“I thought that, as a woman, I was of no use in (my) society, someone who doesn’t have anything to say before I started this program. I have learned about my strengths and weaknesses, and can now support others to become effective leaders.”
These are the words of Diane Ntabira, member of the team from FOSI (Forum Sida) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Nine other teams from Madagascar, Cote d’Ivoire, the DRC and Burkina Faso joined them in a recently concluded French language Virtual Leadership Development Program (VLDP).
Other transformations occurred, as well, including:
- People and money were mobilized to reach goals, even when there was no budget;
- Team members have learned to trust and rely on each other;
- Formal leaders have learned to listen better and impose less;
- Planning has become more systematic and better grounded in data;
- Lessons learned and useful tools have been transferred to others who were not in the program; and
- At a personal level, the learning has spilled over and improved family relationships, income, and self-confidence.
All of these changes are important results of the this VLDP that aims to equip teams working in social and behavior change communication (SBCC) with the necessary leadership, management and governance knowledge and skills to implement their activities with success. Although it is too early to tell, there is some confidence that the successful SBCC projects undertaken by the teams will continue and expand, while new challenges are embraced.
The VLDP, team-based and using an action learning approach, was the third sponsored by HC3. Each of the participating teams selected an SBCC-related challenge and set a short-term measurable result. Some of the teams had never before done such a thorough job in analyzing and planning a campaign, and then working as a team to produce the intended result. A combination of individual learning on the LeaderNet site, weekly on-site team learning sessions, learning by doing and coaching by Skype, spread out over nine months, helped teams apply the practices of leading, managing and governing, and progress toward their measurable result. Most teams achieved exactly what they set out to accomplish and those teams that didn’t moved very close to their targets. In the process, the teams learned about being systematic in their planning, understanding the root causes of obstacles, applying the practices of leading, managing and governing, listening to each other, trusting each other and holding each other accountable. The learning is far from academic, as the teams discover that the application helps them move toward their goals.
Five teams produced actual changes in public health indicators, including the number of women who use modern family planning methods and the number of drainage canals, households with kitchen gardens and clean household plots. The other five teams focused on awareness campaigns that targeted specific groups. A team in Cote d’Ivoire focused on clergy who considered HIV and AIDS to be secular matters of no relevance to their spiritual mandate. Two other Cote d’Ivoire teams focused their efforts on educating young people (in and out of school) and their parents to reduce risky behaviors (unprotected sex, alcohol, drugs, poor personal hygiene). In some cases, teams had to undertake foundational activities to support their SBCC campaigns, such as developing relationships with the private sector for funding or putting together a solid communication strategy by researching their audience.
That a virtual leadership program can bring about the transformations the teams produced would have been unthinkable two decades ago. When we first started experimenting with this methodology, there were many who doubted that personal transformation was possible via the Internet. I was one of the doubters myself, but now I am one of many champions. The VLDP allows far flung and sometimes isolated teams to access learning experiences that would never reach them otherwise. The virtual platform allows them to ‘meet’ others around the world who have similar goals and projects and inspire each other. And finally, the application of the learning to real life challenges shows once again that adding good leadership, sound management and good governance to evidence-based SBCC interventions is a winning combination.