In a meeting recently, I was asked to answer the question, “Would you say the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health (CESH) has grown in capacity, decreased in capacity, or remained unchanged?” The question caused me to pause and ponder several other questions – how does one measure capacity-building; and, how does one measure success? It seemed that I would need to answer both of those before I could answer the simple question posed to me. A year into my role as Director of CESH, these questions prompted reflection on what has occurred with CESH since September 1, 2015.


A quick Google search on “capacity building” revealed millions of links related to the term. The National Council of Non-profits’ piece on capacity building and success resonated most with me – especially when they highlighted a definition of capacity building that extends beyond full time positions (people) and money. They made the connection between capacity building and an organization fulfilling its mission over time. Next, I Googled “success” and over a billion links popped up instantly. This time, the first definition on the page resonated – the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.


As I reflected on CESH, capacity building, and success, I tried to determine the best way to answer the person’s question. Should I give the number of publications, presentations, grants & dollars, courses taught & workshops given, films released, service activities contributed to, new people & social media connections, continued & enhanced collaborations with partners, new leadership positions, policy change, or impact of CESH’s work over the past year? All of these areas could be markers of capacity building and possibly even markers of success. Eleven pages fleshing out each of the categories led me to answer the simple question with, “Yes, CESH’s capacity has grown over the last year.” In CESH and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute we regularly talk about how to measure the outcomes and impacts of our work and in many ways, measure our “ripple effect” or reach. These reflections not only allowed me to answer the simple question posed, but also sparked more ideas for intentionally setting annual goals in the years to come. How do you define capacity building and success? – answering these questions may be the keys to growing your organization!


Carey Roth Bayer, EdD, MEd, BSN, RN, CSE is the Director of the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health in the Satcher Health Leadership Institute