Capacity Building and Accompaniment

by Nabil Elias

Capacity building involves empowering individuals to participate in a purposeful collective effort. Accompaniment invites and supports individuals into expandable teams that humbly traverse uncharted paths of learning and serving together. Corporations and not-for-profit organizations alike can apply this process to transform the organization and its trajectory towards solving complex issues.

Capacity Building and Accompaniment – An Outline

  1. What is Capacity Building?

2. What is Accompaniment?

3. Participants in Capacity Building

a.) The individual

b.) The organization

c.) The community

4. Accompaniment as a Foundation of Capacity Building

5. How Does Capacity Building Apply in Business Organizations?


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Click on this image to read the outcome of a recent online ebbf learning session with Nabil Elias (far left in image)


1. What is Capacity Building?

The process of capacity building is critical in tapping the latent potential of the individual, the organization, and the community to cultivate sustainable, morally or spiritually grounded social and economic development.  Capacity building is a dynamic process that is more important than a defined outcome as the process shapes the outcome. Capacity building is essential and pervasive in all human endeavors such as educating, learning, training, rearing, guiding, directing, coaching, mentoring, counseling, advising, maintaining mental and physical health, meditating, reflecting, and inspiring. Capacity building with a focus on service to humanity (i.e., to other individuals, organizations, local communities, the global community, or the environment) is purposeful. Capacity building involves empowering individuals to participate in a purposeful collective effort.

2. What is Accompaniment?

Accompaniment in music enhances, backs, and supports but does not compete with or overwhelm the instrument being accompanied.  In the context of capacity building, it takes the form of an expanding team that begins with at least two people, one more experienced than another in a specific area of action, who begin their path of service by humbly learning together.   Accompaniment refers to the voluntary act of “tapping the capacity of every human being by working side by side in a humble attitude of learning, with widening circles of informed participation, delighting in the progress and service of others” (1). “Accompaniment is leadership without leaders” (2).  Individuals accompany one another on a path of learning, consulting, serving, reflecting, and improving; it is “an accompaniment of equals, one more experienced than the other in a specific area of action, learning together.” (3)

3. Participants in Capacity Building

There are three types of participants in the process of capacity building: the individual, the organization, and the community.

a.) The individual

Individuals, from conception to the grave, pursue enhancing their capacity whether physical, mental, economic, and moral or spiritual.  Parenting, teaching, educating, rearing, and guiding are examples of capacity building.  Acquiring knowledge through education and applying this knowledge through work enhance capacity as individuals become engaged in learning, doing, discovering, reflecting, and improving – all components of human capacity building.  This process results in increasing an individual’s physical, mental, intellectual, and moral or spiritual capacity that is directed to serving and to contributing to the common good.

To be able to develop individual and collective capacity, the individual must have volition strengthened by hope and a strong sense of morality or spirituality, the willingness to make choices on a path of service, and skills and abilities the individual can bring to the task at hand.  Individual qualities and disposition conducive to capacity building include purity of heart, kindness, openness, and perseverance as the path of service may become challenging, and the ability to learn and walk on a path of service in the company of others.  The individual must adopt a posture of learning and of humility.  Detractors to avoid include:  apathy, possessiveness, competition, paternalism, and any sense of superiority.

b.) The organization

Capacity in an organization typically refers to financial, physical, human, intellectual, organizational, and social capacity.  Few acknowledge moral or spiritual capacity.  With a focus on process, consultation, and accompaniment on a path of service, this intangible capacity can unlock and expand other types of capacity.

Financial capacity refers to financial capital that provides the ability to ensure the organization’s financial resources meet its short-term and long-term financial objectives and obligations.

Physical capacity refers to the physical capital such as necessary machinery, equipment, layout, and other physical attributes that ensure the delivery of goods or services to customers or clients.

Human capacity refers to the human capital such as human resources, hiring, training, scheduling, and motivating to ensure the delivery of goods or services to customers or clients.

Intellectual capacity refers to intellectual capital such as general and specific knowledge, information technology, know how, and software development to ensure the delivery of goods or services to customers or clients.

Organizational capacity refers to the organizational aspects such as organizational structure, internal and external communication, leadership and organizational climate to ensure the delivery of goods and services to customers or clients.

Social capacity refers to the ability of the organization to work within its supply and value chains and to maintain social networks with all its stakeholders: investors, customers, suppliers, employees, and community.

Moral or spiritual capacity refers to the organization’s ability to inspire exceptional performance because of a genuine commitment to human values such as trustworthiness and fairness and its ability to create a healthy, supportive, productive, and cooperative organizational culture that excels by competing against itself.  This capacity is released through a process of collective learning, doing, reflecting, and improving using the principles of effective consultation.  The process of capacity building is more critical than a defined outcome as the process shapes the outcome by unleashing latent hidden potential.   It is this intangible moral or spiritual capital that releases capacity, tapping the latent potential of the organization to solve human problems.  The focus is on “we” and “us rather than “I” or “me”.

Capacity building in not-for-profit organizations is key to achieving their objectives or scaling the quality and quantity of their service to society.  How capacity building applies in business organizations is dealt with later in this discussion.

c.) The community

A community seeks capacity building through a process of reflection and community consultation that includes individuals and organizational representatives (for profit and not-for-profit) to outline paths of service of most value to the community.  When a community identifies its challenges, organizations and individuals can join in exploring collective paths of service that address these challenges.

