Capacity Building (Part 1)

by Iñaki Alvarez

May 18, 2017

Recently I had the pleasure of presenting this topic to a group of engineers and people from various sectors of manufacturing. This was a new group for me, and it was good to get out of my comfort zone. It was a very different perspective, and I had as much pleasure developing the presentation as delivering it. What follows is a summary of that presentation.

Capacity Building (Part 1) Before proceeding let me first state that what we will be presenting here is not about capacity building in terms of infrastructure. This presentation is not about more highways or more factories or more stadiums. This presentation is about Capacity Building in terms of People. As we have stated many times before, at the very core, we are all in the people business. People, and the culture they create, are the most valuable assets of any organization. I did not coin that phrase, but it is absolutely true. In good times, people will take you even higher. In not so good times, people will get you to a better place. How much higher or what kind of a better place, will depend on the culture.

If we accept the above premise, then the question becomes: how do we better prepare? Taking this question several levels deeper, it becomes: how do we effectively convert knowledge to reality? This is the central theme of this presentation.

Knowledge, by itself, is not enough. We must ensure that knowledge is able to convert to reality – able to translate to the real world. Call it applied teaching. Knowledge transfer by itself (as in traditional teaching) is no longer enough. It is okay to test for whether knowledge has been effectively acquired, however the “real test” needs to be whether the knowledge is understood and this can only be ascertained if students are able to design or offer solutions, showcasing their ability to apply the knowledge. Therefore we need to be able to simulate real life in a safe environment. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

To better understand this perspective, let us provide some background. Most of my experiences to date are from the football world (i.e. delivering FIFA world cups). FIFA’s main mandate is to deliver football matches, and through these matches, promote and further develop the game. Nothing happens without the football. FIFA (currently) has 211 member associations—more than the United Nations. These member associations are subdivided into six confederations: Africa (CAF), Asia (AFC), Europe (UEFA), Oceania (OFC), South America (CONMEBOL), and North/Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF). These member associations and confederations also share the football mandate.

FIFA has a portfolio of various competitions the largest of which is the Men’s World Cup that takes place every four years. The Men’s World Cup is the main revenue generator for FIFA. It is the event that ‘pays all the bills’ and makes all further promotions and development possible.

To put the FIFA World Cup™ in perspective, to provide an order of magnitude, the last edition which took place in Brazil in 2014 cost about $10 billion USD. The next edition which will take place in Russia in 2018 will cost about double that, roughly $20 billion USD. The next edition after that, in Qatar in 2022 is estimated to cost many multiples of that amount. It is no small undertaking. Most of those costs, at least with respect to these three countries, had/have to do with infrastructure spending: stadiums, training sites, highways, mass transit, and the like.

Back to the FIFA portfolio, some of the competitions take place every four years, some every two years, and some are annual. Putting all the events together into a summary calendar gives us 24 events in every four year cycle or six events per year. Mix in all the idiosyncrasies of maintaining a large multinational social-political-economic organization and it becomes immediately clear that the mandate is no easy task.

Sorry about all the explanations, but we felt it important to put the topic of capacity building in a proper context. This contextual framework leads to a variety of dynamics, all of which should relate easily to any organization, in any industry. For example:

  • Protecting the game, protecting the sport, or more universally, protecting the product(s). This means maintaining and promoting the highest levels. In FIFA’s case, this encompasses the core mandate: ensuring that the best players and the best teams showcase the best football.
  • Related to the above, maintaining consistency from event to event, developing standards and best practices, and making sure that the ‘burger’ in one part of the world looks and tastes the same as the ‘burger’ in another (i.e., brand/image management).
  • Which then brings us to the member associations. It is imperative that regardless of which country hosts an event, that they can ensure delivering an exciting, well-run, world class event(s) through effective engagement.

