My Reflections on the Policy and Advocacy Lab

What comes into your mind when you hear the term advocacy? In my case, whenever I explain my work to people, they always ask if I am now a politician. I have come to realise that most people associate advocacy with politics. Then again, everything is political. Prior to joining SIVIO Institute, I envisioned advocacy as something to do with high profile individuals sharing petitions online, activists staging demonstrations outside government buildings and media sharing their stories. In retrospect, my thinking was influenced by the fact that these are the most visible actions at policy engagement. However, this is barely a representation of everyday individuals who take part in policy advocacy on various platforms without cameras in their face.

At SIVIO Institute I am responsible for coordinating the Policy and Advocacy Lab. As someone who was coming from a Community Nutrition background, I struggled to comprehend how my experience would fit in the grand scheme of the advocacy lab. Of course, I have been involved in policy and advocacy before. My advocacy has always been “issue” specific with a particular focus on marginalised groups such as women. I have engaged different stakeholders at community level and on social media to raise awareness on issues affecting women. Even my MSc dissertation focused on maternal health service delivery for marginalised religious women. Interestingly, at this stage I barely understood that what I was doing was actually advocacy; probably just an issue of semantics. Joining SIVIO Institute improved my advocacy and I began to understand the concept behind what I was doing all along. Since joining the organisation, I have had the privilege of working with 15 advocacy practitioners from other organisations spread across the country. It has been an eye-opening experience on how we can bring citizens’ voices back into the policy making space.

So, what exactly is the Policy and Advocacy Lab?

When was the last time you were engaged on a problem that was affecting your community? The question sounds so simple but for most people the realisation is that they never participate in any policy formulation processes. In the most recent report by SIVIO Institute on Citizen’s Perceptions and Expectations carried out across Zimbabwe, 60.18% of the survey respondents indicated that they have never been involved in policy formulation process, whilst 39.82% confirmed that they have been a part of some consultation process, mostly around the performance of local government and consultations for improved service delivery[1]. It is not surprising that in Zimbabwe, there is usually a top-down approach in policy formulation, assessment and refinement. Citizens have been left out in conversations for too long. Studies have shown that policies have a better chance of success if we include the voices of the people, but this is not the case in our country, the process has mainly been expert driven and monopolised by technocrats. Economic policy reforms have not adequately created socio-economic benefits for the general population. Coupled by government failure to meet its promises, there is a high level of mistrust and discontent from citizens. The Lab’s premise is that in order for policy to be successful there is need for platforms where citizens are included and actively engaged in the policy processes.

The Policy and Advocacy Lab (PAL) is one such platform where professionals from different walks of life ranging from the humanities, biology, engineering, commerce, law and development work; who are not policy makers, but instead are involved in advocacy and interact with communities as policy advocates. The participants in the Lab are using a collaborative  creative space to try and tackle complex challenges in the formulation and implementation of government policy. We have also infused deliberative democracy practices in ensuring that the lab does not produce another cohort of top-down experts but rather collegial community leaders who recognise that communities have ideas and also assets to resolve some of their problems. The main idea is to improve advocacy actions by nurturing collaborative arrangements with communities. These collaborative spaces contribute towards jointly identifying policy problems, new research methods that engage citizens as active agents on the gaps in existing policy and provide comprehensive advocacy solutions. The interactive nature of the PAL allows individuals to connect with the communities to identify the root cause of policy problems. Often, experts hardly engage with people at grassroots level. While everyone cannot come to be a part of all policy discussions and all problems cannot be effectively addressed overnight via consultancy, it is important to think of the voices being left out.

What have we been doing?

The Advocacy Lab is an 8-stage process.

Naming the problem.

This stage includes the identification of the problem behind the problem which we call naming the problem. The naming process is very political. Usually experts would give technical names to problems that alienate others who are not steeped in the discipline of language being used.  Citizens on the other hand tend to use everyday language to name what they think is the problem. Furthermore, if the problem is inadequately named it may lead to the wrong solution or even alienating actors who would have been critical in resolving the problem. We asked participants in the lab to jointly name a problem with members of communities where they work. Given the lock-down conditions many of the lab participants leveraged technology to host town hall like meetings.

