As governments and other donors renew their support for research scientists in less developed countries, it becomes important to consider new questions about the process of funding scientific research and scientific researchers. This paper argues that research capacity building is a development goal subject to structural constraints and cultural impediments among both donors and recipients. Using data from one specific research capacity building program, the Applied Diarrheal Disease Research Project (ADDR), we describe a set of constraints among donors, recipient institutions, and individual recipients of research grants. We then describe how ADDR supports its investigators, how it has responded to the identified constraints, and what obstacles it still faces. Research capacity building programs in health would be well-served by focusing more attention on research problem identification, and dissemination and application of research findings.