Interview with Salimata Sourgou, Burkina Faso program assistant

Salimata Sourgou comes from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. She joined FCI as an administrative assistant in our office in Ouagadougou, and since last year, she has worked as a program assistant on the Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, which brings together civil society organizations and equips them with skills to be effective advocates. We spoke with her ​​about her work as a member of the FCI Burkina Faso team.

Photo by Catherine Lalonde
Photo by Catherine Lalonde

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Discovering advocacy successes through participatory evaluation

By Catherine Lalonde and Kathleen Schaffer

Catherine Lalonde is the senior program officer for the Francophone Africa program, and Kathleen Schaffer is the senior program officer for the Anglophone Africa program.

This post is the second in a blog series on the evaluation of FCI’s multi-year advocacy project, Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society. Find the first post here.

Evaluating advocacy is far from simple. Advocacy is not straightforward, as advocates often need to readjust strategies to influence decision-makers when government leaders and policies change. So it’s often difficult to attribute a policy success to a specific advocacy effort. We are grappling with these challenges firsthand as we evaluate our advocacy project Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS).

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Reflections on evaluating advocacy

Catherine Lalonde is the senior program officer for the Francophone Africa program.

Saving the lives of women and children around the world is a team effort. It takes the voices of community and religious leaders, health professionals, concerned citizens, young people, and impassioned activists to effect change. Prioritizing women’s and children’s health requires sustained advocacy.

Yet, determining whether certain advocacy efforts are actually achieving desired results—evaluating an advocacy program—is challenging. Through the evaluation of our Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, which brings together civil society organizations and equips them with skills to be effective advocates, we are reflecting on what it means to evaluate advocacy.

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Tracing the money: A new tool to impact the budget process

Kathleen Schaffer is senior program officer for Anglophone Africa at Family Care International.

A dilapidated clinic, falling tiles, a never-ending leak. Barren and disorganized medicine shelves. An overcrowded maternity ward with desperate, soon-to-be mothers crying out for help. One nurse scrambling to meet the needs of the many patients who have come through the doors. When clients lament the clinic’s disrepair, or doctors request more supplies and personnel, they’re met with the same hopeless reply: “There’s no money.”

Through Family Care International’s (FCI) Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project in Kenya, international, national and grassroots organizations as part of the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (RMNCH) Alliance are demanding better facilities, adequate and respectful maternity care, and especially, more health personnel. Kenya has only 11.8 health workers per 10,000 people–more than 40% fewer health workers than the World Health Organization’s minimum recommendation of 22.8 health workers per 10,000 people.

Of course any effort to increase the quantity and quality of health workers will have to be paid for, and that means dealing with the budget. For many of us, budgets seem abstract and intimidating, but it’s vital to engage with them since they reflect the government’s priorities and determine where the public’s money goes.

In order to make realistic demands, we need access to information about Kenya’s budget. However, over the last few years Kenya decentralized many decision-making processes, including budgeting, to the county-level. This recent decentralization has made it difficult for us to intervene effectively during the budget process.

Kenya calendar 2

But now, civil society organizations in Kenya can engage with budget decision-makers at the right moments thanks to a new Annual Budget Cycle Calendar, developed by the MACS project.

This new easy-to-read calendar shows the key dates for the Kenyan Annual Budget Cycle at both the national and county levels, enabling citizens to participate in both the setting of priorities and in accountability processes.

It is a great resource not only for maternal health advocates but also for the broader health community and county government officials, such as those from the Health and Finance Committees. The RMNCH Alliance will distribute the calendar in counties all over the country, and we hope to see it on many office walls as a constant resource for advocacy opportunities.

Ultimately, by being able to participate in and monitor the budget process more effectively, we will ensure that the government fulfills its commitments to maternal, newborn, and child health, and that the budget reflects the needs and priorities of the community and not just politicians.

Budget accountability in the midst of the Burkina Faso revolution

By Manuela Garza

Manuela Garza is an independent consultant and is co-founder of Colectivo Meta. She is currently engaged as a consultant to FCI’s Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, on which she works to build the budget analysis skills of health-focused civil society organizations in Burkina Faso.

For the past seven years, it was my good fortune to work at a job that allowed me to work with brave and committed activists in interesting and beautiful places. As a staff member of the International Budget Partnership, I found myself in Mombasa, Kenya, where ordinary citizens conducted ‘social audits’ to claim their communities’ fair share of government financial resources; in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where 500 women and men voiced their priorities for spending of earthquake rehabilitation funds; in Beijing, where civil society groups were trained to pursue budget transparency and accountability in a context where silence rules; and in Abbra, a remote region in the Philippines, where rural villagers have advocated for and achieved truly participatory budgeting.

In recent months, FCI’s MACS initiative has been working in Burkina Faso to strengthen the capacity of civil society groups to effectively advocate for more and smarter spending of public funds to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in their communities. Last October, I was engaged, together with my Malian colleague Boubacar Bougodogo and Burkinabé budget researcher Hermann Doanio, to develop and facilitate a weeklong workshop to train grassroots advocates to understand and engage with public budgets. We arrived in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital, on a calm and warm West African evening, all of us ready with our slides on the budgeting process, our spreadsheets, our budget calculation formulas, and our case studies. Business as usual, or so we thought.

Little did we know that, in the course of that week, the citizens of Burkina Faso would overthrow the dictator who had been ruling the country for the past 27 years. Thousands of people (young people, mostly) took to the streets with a very clear message for President Blaise Campaoré: they wanted him out, for good. They were no longer willing to tolerate corruption and abuse of power, they declared: Burkina is ready for democracy.

