditation for engineering education throughout the world, particularly in developing countries

·                    Developing pathways for engineering volunteers in the developed world to spend time and effort working on capacity building in developing countries – including efforts in times of disaster relief


The WFEO Committee on Capacity Building , while hosted in the United States by the American Association of Engineering Societies, is an international committee consisting of members from both developing and developed countries. Members are currently being nominated by the some 80 member organizations of WFEO. A first meeting of the Committee on Capacity Building – a planning conference – was held in June 2004, in Washington DC .

It is anticipated that the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building will develop significant financial resources outside the UNESCO structure, and will operate programs which synergistically support the activities within the “Engineering for a Better World” program within UNESCO. To date some $50,000 of funds provided by the National Science Foundation have been allocated for startup activities of the WFEO effort, including the June planning meeting of the Committee. It is anticipated that at steady state, the activities listed above will require a support level of approximately $500,000 per year – with the bulk of the activities heavily supported by volunteer time and effort of the millions of engineers represented by the WFEO member country organizations.

“Engineering for a Better World” is a call to action from the United Nations. The WFEO Committee on Capacity Building is the response of the engineering profession throughout the world in the form of a strategic action agenda.


WFEO CCB Planning Conference

The WFEO Committee on Capacity Building held an initial planning conference in Washington , DC , on 28-30 June 2004. Some 20 international members of the committee plus some 30 experts met over two days to discuss important elements of the projected work of the Committee, and to lay out an initial work plan for its activities. A summary of the proceedings of the planning conference is provided at the end of this white paper as an appendix.

Committee chair Russel Jones and WFEO President Dato Lee chaired the final session of the planning conference, pulling together the elements of the two days of discussion into a forward looking work plan for the committee. President Dato Lee observed that WFEO has many strong national members which can support the capacity building efforts of this committee. He noted that the committee should focus on improving communities in developing countries utilizing engineering. He also observed that many outside organizations are interested in and supportive of this WFEO capacity building initiative.

Chairman Jones grouped the discussions and recommendations by committee members over the two days of the planning conference into four areas: organization, communications, partnerships, and projects. 

Next steps for the CCB in organization include:

Next steps in communications include:

Next steps in partnership development include:

Next steps in projects include:



Developing countries need to be taught how to fish, rather than continually having fish provided to them by the developed world.

State-of-the-art science and technology capacity must be built in developing countries if they are to be able to compete effectively in the global economy. A well-educated technical workforce pool must be in place in a developing country before technology-based multinational companies will be attracted to make investments there in production facilities and other areas. The day is past when such companies would simply introduce expatriates from developed countries to attempt such operations. Current political and economic realities require that a well-educated and trained indigenous workforce is needed to sustain technically based industrial operations in developing countries.

A technical workforce pool is also needed to fuel entrepreneurial startup efforts that meet local needs. Well-educated engineers and scientists in developing countries will find appropriate ways to extend R&D results to marketable products and services responsive to local needs – to their personal economic benefits as well as to the economic benefit of their countries. Further development of such entrepreneurial startups can lead to products and services that profitably extend to regional markets, and eventually global markets.

 Indigenous science and technology capacity is also needed in developing countries to assure that international aid funds sent there are utilized effectively and efficiently – both for initial project implementation and for long term operation and maintenance. Too often in the past, major projects in developing countries have failed to meet desired and designed objectives because there is not a local base of technically qualified people to assist in implementation in ways that are compatible with the local culture and environment.

Thus it is clear that developing countries need their own indigenous technological expertise. They cannot afford to buy it from developed countries, and even when technical expertise from developed countries is provided by external funding it is often ineffective in appropriately responding to local needs and constraints. Capacity building of technical expertise in developing countries is thus key to enhancing their ability to become economically self-sufficient.



