2011 May blog

Reggie Annan

Each month I start my column with a photo because there is so much beauty in Africa. Here is a picture taken on one of the islands off Mozambique.

The African Nutrition Leadership Programme 2011

Our testimonies

This month, I focus on the African Nutrition Leadership Programme (ANLP) whose ninth annual training of African leaders ended in March 2011. ANLP is for young and also older nutritionists and related scientists in Africa who want to provide leadership to improve health and well-being. It is an intensive leadership development and networking seminar. Emphasis is placed on understanding the qualities and skills of leaders, team building, communication and nutrition information in a broader context, and to understanding the role of nutrition science in the world around us.

Many people apply to attend the annual programme, which trains about 30 participants from the whole of Africa. I attended the ANLP as a participant in 2009 and as a junior member of the faculty in the 2010 series. I wrote about my own experiences a year ago in my column. But how do other participants see the ANLP? What are participants' expectations? And are these met after attending the training?

Here below are the participants at the 2011 ANLP programme. Starting from 2002, nine series of ANLP have been held and more than 200 nutritionists and related professionals in Africa have gone through the training. The 2011 series was held between 15 and 25 March in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Here I present experiences of some of the participants of the 2011 ANLP, in their own words.

ANLP experiences: Alex

My new vision

My name is Alex Mokori. I am a nutritionist with an MSc. Currently I work with the regional centre for quality of health care, food and nutrition technical assistance-2 (FANTA) project in Kampala, Uganda. I am involved in strengthening maternal and child nutrition in Uganda, through nutrition advocacy and public nutrition education, and creating nutrition and agriculture linkages in Uganda. I am also involved in formative research for designing behaviour change communication for improved maternal and child nutrition.

I attended ANLP because I wanted skills to provide leadership to existing and upcoming nutrition interventions in Uganda. I needed to be supported to mentor younger nutritionists in the country. I wanted knowledge and skills to work more effectively with colleague nutritionists and other professionals.My expectations were to gain negotiation skills, to be better equipped to work with 'difficult' leaders in Uganda, and to get support on how to incorporate leadership in the nutrition internship programme implemented in Uganda by FANTA, an international non-governmental organisation.

I really enjoyed the aspect of ANLP that is like learning through fun. Also, we had very open-minded and supportive facilitators and organisers who made us felt at ease with ourselves and with all the team members. It was 'One family with great diversity'. I also most liked team building activities and networking.

I discovered a lot about myself and my personality traits and values. I learned from Rule # 6, which is not to take myself too seriously. Also from the Ubuntu principle, which is that I cannot accomplish much on my own, and so there is the need to work in a team, appreciating the diversity of others around and accommodating others for a common cause, coming out of my comfort zone, leading from where I stand, and many other lessons.

Attending the ANLP has changed how I think, perceive and understand nutrition leadership. I now see it is about envisioning the world without malnutrition, and dedicating myself and working with colleagues concertedly to achieve this vision. It is like helping others to see the future and guiding them to get there together as a team. I am convinced good nutrition leadership is needed to overcome the challenges in realising optimum nutrition and health in any corner of the world.

Now I am inspired and determined to start a nutrition leadership programme in Uganda. I will continue mentoring the younger nutritionists around me; every young nutritionist can be trained for to teach others. Above all I think I have been equipped to become a nutrition champion for Uganda.

ANLP experiences: Anne

The great depth of experience

My name is Anne Mburu-de Wagt. I am pictured above on the far right with other ANLP colleagues, who are, from the left, Peninah, Martha and Francis, all from Kenya. I am married and I am the mum of two boys. I also come from Kenya and currently am based in Windhoek, Namibia, where we moved last July. I work as a freelance nutritionist consultant with experience ranging from academia, the UN system, and civil society organisations. I am able to pursue two of my passions, nutrition and travel, having lived and worked around the world. I look forward to more adventures that this nomad life of mine has to offer.

I attended the ANLP because I wanted to strengthen my existing professional skill set towards understanding my own leadership style, to refine my team spirit and interpersonal skills, to improve my negotiation and communication skills, and to broaden my perspective through the experiences of fellow course participants.

How did the course go? The one-word answer is wow. ANLP is unlike traditional courses. Participants were part of the day to day running of the programme. This fostered a sense of responsibility and accountability. Generally, the team building activities on the first few days made me, and I am sure other participants too, realise that only full engagement in the course and interaction with everybody, would ensure my own success and that of my colleagues. The course was structured in such a way that we always had opportunities to put what we learned into practice. At the end of each day the programme gave participants time to reflect and ponder on aspects learned and their application in their own lives. I had many aha moments and more have followed since re-joining the 'real world'. I enjoyed the variety of facilitators and styles of the learning experience. The down to earth organising team were awesome.