One interesting aspect of this stage is that it is an on-going process. As the lab progresses, participants always refer back to this stage and ensure they have named the problem and not the symptom of the problem.

Mapping stakeholders and gathering concerns

We aimed to develop an understanding of individuals or groups of people affected by the policy problem and the extent to which they are affected. This was an important stage because we understood the need to keep citizens at the centre. We engaged stakeholders affected by the problem through mapping of affected communities and listing concerns regarding the problem. It was at this stage that we considered the possible policy actions and potential trade-offs required. We also sought to understand the extent of the problem. Is it unique to one community (or social group)? Critical questions used include; (i)Who else is affected by the problem, (ii) is this a national problem or its only isolated to a certain region, and (iii) who has the authority to resolve the problem (local or national government)?

Learning about the history of the identified problem

In many instances, policy practitioners (advocate and even policy formulators) rarely consider the history of the problem. Together with the lab participants we developed rapid appraisals to understand the history of the problem and the different measures (including policy) that have been deployed to resolve the problem. It was also at this stage where we sought to understand the agency within communities to effectively address some of the problems.

Exploring existing measures to tackle the problem

We take cognisance of the fact that we are not dealing with a brand-new problem. Its impacts may have accentuated. Again, we went back into communities and asked the following; (i) what has been done about the problem to date, (ii) what have communities done in responses to the problem, (iii) what have been some of the lessons from the previous attempts?

Learning from others in the region,

Whilst some problems are unique and localized, the majority of the problems that we confront such as climate change, dealing with pandemics, and corruption are quite common in other countries as well. The lab participants managed to carry out research on other countries to identify what worked well and what did not.

Framing possible policy actions,

The challenge of policy advocacy goes beyond poking holes at an existing policy but instead to devote significant attention in designing well thought out coherent policy actions. These should be informed by the lessons and evidence from the preceding stages. At this stage, communities understand the name of the problem and the lab participants engaged them to start thinking about possible policy actions while also considering the advantages and disadvantages of each. These conversations have resulted in creating frameworks for addressing the problem including actions that need to be considered in dealing with the problem and identifies adverse consequences.

 Identifying the best possible methods of communicating new policy ideas problems

The work of policy advocacy has to delicately balance persuasion and confrontation where necessary. Participants in the Lab are currently on this stage and with the information collected during the first 6 stages, we are starting to plan for advocacy.

Carrying out concerted advocacy actions

We will be working alongside lab participants in rolling their ‘concerted advocacy actions’. It’s not a big bang but we are just laying the seeds for a new movement of community focused policy advocacy


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    On Complacency, Being Complicit, Courage and Confidence Part One: Complacency

    Today I embark on a four part blog series focusing on (i) Complacency, (ii) being Complicit, (iii) having Courage and (iv) Confidence. In the first part I will reflect on what it means to be complacent and the dangers associated with it.

    Complacency means a ‘feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble or controversy’. As per custom the idea for this blog came from one of those innocent conversations I had with an old friend while waiting for lunch to be served. We were discussing about what sets others apart from their peers. Is it just genius, being at the right place at the right time or something more? I know that others like Malcolm Gladwell have already dismissed the genius argument and instead convincingly suggest that there are a number of other factors that explain success at anything, such as keeping a happy marriage, running a marathon, owning a business, etc. As human beings we need a suitable ecosystem that allows us to develop/nurture our talents.  Others like me would add spiritual aspects such as faith, or let’s just call it ‘that internal fire that wakes you up early in the morning’ or the willpower to pick up the pieces and move to face the daily grind. Let’s be honest; parents, extended family and others can only do so much but the rest is up to you.