APPENDIX: WFEO CCB planning conference summary

Opening Statements

Introductory remarks and greetings were made by several persons involved with hosting this first meeting of the WFEO CCB:

Keynote presentations

Dato Lee, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, made a major presentation putting the effort of the WFEO CCB in a broad context. He described pressures on the World from population growth, poverty, and environmental stress – then described the UN Millenium Declaration and its goals for improving these areas by 2015. He described the several Millenium Project task forces, focusing in particular on the one that he co-chairs – TF10 on Science, Technology and Innovation. He then more finely focused his address by listing several areas that the WFEO CCB should look into: engineering construction, the ICT revolution, mobility of engineers, entrepreneurial capacity building, and engineering philanthropy and public service. Finally, President Dato Lee described the collaboration between WFEO and UNESCO, and in particular noted the “Engineering for a Better World” proposal currently being considered by UNESCO.

George Bugliarello, Foreign Secretary of the US National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus of Polytechnic University of New York, made a major presentation on “The Role of Engineering in Economic Development for Developing Countries”. He divided the spectrum of developing countries into three tiers on the basis of income, connectedness, concentration and efficiency – with the lowest tier suffering from poverty, isolation, dispersion and inefficiency. He listed needs of a developing country: increase connectedness (IT, transportation, social networks); concentrate, not disperse (corridors); and build capacity (traditional engineering, simpler engineering curricula, and for the third tier “engineers without boundaries”). He discussed several “traditional” engineering challenges—water supply, energy, food, housing, infrastructure, environment, information, and education – and several “non-traditional” engineering challenges – urbanization, education, transformation to service economy, quality of public service delivery, corruption, safety, entrepreneurship, and poverty. He closed by suggesting engineering priorities for capacity building in developing countries: education, systems development, pooling engineering resources, and engineering activism and leadership.


Introduction to WFEO CCB Role

Russel Jones, President of the new WFEO standing Committee on Capacity Building , presented his perspective on “ Capacity Building in Developing Countries for Economic Development”. He cited statements by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and by UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura on the need for engineering, science and technology to tackle the major problems that are holding back the developing world. He then presented a preliminary list of activities proposed for the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building, and outlined several close-in opportunities that the Committee might undertake for a rapid start of its activities.


Presentations on similar activities

Mike Sanio, director of international activities at the American Society of Civil Engineers and a former officer of COMTECH, described the activities of the WFEO standing Committee on Technology over the past eight years while it was under US leadership. He noted the intense focus on sustainable development over those years, and the input of COMTECH to a series of major international meetings on behalf of the world engineering community. He also described the major contributions of individuals from around the world to this activity, and the myriad of collaborations that facilitated major progress in sustainable development over the time that the committee was hosted by AAES for WFEO.

Don Booth of the US State Department and Tony Marjoram of UNESCO described activities concerning engineering activities at UNESCO that have been stimulated by the 2003 rejoining of UNESCO by the United States. In particular, they described the “Engineering for a Better World” proposal developed by the US engineering community in collaboration with UNESCO, which is currently under consideration by that body for significant internal funding. When and if funded, EBW would provide a complementary approach to the WFEO Capacity Building effort  

John Boright of the US National Research Council presented a summary of a recent major report on capacity building from the point of view of national academies of science: “Inventing a Better Future”. The report, released in January 2004, was prepared by the InterAcademy Council – a coalition of 15 national academies. The report consists of several chapters of analysis: 1) the urgency to promote worldwide science and technology capacity; 2) science, technology and society; 3) expanding human resources; 4) creating world-class research institutions; 5) engaging the public and private sectors; 6) targeted funding of research and training efforts; and 7) from ideas to impacts; coalitions for effective action. It concludes with agendas for major actors in building science and technology capacity. 

John Ritchie of Canada , representing the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), presented a summary of that organization’s capacity building efforts from 1999 to the present. He described FIDIC efforts to build capacity at three levels: the country environment, industry structure and organization, and individual firm capacity. He described the activities of the Task Force on Capacity Building , including its development of policy papers, a benchmarking survey, a national capacity index, and a guide to practice/training manual. 


Needs of developing countries

Ato Wright, committee member from Ghana , led a discussion on the needs of developing countries as seen by representatives to the committee from those countries. He observed that the quest for a better quality of life is a universal need, and identified two basic needs that engineers can help to address – the reduction of poverty, and the reduction of ignorance. Challenges facing engineers in developing countries include recognition, economic governance, coordination of development plans, data and records, standardization, and regulation and procurement. Wright observed that poverty is most prevalent in rural areas, and particularly among women. 