I have realised that the best leaders are normally the least visible. Also that my gut and heart have as much if not more to offer in my decision making as my head does. I now appreciate the need to improve all aspects of my life and to get into the habit of practice→ reflect-→ change (where need be) and → improve and start again. I am still learning to practice the art of striving for the balance in knowing when to 'slow down and when to run fast'. Like 'the man in the mirror', change starts with me. I need to stop doubting myself. Like Habakkuk in the bible, my spiritual strength is vital to my professional, physical, emotional and psychological strength and capacity.

Like a hen warms, turns and hatches its eggs, ANLP is the incubator for skill sets in leadership, equipping participants with an increased sense of self awareness, capacity and opportunities for networking and opportunities and insights on how to overcome challenges facing African nutritionists in Africa and further afield. These skills are usually not cultivated during the nutritionists' training at university and by the time they enter the world of work. Some work situations may actually stifle or impede the development of these skills.

The future is bright. Through this training, inter-African collaboration on all fronts of nutrition becomes more concrete yet dynamic, as we increasingly appreciate the great depth of knowledge and skills that exist on the continent. This kind of awareness fosters openness, confidence and willingness for us as Africans to work together and in a sense become African nutritionists without Borders. The participants become stronger and more confident. The sponsors gain a greater human resource base. This makes for a more highly skilled and better informed work force, which means more children protected from malnutrition.

ANLP experiences: Ali Jafri

Making a difference in our world

My name is Ali and I'm from Morocco. The first time I heard about the ANLP was back in 2007, from a former participant, who after attending the ANLP organised another nutrition leadership programme in Morocco. I enjoyed participating in that programme and thought the original one must even be better. So I decided to take part in the ANLP 2011.

The course was very dynamic. There was a lot to do. I liked the way we did team building. It helped in creating trust between teammates and real bonds between delegates. The three main things I learned most, I think, were team work, becoming a better listener, and being able to communicate effectively.

Before attending the ANLP I was going to give up on a community project I had started in Morocco. But during the social responsibility session, I became convinced to keep working on that project because I have a responsibility to the people I serve. Through the other sessions, I understood that in order to succeed in that project I should share my vision with others, so that others will know what I am trying to achieve and be able to support my efforts. I have started doing that right after I came back home in Morocco.

Since my return, I have written a report to my department about my participation at the programme. The message I shared in my conclusion, was that I believe that all of the ANLP delegates left with the conviction that they can improve their environment, community and even their country. The exchange of expertise throughout the programme and knowledge and skills accumulated during those ten days allowed me to see the problems I face from other points of view, more objectively and clearly. I have become more passionate, knowing that I have all that it takes to make a difference, and that I am supported, and not alone.

ANLP experiences: Laureta

It's problems I attack now

My name is Laureta Lucas and I work as a nutrition officer at the Muhimbili national hospital in Tanzania. When I applied for ANLP I knew that I was going to gain new skills to improve my daily activities. I expected lectures, and the chance to expand my network then come back home just like from other programmes I have attended in the past.

But ANLP is not lectures. From the arrival day the organisation was unique. Our expectations were discussed and everything was in order. There was a lot of fun between each activity, which made the organisers and the participants active all the time. The aspect I liked most was team building activities. They challenged me and other participants. We had to climb high poles and walk on ropes being supported by team members. Climbing the ropes (above) was not fun! But it instilled trust in me and has given me energy to carry on with my objectives without fear.

Through the ANLP I have expanded my network with participants from different parts of Africa dealing with nutrition in its different aspects. I have learnt serious life issues to help me professionally. In my social life I have become more responsible for my actions and decisions, not blaming people, nor running away from who I am. I am no longer the same. I don't attack people now but I attack problems as they come.

ANLP experiences: Martha

What being a scientist means

My name is Martha Kaeni Mwangome. I am Kenyan, currently a PhD student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

I was introduced to ANLP by a long time friend and mentor who had been a participant in 2006. Just from the website I sensed the uniqueness of the programme. I was quite sure it was not just one of those ordinary workshops and I was already intrigued and interested. So I applied and crossed my figures to get through the selection committee.

My reasons for wanting to participate in ANLP training are rooted in my career goal. I am training to be a scientist and the goal of any scientist is to maintain and lead a research group. I realised early in my PhD training that a lot of emphasis is put towards science but little on human development and leadership. This is why for me ANLP was a timely idea.

I expected a lot of a lectures and types of workshop, although I had seen that there were some team building exercises and so I was curious about that. During the second communication, the organisers made it clear that the venue is pretty remote with no internet and few phone connections. I realised then just how serious this training was going to be. So I decided to have a very open mind and just let the training infiltrate me. I was ready to learn new things and discover whether or not I was cut out to be a leader.

Pictured above is Leon, standing third from the left, with some ANLP participants. We started the sessions with Leon and God bless him. He had a broken toe and quite often joked about it. I loved the sessions on self assessment and awareness, being self critical and letting others share their experiences of how they experience your personality and leadership style.