    I had the privilege of attending school with some of the most brilliant minds in Zimbabwe- people who would ace Cambridge University’s Advanced level examinations. For some of us who always looked average, it was as if these super-smart humans would go on to conquer the world. Has that been the case? Not always. So, what explains average accomplishments- I am not looking at explaining success- but am instead interested in understanding why people settle for average? The argument I made to my friend at lunch was that our challenge is to feel easily satisfied. It was just an honest and harmless response. But then I spent more time thinking about it afterwards- what does it mean?

    Let me start off by explaining that as human beings we are prone to minimize labour/effort- and that mostly explains the technological advances we have made- to reduce effort. Think about the remote control- to reduce the time you have to take standing up and changing channels, volume and other settings. Think about the microwave meals…the list goes on. But let me take this analogy further- we excel at school so that we avoid finding ourselves working in overalls, digging trenches, etc., but can instead have high paying jobs in good offices. So, after getting the good job, then what? Most of us make family decisions and here we settle- happy and content- waiting for promotion or just collecting the paycheck. In the process we neglect the initial fire/willpower that propelled us to where we are right now. In other words the proverbial ceiling is self-imposed- we have settled and become content or better still complacent about the need to continue developing the talent/skills that brought us to where we are. This leads to stagnation and, before you know it, the deal is done- you are a candidate for retrenchment. I know this could be over simplified but allow me to build my case.

    The same follows in relationships- we spend a lot of time checking in on each other in the initial days, but once you have the ring something changes, and this applies to the sisters and brothers alike. Once she/he is yours a new process of decay sets in. We do not nurture the relationship and violate all the rules of relationship building.  The new refrain is “Oh I forget, Oh I am too tired, Oh we do not have the money for that, etc…” We take each other for granted and slowly we undo what took years to establish and before you know it- you are just tolerating each other, and if you are more honest than the rest of us, you proceed to the letter D.

    At organizational level the same laws do apply- the founder(s) starts off with a big clear vision and equally abundant zeal to establish something that will serve an external purpose- to change the world (it could just be his village but still it is external).  For the record, most successful organizations (business/non-profit) have a very clear external vision first before clarifying the internal structure. Over time however there emerges a need to rein in on the entrepreneur’s energy by establishing rules, processes and systems. New language emerges ‘… organizational structures, efficiency and effectiveness, team building, sustainability etc’- these are all focused on the internal processes. Slowly the organization finds itself devoting more time to internal processes at the expense of conquering the external environment. Before you know it, the organization begins to emphasize new ways of doing things that prioritize its own survival at the expense of the challenges in the environment and in the process decay sets in, it becomes complacent about customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. For us in the non-profit sector- we become complacent about the constituencies we are meant to serve- all of a sudden, we place more emphasis on the internal ones than on the external environment.

    So what is my point? Complacency. It is a natural condition amongst human beings- we take for granted what we think we know/have conquered. Somebody put it this way ‘uptake is easy but we never plan for management/maintenance of what we have’. You can spend a long time putting together resources to buy a house, but after acquiring it rarely do you set aside resources for its maintenance. Many times we are bad at what I will call ‘repeat investing’ into the essential ingredients for success. At an individual level we tend to neglect the habits of success, hard work, discipline and that brought us to where we are- who read a book from back to back in the last 3 months (not a novel about your work), or who took a self-improvement course in the last six months? Just be honest! We have settled without realizing that there is nothing settled in the universe-everything is in motion. Instead, what you have just begun is a process of decay-if it is not giving life, it is dying-even maintenance requires effort.

    In relationships, we take each other as a given- we communicate less, we listen less- our partners become a part of the furniture that has to be managed instead of someone to share life with and continue to appreciate.  We become complacent and before we know it the fire dies and the brave ones move on to seek what they initially received from us. If you are married, when was the last time you went on a date with your partner- I am just asking?

