Save the Mothers bids Jess Huston farewell

Cultivating leaders for development and aid

Jess Huston (pictured above in the striped shirt at her “Farewell” party with colleagues from Save the Mothers) worked as a program intern with Save the Mothers in Uganda during the 2016/17 academic year. In this blog post, she reflects on the value of cultivating and equipping leaders as a means of doing development and aid.

One of my favourite things about working in the Save the Mothers program intern role was the opportunities I had to interact with people who are passionate about the program. From prospective and current students, alumni and profs, I was surrounded by people who actively work to save mothers and babies in their communities.

When we didn’t have module classes going on in Mukono, Uganda, I had time to connect with some of these folks in their fields. Last month, as I was wrapping up my time with Save the Mothers, I was able to visit Dr. Obed Kabanda, alumnus (and now professor) of the Masters of Public Health Leadership program, and founder-director of ACODEV, an international organization that works with Action for Community Development.

According to Dr. Obed, traditional ways of doing development and aid need to change. The model of simply delivering resources to locations in need does not, and has not worked, especially not long-term. So what is the other option? Dr. Obed has one word to answer this: leadership. Where strong leadership exists, other crippling issues in development become almost irrelevant.

In the health care sector for example, a lack of leadership plays out in the structuring of networks within and surrounding healthcare facilities, and then in the quality of care delivered. When communication, planning, job descriptions and follow-up are clear and in place, resources become easier to acquire and manage.

Leadership is not something that is ignored in these areas, but it is often something that is pushed on to another person or role; inexperienced nurses or midwives can say a given task is the administrator or in-charge’s responsibility, instead of recognizing that they have the capacity and knowledge to be a leader as well. Such empowerment of leaders within teams can be transformative to entire systems of care.

Roles must be clearly defined and create accountability; there must be a responsibility for each member of the team. Engaging members throughout the community also creates a societal responsibility; this is the model too of the Masters of Public Health Leadership—engaging professionals from all sectors to becoming advocates within their communities and spheres of influence.

When we focus on leadership and training in systems and advocacy, the skills remain. When new people enter the workplace or change roles, they are trained, adding to the team instead of starting over. The training and empowerment of leaders continues and stays with those previously trained. When these leaders in turn move on to new posts or positions, they take their training with them, incorporating it into new roles and teams.

This type of intervention continues to grow—training encourages further training, and leadership begets leaders. Investing in projects that focus on empowering leaders to mobilize and seek resources from their networks and communities makes their projects become less reliant on donor or government aid, and therefore more consistent. Through programs like ACODEV and Save the Mothers’ own Master of Public Health Leadership, we see this change in development making a change itself.

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