This I learnt is key to growing in leadership because after all leadership is about relationships. I loved the sessions on emotional intelligence and on how to resolve conflicts and dilemmas. I enjoyed reflection time very much because being a working single mother of a 4 year-old, I hardly get any time to think about myself, and this time offered me the precious gift of thinking about just me, my experiences in life and how they have shaped me. I was able to think about my vision for life, career and even whether or not I want to embrace leadership as a way of life. It was very fulfilling. I loved the fact that the training is structured such that you learn something new about you in all the activities and interactions both in the teams, committees and lecture sessions.

I have been quite involved in what I have always referred to as 'small time leadership roles'. I am in quite a number of committees most of which are on community development, such as funding school fees for the less fortunate, empowering young girls using sports for development concept, school committees to raise money, and draft school policies to name a few. There is nothing like small time leadership. To be effective leaders, we need to take all tasks with seriousness and a sense of accountability.

Now I know that leadership is a way of life that I am willing to commit to. That because of ANLP, I will be more conscious of any leadership roles I will take up in the future. I will put more seriousness, thought and will be more accountable in roles I decide to take beginning with my PhD work. (My target this year is to be a first author three times). I will make more efforts to mentor and will strategise to be mentored. I will actively collaborate in working towards a more cohesive nutrition agenda. Africa needs a revolution in leadership and ANLP is playing a big role. I ask the sponsors to consider having the course twice each year, to give more opportunities to other prospective participants. And to the sponsors: thank you.

ANLP experiences: Peninah

What being a advocate means

My name is Peninah Masebo, pictured far left in the picture above with the rest of the ANLP organising team. Having been on the ANLP in 2010 as a participant and as a junior faculty this time, I saw that this year's group presented a wide age spectrum, from the enthusiastic young man from Zimbabwe to the older Joyce Kikafunda from Uganda. They were a distribution from the young through mid to seasoned career nutritionists. The usual mix of interesting African cultures was present, with participants from fourteen African countries.

I got vast experience. Paying attention to every detail and the daily debrief meetings helped me to appreciate the role of proper planning to make things happen better. There is always learning at the ANLP. The advocacy sessions with the Putu brothers, Mphu and Thabo, were a highlight for me. The emphasis on advocacy as a daily practice that we are all involved in, made me realise that this is a vital pathway to sustainable development in communities. We need to embrace advocacy at all levels for sustainable nutrition interventions.

I got an opportunity to practice what I learned sooner than I anticipated. Upon my return to Nairobi I was immediately and abruptly asked to intervene and represent a consortium of African universities involved in disaster risk reduction, in a United Nations international strategy consultative meeting. This meeting happened only two days after my return home. My main task was to advocate for the role of Africa's higher education institutions in capacity building in disaster risk reduction. The advocacy training and practice I had just gone through at the ANLP came in so handy.

It takes a lot of motivation for the organising team to do this programme over and over again. The junior faculty is well placed between the participants and the organising team. I got to watch people become transformed. The effect of the leadership training starts right away at the Elgro river lodge, as people form and work in committees and teams, and participants are able to seize the available opportunities to practice their new skills.

ANLP Declaration and reflection

Is it working?

The climax of this year's ANLP was the crafting of its declaration which reads: We the ANLP 2011 participants do hereby passionately commit ourselves to improve food and nutrition security in Africa through networking, collaboration and advocacy, education and mentorship, evidence-based research practice, and building of a critical mass of like-minded nutrition professionals. Our actions will be guided by shared values, integrity and trust.

This is Reggie, now. Reading the testimonies above, I am filled with awe. I sense that I understand the journeys, because I was there too.

My reflection questions are these: how are past ANLP participants performing in their respective countries? Are they making any differences? Are they leading? What are the indicators for measuring leadership? Is it total eradication of malnutrition and related issues in Africa, or can we say that each participant is and has made some difference in their own small way, brightening the corner where they are and leading from where they stand?

Or, are there too many obstacles and opposition, such that after participants get to their own countries and places of work, they cannot achieve what they so desire? If this is so, how can an enabling environment be created for these young leaders so that they do better? I do not have answers to these questions. I encourage you to contribute your opinion. Next month, I will find out from past ANLP participants what they think, and how attending the ANLP has impacted on their leadership abilities in the long term.

Acknowledgement and request

You are invited please to respond, comment, disagree, as you wish. Please use the response facility below. You are free to make use of the material in this column, provided you acknowledge the Association, and me please, and cite the Association’s website.

Please cite as: Annan R. ANLP 2011. Our testimonies. [Column]. Website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, May 2011. Obtainable at www.wphna.org

The opinions expressed in all contributions to the website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association (the Association) including its journal World Nutrition, are those of their authors. They should not be taken to be the view or policy of the Association, or of any of its affiliated or associated bodies, unless this is explicitly stated.

This column is reviewed by Geoffrey Cannon. Thank you, to the ANLP 2011 participants who were so willing to share their testimonies when contacted and provided them at a very short notice. I also thank Johann Jerling and his team who organises the programme, and the sponsors for providing the means to do the programme annually.

2011 May blog: Reggie Annan

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