In the midst of these historic events, you may be wondering, what did our Burkinabé colleagues, who had put this week aside for budget training, do? Was the workshop still relevant during these revolutionary days? Of course, every participant was closely watching the dramatic events taking place outside the training venue; each participant was concerned and worried about what they would mean for their families and their country. At the same time, however, they remained committed to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about a new tool that will enable them to carry out evidence-based advocacy. They stuck around, they learned, and they questioned; they talked about their country, about change, and about what these new skills could help them achieve. They discussed the potential for how things could change, including in the way that the government sets priorities and spends public money— that is, the people’s money!

Civil society plays a key role in ensuring that governments prioritize spending on women’s and children’s health.
Civil society plays a key role in ensuring that governments prioritize spending on women’s and children’s health.

Is budget accountability still relevant in a context of earthshaking change? My experience says that it is. Revolutions are tricky things: countries and their institutions can change either for better or for worse, and conditions may take a long time to stabilize. If change is managed wisely and stability returns quickly, as seems to be happening in Burkina, revolution can provide an opportunity for a fundamental shift in the balance of power—toward the people. This can vastly increase the possibility of reshaping inefficient and corrupt institutions, of fostering new structures that institutionalize transparency and accountability. In a country like Burkina Faso, accountability for public resources is an essential element of overall accountability.

In this context, investing in building the skills of civil society groups is crucial, because the significance and sustainability of positive change largely depends on a well-organized and well-prepared civil society. These are the times when advocates and grassroots organizations most need support, when citizens most need to develop new knowledge and skills in civic participation, when accountability and participation-related processes are more necessary than ever. The MACS project is doing just that, and FCI’s local partners in Burkina Faso will continue to arm themselves with new tools such as budget analysis, so that their advocacy has more impact, their voices are heard, and they can be effective forces for real, sustainable change.

Good luck to them and to Burkina Faso–a country that many people cannot even locate on a map but which has a lot to teach us when it comes to citizen power!

 

Health workers in many Kenyan clinics brave community health care alone

By Melissa Wanda

Melissa Wanda is Advocacy Program Officer for FCI Kenya. This article originally appeared on the blog for the Frontline Workers Health Coalition

In a village in rural Kenya, a woman in labor travels miles along rutted dirt roads to get to the nearest health center. She wants to give herself and her baby the greatest possible chance of surviving childbirth and returning home to begin new and healthy lives. When she arrives however, the gates are locked; the nurse has gone home.

Kenya, with only 11.8 health workers per 10,000 people (more than 40% below WHO’s recommendation of 22.8 per 10,000), is one of 57 countries — including 36 in Sub-Saharan Africa — with a critical shortage of health workers.

Many local health facilities have only one health worker, often a nurse, to provide all patient care. This puts a heavy strain on the health worker, and means that many intended 24-hour health facilities are often closed for extended periods of time. Kenya’s news media has also reported recent health worker strikes in reaction to late or non-payment of wages.

The Government of Kenya has committed to strengthening human resources for health in the public health system. Several civil society organizations (CSOs) working to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) have come together to advocate for the fulfillment of this urgently important promise. This alliance, co-led by Family Care International (FCI) and the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) under FCI’s Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, is conducting advocacy at the county level in Kenya, since counties are responsible for making many health spending decisions in Kenya’s recently decentralized administrative structure and health system.

With support from the MACS project, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW), a member of the advocacy alliance in Kenya, has surveyed community perceptions of the need for more health workers, and explored how effectively county governments have invested in addressing those needs. Working in two urban and two rural counties, DSW conducted research at various levels of the health system, including outpatient dispensaries, health centers, and hospitals. DSW found that counties are not budgeting or investing spending adequately enough to ensure that facilities have enough health workers to provide high-quality services. Although special funding has been set aside nationally to hire new health workers, counties have mainly been spending this money to pay current staff. DSW is sharing these findings with MACS and county health authorities, leading to one county already committing to hire an additional 72 nurses.

Kenyan health workers share frustrations and challenges of working at understaffed health centers.
Kenyan health workers share frustrations and challenges of working at understaffed health centers.

DSW also brought together community members and health facility staff to discuss the state of care at local health facilities. Community members complained that lack of staff meant an absence of essential services, especially at night and on weekends. Health workers expressed the frustrations of working alone, often lacking the drugs and supplies they need to treat their patients, and the low morale that comes from working under those conditions. For example, one nurse described a recent evening when she was the lone nurse caring for six women in labor!

These community meetings opened new channels of communication, fostering greater understanding and accountability between health workers and the communities they serve. This enabled health system users and health workers to join together in search of practical solutions.

Peter Ngure, DSW’s project lead, shared with me a story about one community in which participants said they prefer to come to the hospital — a long distance from their homes —in the afternoon, so they have time in the morning to travel there. In response, the hospital rearranged staff work schedules, deploying more nurses in the afternoon than morning hours. Similarly, community members learned that the hospital holds Monday afternoon staff meetings, helping to explain why appointments are often unavailable at that time, which had been a repeated source of frustration and confusion.

“This dialogue between community members and health workers helped to build much-needed goodwill during these very challenging times,” said Mr. Ngure.

FCI, DSW and the members of the civil society advocacy alliance will use these findings and experiences to hold county governments accountable for addressing the health worker shortage. When the Kenyan Ministry of Health releases its upcoming human resources for health strategy, which will provide specific guidance on exactly how many health workers should be assigned to each health facility, alliance members will work to make sure that counties follow that national policy, so that every Kenyan mother, seeking care for herself and her baby, will be greeted by open gates and a health worker with the skills and resources to ensure their survival and good health.