Capacity building in biomedical research ethics review has been a European priority since the early 2000s. Prompted by the increase in data originating in internationally sponsored trials in emerging economies, a range of capacity building initiatives were put in place in the field of ethical review to ensure the protection of human subjects participating in research. Drawing on fieldwork with the Forum for Ethical Review Committees in the Asian and Western Pacific Region, I explore two distinct forms taken by capacity building within that organization to support and train members of ethics review committees. The first, with an emphasis on standards and measurability, takes as its priority international accountability for clinical trial research. The second explores how the organization goes about persuading trainees to see and do ‘ethics’ differently. This distinction between forms of capacity allows me to explore what will count as ‘success’ in research ethics capacity building.