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Developing leaders in Africa: new programme with health NGOs

IHLDP participants in Nairobi

12 December 2014

Health care professionals across central Africa gathered in Nairobi recently for the first part of a new programme devised by LUMS to build leadership capability within the region.

The International Health Leadership Development Programme (IHLDP) has been commissioned by the Kenya Red Cross and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to strengthen the leadership skills of experienced managers working on a range of health care and relief projects, both within their own organisations and in affiliated organisations.

The programme follows a very similar model to the International Management Programme (IMPM) to which the Kenya Red Cross and the Alliance have sent senior teams, but the IHLDP is specifically tailored to sharing expertise and experience across the health care sector.

“The Alliance wanted to provide an innovative and relevant leadership programme to support the management and leadership practice of senior managers within our linking organisations,” says Shaun Mellors, Associate Director: Africa at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. “The IHLDP provides the platform for this to happen, and by understanding the realities in which managers are working it enables managers to become more reflective and aware of their own management practice and how this can be improved.”

The 22 managers on the first cohort are in roles which range from operational responsibility for community health across one of the world’s largest refugee camps to more strategic roles such as MD of an in-country organisation delivering AIDS-related services. Some are leading teams of more than 200 while others manage smaller specialist teams.

Taking stock

“The competence they have in terms of their chosen skill area is probably world-leading but almost all our participants say they have never had any formal management or leadership development,” says Neil Ralph of the Lancaster Executive Education, who is currently designing the second module of the programme. “So this is the first time they have actually been able to take stock of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and whether there are more effective ways to do it.”

Getting participants to engage in critical reflection and to learn from one another’s experiences is a key part of the process he explains:

“The way that we work with them is to introduce a model, theory or case study as a stimulus for dialogue within the group, enabling them to start reflecting on their own practice in the light of this wider knowledge base. It’s very much about learning, rather than teaching – we don’t go in as experts to deliver solutions, it’s about engaging as a learning community and encouraging the participants to identify alternative ways that would work for them, in their particular context.”

The impact on participants is already making itself felt. Dr Madiarra Offia Coulibaly, Executive Director of Alliance Côte d’Ivoire, said she felt the first session had helped to improve her leadership and given her a new understanding of her role within the organisation:

“To become a great leader you need to work on key points: on yourself as a leader, on the process and tools, the outcomes, the followers, the role and responsibilities of the staff, and the culture of the organisation. In all these areas, the programme gives you the skills and tools to address your own challenges and those of the organisation.

“The content is centered around encouraging the learner to embrace growth, and the skills learnt can be applied to other areas of one’s life,” added Brenda Jhuthi, a Community Health Co-ordinator for the Kenya Red Cross. “For me, the journey of growth has begun, and I am very excited about it.”

Strategic focus

The next module, which takes place in January, will focus on strategy, delivering organisational change, and understanding organisational governance.

“Part of the aim will be to encourage participants to discuss how high-level strategy is translated into operational practice and what tensions there are between their perceptions of what needs to be done on the ground and the strategic direction that the organisation is perhaps trying to shift to,” says Neil Ralph. This is particularly pertinent for the AIDS Alliance, he adds, which is currently making an important strategic transition from a purely charitable organisation to one that is more commercially driven in terms of its funding base.

As with the first module, IHLDP participants will also be visiting local health projects to observe practice on the ground and hearing from prominent guest speakers from within the sector who can provide an overview of how the sector is developing at the strategic level. Other key elements of the programme include a leadership exchange, during which the visitor not only observes and feeds back on the host’s leadership style but also helps to set up action learning groups within the organisation.

The final part of the programme – which again helps to ensure that learning is applied to practical, ongoing development back in the work environment – is an ‘impact project’ which participants scope out and initiate within their organisation, with the aim of bringing about some significant change.

To find out more about the IHLDP contact Neil Ralph at the Lancaster Executive Education