4. Accompaniment as a Foundation of Capacity Building

Accompaniment in the context of service is endowed with a new meaning, as together members of an expanding team adopt postures of learning and humility, putting the learning in practice, reflecting and assessing outcomes, learning more and improving the quality or the scope of service as a result of feedback.

Accompaniment requires the participants in capacity building adopt two postures: 1) a posture of learning together as a team, where learning becomes a mode of operation, and 2) a posture of humility for the individual, where one becomes forgetful of self.   Accompaniment also requires that collectively we:

  • Develop and nurture a new culture of learning, doing, reflecting, and consulting, where the process matters as it shapes the outcomes, and the culture is expressed in the quality of interaction between team members.
  • Include more and more people on the team’s path of service in a united effort to move at their individual pace taking steps, however small, towards the construction of a morally or spiritually rich, peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable civilization.
  • Develop, understand, and refine the chosen path of service.
  • Cultivate the team’s capacity to serve, through learning, doing, reflecting, and consulting all the while encouraging and supporting team members.
  • Focus the team’s thoughts to be centered on helping one another scale the heights of service.
  • Be flexible and accept any and all steps along the path of service regardless of each individual’s pace or stride.
  • Align the team on its chosen path of service and align the team’s path of service with the positive forces of integration that are morally and spiritually grounded to expand energy and capacity; and avoid engaging with the negative forces of disintegration that are marked by greed, domination, guilt, or manipulation, which sap energies and deplete capacity.
  • Build on the fundamental concepts of cooperation and reciprocity as the foundation of a just society.
  • Delight more in the progress and services of others, and less on own personal accomplishments.
  • Avoid any thoughts of status or power.  As mentioned before, accompaniment envisions at least two friends one more experienced than the other in a specific area of action, learning together.

5. How does Capacity Building Apply in Business Organizations?

Business organizations traditionally identify profit as the raison d’etre of their activities.  Many business organizations consider that corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities impact profit negatively.  To put the choice as profit or CSR is an example of a false dichotomy.  This is not a binary choice as it is often framed.

False dichotomies are always presented in binary choices.  The framing of choices as binary almost always leads to less than optimal choices.  For example, more than three decades ago, most businesses framed the level of quality to be a function of cost, and the choice was between high-quality high-cost or low-quality low-cost.  Toyota proved this thinking to be flawed, as it was able to combine high quality with low cost.   It was traditionally thought that to invest in employee wellbeing must result in higher cost and lower profit.  Framing this choice as binary limits an organization’s ability to think outside the box.  Many corporations found that employee wellbeing and profit are not necessarily incompatible, and that investing in the wellbeing of employees may actually enhance profits.

One such false dichotomy is the binary choice between meeting the demands of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and profitability.  There is growing recognition that organizations must discharge their corporate social responsibility (CSR), though there is no agreement on what this responsibility entails.  Because of the growing concern with the image of large corporations, initial CSR activities were justified by the quality of public relations it offers.  Many large corporations have established philanthropic foundations that fund the arts, sports, education, or the environment.

The inadequacy of philanthropic giving as a CSR activity is obvious upon close examination, as illustrated by two cases.  For example, one of the large US banks supports the arts and sports on the one hand; on the other hand this bank funds off-shore oil drilling, coal mining, and fracking.  It does not insist on investing in renewable energy as it would not want to lose lucrative accounts to competitor banks. Its support of the arts and sports appeared to be an attempt at superficial “redemption” of its CSR responsibilities or at what has become known as “green wash”.  Supporting the arts and sports is not directly related to banking, but banking activities contributed to environmental degradation rather than environmental sustainability.  Another example is that of a well-known energy utility company that has a philanthropic foundation.  Instead of investing heavily in clean energy and gradually converting from fossil fuel to renewable energy resources it is leaving residues of coal ash polluting drinking water reserves at the same time it is giving generously to charity.  The level of CSR in both of these two examples is tilted toward short-term profitability.  The primary business activity, banking in the first example, and energy generation, in the second example were not socially or environmentally responsible.  CSR for both should permeate their primary business activities as a matter of corporate strategy.

The prevalent view appears to be that a binary choice exists between genuine service to humanity/the environment or profit.  Can a corporation achieve long-term profitability and at the same time be genuine in all its strategic activities?  Viewing this false dichotomy as a binary choice limits corporate ability to wrestle with real issues facing the corporation, society, and the environment.

A genuine level of service to humanity and/or the environment is exhibited by organizations that consider their interaction with their environment and stakeholders as a means of providing products and services that benefit society.  Thus, goal definition is critical in determining the why of capacity building.  Goal definition is inextricably intertwined with corporate strategy and corporate identity.

We abandon this false dichotomy and promote the idea that profitability and service to humanity/the environment are not incompatible.  Through the process of capacity building and a collective process of learning, doing, reflecting, consulting and improving the process new and creative ways can be found that contribute to societal welfare without negatively impacting profitability.

Corporations can experiment with the process of capacity building in this context as a learning process before full-scale implementation.  This process can bring fresh insights and unleash latent capacities that were unknown or unsuspected in traditionally managed organizations.  Accompaniment is the collective process that holds this promise.


(1) ebbf.org

(2) ebbf.org

(3) Ruhi Institute, Building Vibrant Communities, Book 10, Unit 1, Accompanying One Another on the Path of Service, 2015)

(4) For expansion on this topic, see Spiritual Capital Foundation website http://www.spiritual-capital.org/what-is-spiritual-capital-2/

(5) Largely based on Ruhi Institute, ibid.

(6) Alessia D’Amato, Sybil Henderson, and Sue Florence. Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Business. Center for Creative Leadership.