It is this last dynamic – effective engagement – that brings some of the most difficult challenges, for example:

  • Languages, cultures, currencies, laws
  • Wide ranges in social, political, and economic development
  • Wide ranges/variations in business practices, including communication
  • Infrastructure development
  • Security and risk considerations

Of course, all of these challenges are further ‘compounded’ by stakeholders:

  • The teams, players, officials, performers
  • The spectators, both in the stadium and via various medias
  • Sponsors and commercial affiliates
  • Media and broadcasters including rights holders
  • VIPs and VVIPs
  • The various organizations directly or indirectly involved such as the local organizers (the host country and all its various parts and agencies), as well as FIFA (the product owner)

In order to bring it all together, imagine if you will a multilane highway with several cars, all hopefully going in the same direction. Some just got started, some halfway there, some about to arrive. Some are doing well, some maybe having engine trouble, some might be running out of gas. Some with drivers in full control. You get the idea. Not unlike most international organizations.

So what do we do? How do we approach? Clearly there are things that we have to do internally, and things that we have to do externally. In all cases, all ‘roads’ require people and capacity building.

From an internal point of view, we have to first ensure that we are set up for success. Organizationally speaking, we have to define and align ourselves within the functions and the implementations matrix. Not the easiest thing to do as the departments can be very independent. And, needless to say, this is a continuous effort.

Additionally with respect to FIFA, as the principal organization in our field, people expect us to lead, especially in terms of knowledge and innovation. Harmonizing first between the departments and then across the global landscape requires extreme clarity.

While knowing that people expect us to lead, we also know that we do not know everything. Therefore we also have to learn. And for the things that do not yet exist, we have to create them. But as mentioned earlier, all the knowledge and innovation will only be as valuable as our ability to share – our ability to convert knowledge to reality.

So what did we do at FIFA? Following are some of the highlights:

  • Created an Event Management (EM) department and then later, established a Project Management Office (PMO). All the staff of the EM department were certified through the Project Management Institute (PMI), which was a first for the organization.
  • Elevated all staff and contract personnel from event delivery to event managers/project managers, which meant enhanced training as well as an enhanced approach and perspective. Our event managers were now leading the projects - working on the events instead of working in the events – a key to successful duplication, consistency, and standardization.
  • Created an Event Management Handbook complete with templates and videos, showing largely via images how things are supposed to be done. Another first for the organization.
  • In addition to the handbook, created various other tools, mostly IT solutions, established an agile environment, allowing process optimization whenever and wherever possible.

From an external point of view, to accompany and complement the above initiatives, we also tried to elevate local organizers (the hosting associations) whenever possible. This was done primarily by establishing a Legacy Program at the forefront of all projects, with sustainability and self-reliance as the key guiding principles. Along these lines, we offered our local partners the following menu of offerings (i.e., capacity building opportunities):

  • Public relations (image building) – including media relations
  • Government relations
  • Sponsor relations
  • Finance – governance
  • Ticketing – sales and operations
  • Event delivery and management
  • IT solutions
  • Safety and security

The above topics were delivered, if not by our newly elevated event managers, then by experts from the matrix as appropriate.

It should be noted here that nothing would be possible, not internally nor externally, without first having leadership buy-in and advocacy. One of the first questions we ask when we approach a new project is ‘why?’ Why are we/you doing this? The variety of answers we get when we ask this question can be very insightful. But let us be clear, as a central tenet for successful capacity building, it all starts with leadership. Leadership sets the vision and establishes the strategy, which then defines the policies. Such policies lead to the allocation of resources, in most cases people and financial. Such resources lead to actions, actions lead to results. Results have consequences that reflect across more people (all stakeholders), the industry, and the marketplace. The results are most meaningful when they are measurable. It is not always possible but certainly helpful to create a solid set of metrics (Key Performance Indicators - KPIs). Ideally, once the metrics are established, the results are fed back into the system with innovation and continuous improvement, and the loop repeats itself.

Thank you. Please stay tuned for Part 2 in which we will go deeper into some of the more specific capacity building topics, including the Three Pillars of Event Management. Until next time.

In his most recent role, Iñaki served as Director of Operations for CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Football Federations), one of the six confederations under FIFA. In this role, Iñaki was responsible for the delivery of all the confederation events including the annual Congress, the bi-annual Gold Cup, as well as most recently the Copa America Centenario. Before joining CONCACAF, Iñaki was with FIFA for 10 years where he held the dual roles of Deputy Director for the Competitions Division and Head of Event Management. The one consistent theme going across most if not all of Iñaki’s experiences is that he has become not just a stadium expert, but also an expert in helping organizations prepare to host major events.