Monique Frize of Canada listed several needs from the perspective of women in developing countries: their need for literacy, problems related to early marriages, the need to share household tasks, and the need for scholarships for formal study. Rachid Bouchaala from Tunisia noted that needs are different in different developing countries – for example, in his country top needs are alternate energy and water. It was also observed that a spectrum of technical people is needed in developing countries – engineers, technicians, technologists, and craftsmen. The brain drain issue was noted, and it was also noted that developing countries need to build capacity in government decision makers so that they can deal effectively with technical issues.  The committee member from Brazil presented a detailed analysis of the needs of Latin American countries, noting that the current world economy is characterized by an increasing importance of economic value added by knowledge and innovation. He stated that Latin American industry lacks elements of innovation, and that universities there have little connection to industry. He proposed that the committee pursue an “Engineer of the Americas ” concept as one of its activities, assisting in the development of local technical workforces with a high level of competency which can lead to industrial development which provides economic and social development.


Panel on various constituencies

Andy Reynolds of the US State Department chaired a panel on what various types of organizations can bring to the development of technical capacity in developing countries. Tom Price of AAES described what professional and technical societies have to offer – publications, standards, continuing education, conferences, etc. Bill Kelly of the Catholic University of America covered contributions than can be made by engineering education and accreditation groups – best practices, quality assurance, expert consultants, etc. Bill Salmon of the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS) described the focus of the international consortium of academies that advises governments on technical issues, promotes public understanding of technical issues, and works to contribute to the strengthening of engineering and technological activities in order to promote sustainable economic growth and social welfare throughout the world. Andy Reynolds completed the discussion by citing the role of government agencies in shaping public policy and programs in technology, citing the role of his own organization in providing background information and advice to the US Secretary of State in complex international decision making in areas that involve technology.


Banquet speaker 

The committee and its expert guests spent informal time together at an opening reception, over group breakfast and lunch sessions, and at a banquet during the evening between the two main days of the conference. The featured speaker at the banquet was George H. Atkinson, Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State. Atkinson noted the technical complexity of many of the issues currently facing diplomats on the international scene – such as global warming and nuclear weapon monitoring – and described the role of advisors such as he in that international diplomatic process. He also described his efforts at recruiting expert “fellows” to work alongside diplomatic officers at many levels and locations throughout the US State Department to provide technical expertise when and where needed.


Plenary speaker  

The second day of the planning conference was opened with a major presentation by Joseph Bordogna, Deputy Director of the US National Science Foundation. He noted the priorities of the NSF people, ideas and tools ─ and cited the agency’s vision – to enable the nation’s future through discovery, learning and innovation. Bordogna listed several activities that engineers can do well: green design, interchange of cultures, synthesis of knowledge, integration across boundaries, creation of new knowledge, and development of new products, systems and services. He suggested two fundamental features for technical capacity building: broad gauged education for graduates who will work across disciplinary boundaries, and systems that facilitate learning capabilities from one another. He suggested that the criteria used by the US NSF to select projects to support may be applicable to other countries as well: add to intellectual capital, integrate research and education, and promote partnerships. Bordogna also noted that developing countries have an advantage in not having entrenched institutions that may hinder progress.


Panel on funding sources

Hank Hatch, chair of the AAES International Activities Committee, served as moderator for a panel of experts discussing possible funding sources for the capacity building efforts of WFEO and related efforts in developing countries.

Marta Cehelsky of the InterAmerican Development Bank described how development banks make loans and grants to developing countries to promote social development and the alleviation of poverty. She noted that the IADB has made loans in response to the requests of borrowing countries in areas including agriculture, science and technology, and higher education. Current emphasis of the IADB is on innovation systems, technology, private sector development, information technologies, and equity.

Eugene Scanlon, president of a consulting firm specializing in fund raising for nonprofit organizations, presented information on approaching charitable foundations. He noted that there are some 70,000 private and public foundations in the United States , with each having its own priorities, guidelines, and application processes. He outlined several steps that are necessary in seeking funds from foundations: know your own organization well, research appropriate possible funding sources, approach the foundation informally, write the proposal, engage in follow-up efforts, and do a post-decision analysis.

