Training to lead nutrition change in West Africa

by Namukolo Covic, October 2019

The Transform Nutrition West Africa project teamed up with the African Nutrition Leadership Programme (ANLP) to facilitate the capacity strengthening course  “Leading Change in Nutrition”. Twenty participants from 8 countries (Benin, Mali, Togo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria and Burkina Faso) participated in the 5-day short course in Saly, Senegal and it was led by an all-African team.

Highly interactive methods used by the ANLP were adapted to develop greater self-awareness amongst participants on a number of leadership related topics including, vision, purpose, life & leadership orientation, stakeholder commitment and engagement, implementing change, managing resistance to change, leading from wherever you are, and giving and receiving constructive feedback and networking. A strong focus was placed on integrating topics and transferring learning to the workplace.

Case studies were used to generate further discussion and link leadership to the multisectoral and multistakeholder work environment at country and regional levels. Five groups worked on each of the four case studies, which integrated elements relevant to the priority areas identified during the Regional Consultation of Transform Nutrition West Africa’s inception phase. The last day of the short course included a panel discussion where the groups presented a summary of their conversation and shared insights that had emerged from their short course experiences. Insights included:

  • many countries are facing similar challenges and opportunities for countries to learn from one another’s experiences were needed. Regional organisations like WAHO could play a role here by providing opportunities for cross country learning to take place and helping to establish regional networks.
  • the realisation that leadership training was needed in countries to help improve the functionality of current multisectoral platforms. Multisectoral platforms were described as struggling due to leadership related challenges.
  • evidence of leadership capabilities should be required for all SUN focal persons and/or coordinators of the national multistakeholder coordination platforms. For those already in post, they should be supported to complete a leadership course to ensure they are equipped with the skills critical for their work.
  • success in multisectoral approaches to nutrition requires aligned stakeholder commitment, which can be only secured if there is a common vision and value system for nutrition in addition to knowledge and empowerment. A critical step towards developing a common vision is to promote and/or reinforce complementarities between the SUN activities and the CAADP agenda at national levels.
  • some participants expressed interest in using the course structure on ‘Leading Change in Nutrition’ in their countries.
  • participants from Niger and Nigeria expressed an urgent need to implement such training in their countries given the challenges currently faced.
  • advocating for including leadership in all curricula for graduate studies in food and nutrition science.

Many Ahaaaa moments (insightful moments) were shared by participants. Here are just two:

‘My Ahaaaa moment was when watching the video about the miners rescue and the Chief Operating Officer said… “I cannot do everything. I need all your competencies..” Two things caught my attention: 1- the humility of the Chief. And 2 – his inclusion of the teammates in the whole process. This is what we need for nutrition.’ Halima TOURE

‘To lead from where you stand: three things caught my attention there. 1- Always be yourself. 2- Everything you do, do it exceptionally well. 3- Accept to do what others won’t do. Therefore, even with the limited resources we have we must strive to the best we can.’ Joao Jacque SANCA MALU

Reflections on the course

Resistance to the changes we want to make will no doubt happen so what is a leader to do? “When you experience resistance to change in your team, consider the level of awareness on the need for the change you want to implement. People must see the need for change in order to embrace it. Nada Benajiba

Nutrition is complex  “It is multisectoral, multistakeholder, multilevel and multidisciplinary. Achieving nutrition goals will require transformational leaders who work across institutional boundaries fostering a common vision and facilitating stakeholder commitment, alignment and coherence at all levels Dia Sanou

What happens next?

This short course was preceded by two others held in English on Leading Change in Nutrition (Ghana, Nov 2018) and on evidence for policy and programming (Ghana, March 2019) . The next course in French on Evidence for policy and programming is scheduled to take place in the last quarter of 2020.

Transform Nutrition West Africa and the ANLP express special appreciation for the participants who shared their rich experiences from which the learning was derived and contextualized. We encourage participants to stay in touch with one another and continue their journey on personal leadership development towards leading change in nutrition in West Africa and their individual countries.  The all-African team included, Nada Benajiba, Ali Jafri, Dia Sanou, Johann Jerling, Namukolo Covic, and Daniel Simpa.