Kerri-Ann Jones, head of the US National Science Foundation international program, described programs of that agency for support of international research and education activities. Since the US NSF is a domestic agency, its primary focus in international activities is aimed at US researchers and educators – promoting research excellence to global standards, and preparing the next generation of researchers with international experience. NSF often supports the US half of international engineering and science projects. It currently has a limited role in capacity building internationally, providing support for activities such as sending US researchers to work in institutions in developing countries. But a recent report from the National Science Board has suggested that NSF should have a larger role in international development activities.

Rosalyn Hobson, AAAS Fellow at the US Agency for International Development, provided the final perspective on the panel – that of government agencies. She noted that AID funding provided to developing countries was typically directed at economic growth, disaster relief, or specific needs such as energy, agriculture or education – depending on the needs of each recipient country. Foreign aid agencies such as US AID often partner with other funding sources to develop cooperative programs. In discussion following the formal presentations, it was observed that the WFEO CCB can help steer the large funders of projects in developing countries to include components of capacity building in each project.


Breakout sessions  

Each committee member and consulting expert was assigned to one of four breakout tracks, which met for several hours over the two day conference to discuss possible thrusts of the WFEO capacity building effort in detail. Tracks and their leaders were:

  1. Engineering education, accreditation (Bill Kelly, Catholic University , Chair; Luiz Scavarda < Brazil >, Reporter)
  2. Professional and technical societies, engineers without borders (Larry Roth, ASCE, Chair; Xila Liu < China >, Reporter)
  3. Distance learning and other technologies; pipeline and diversity issues (Bethany Oberst, James Madison University , Chair; James Moody < Australia >, Reporter)
  4. Information resources, clearing house (Francoise Come, WFEO, Chair; David Botha < South Africa >, Reporter)

Group 1 discussed strengthening engineering education, both initial and life-long learning, in developing countries; making available best practices in curriculum reform and engineering practice; and promulgating quality assurance standards and accreditation for engineering throughout the world. It also addressed the need for worldwide recognition of the “engineer”: minimum requirements (e.g. Washington Accord); defining requirements for each specific locale or region; body of knowledge for engineers; and body of knowledge for other members of the technical workforce. Members of the group described programs that may be appropriate for WFEO CCB to pursue: teaching entrepreneurship to engineering students, development of regional educational enhancement and quality assurance programs, and transfer of knowledge across national borders through international alliances.

Group 2 discussed the role of technical and professional societies in capacity building, including such factors as: assisting in the establishment of technical organizations in developing countries; helping in the establishment of quality requirements for education and licensed practice; assisting in the establishment of codes and standards for engineering practice; and facilitation of mechanisms for the exchange of knowledge, such as publications and continuing education. The group reviewed the activities of FIDIC in transferring knowledge to consulting engineers in developing countries. It also examined the “engineers without borders” organizations currently sending professional engineers and engineering students into developing countries to work on needed technical projects, and to leave behind local capacity for undertaking future projects.

Group 3 chose to substantially expand its charge, and deal with technical capacity building at a fundamental and broad level. It defined capacity building as involving individual people, communities (business, local governments, community groups, …) and institutions (national governments, rights and laws, innovation systems, …). It noted that capacity building required simultaneous individual, community and institutional development in order to create sustainable economic, social and environmental development. It addressed issues such as learning systems, appropriate technologies, development of community infrastructure and maintenance capabilities, access to education and advancement for women and youth, and science and engineering policy in developing countries.

Group 4 discussed the types of information that the engineering profession and industry need to have access to, the types of information that the decision makers in communities that engineers serve need, and the possible role of WFEO CCB in making that information available – as a “connecting house”. Important types of information that should be readily available include: funding opportunities for infrastructure development, capacity building, and education; academic institutions and networks interested in international collaborations and development activities; continuing education opportunities; research facilities and research results; technical specialty groups interested in international development; best practice information, codes and standards, technical data bases; and availability of information via the Internet and other IT sources.

These reports from breakout groups provided the basis for the final session of the conference, preparation of a work plan for the WFEO Committee on Capacity Building .