    In organizations, the same laws do apply. We spend the first seven years building a formidable unit focused on changing what is outside of the organization- this applies for both private for profit and non-profit institutions. Many organizations that pass the 7 year mark are the ones with a clear external goal. The hurdle is the ability to renew the organization after the first 7 years to create a balance between the internal (unavoidable) bureaucracy that will have emerged and at times is disconnected from the aspirations/spirit of the founder(s) and the constantly changing external environment. The most common trap for many organizations is to look within and in the process take the external environment for granted- that’s why we hear of reduced market share, strengthening of new entrants (which are taking advantage of their 7 year entrepreneurial cycle) and obsolete products/services- due to failure to adequately understand the environment. These issues cut across sectors. Non-profits face similar challenges- we start off with a compelling vision and strategy and receive significant support (especially from funding partners), we run our course for at least 7 years and then questions begin to emerge about our sustainability and the effectiveness of our processes. The new strategies, if not adequately balanced, may devote energy towards strengthening and making the internal team happy without an adequate reading of the external environment. This partly explains why non-profit institutions, just like their for-profit counterparts have a very limited life cycle, unless they create an adequate balance between the requirement for effective processes and adequate understanding of the external environment. At times the changes have to be radical- akin to burning the house in order to rebuild it. Sadly, enough, many leaders do not have courage (see the forthcoming blog on courage) to carry out such necessary changes and instead complacently depend on past successes without an adequate appreciation of the changes that are taking place in the environment.

    Complacency therefore is a very present reality and a danger in every situation where human beings are involved. Yet, we often do not see it creeping in. It is the natural state of an average achiever and the greatest enemy to ascending into greater heights. I have seen many others overcome complacency. Successful football managers such as Jose Mourinho, Alex Fergusson and many others who have won championships worked very hard to ensure that their teams do not fall into the trap of being over confident and disrespecting the opponents. Half the time we settle when we have not really begun the journey meant for us. There are lives to be mended, organizations and new processes/way of doing things and nations to be built if only we could dare more and be destiny oriented!

    Happy Friday!

    I Still Struggle

    I have since 2009 been blessed with a job which entails a lot of travelling all over Africa and other parts of the world, but I still struggle with travel. No not about turbulence, none of that, I struggle with the idea of leaving my family behind even if it’s for a week- sound spoilt right. For years I thought I would come to a day where I am comfortable with the idea of leaving my family behind, but it hit me today that such a day would change me for the worst. Why I should be comfortable with leaving the family behind? My family is all that I have, all that I labour for and that I cling to- so how can one even entertain the idea of being comfortable with the idea of leaving loved ones behind? Alas, wretched man that I am I will have to contend with the struggle and use the struggle as a measurement yardstick of how I am still connected to that which matters the most.

    I have other struggles too and hopefully in 2015 I will be able to put these to rest or will find a way of co-existing with them. I was born at a time when Africa had almost decolonized except for my beloved Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa but still was raised to value the struggle for liberation. I have always believed that had I been born earlier I would have without a doubt joined the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe. But lately I struggle with the idea and purpose of liberation, especially when I observe what our so-called liberators are doing or have done. What was the purpose of liberation- to create a more equal and free society? Let me be clear from the beginning colonialism and apartheid were evil systems that we should not even try to justify. BUT I still struggle with how we have cheapened the idea of our own liberation and at most reduced it to slogans to an extent that others even question if it was worth it. I believe it was worth it but it’s up to the liberators to live up to the ideals of that struggle so that others can also see themselves as a part of the freedom. There is so much more to freedom.

    I was also born into a family with a history in political activism, two of my uncles fought in the liberation struggle and my father (may his soul rest in peace) was a passionate activist for workers’ rights. Intellectually I was raised by two radical leftist scholars and I basically ate everything they dished at me. I was taught to look at society through the lens of class and the world through centre-periphery relations- imperialism and also that the West (capitalist) is inherently pursuing an agenda of exploiting the periphery (underdeveloped regions of the world including Africa). I still believe that. However I struggle with the fact that these ideas surely are not sacrosanct- how can we talk of a working class in a region where more than 50% of are unemployed? How about other richer forms of identity- ethnic, religious, demography and geography? Do we the people of Africa see ourselves just as workers and employers? Secondly, whilst I continue to subscribe and utilize the centre-periphery framework of analysis I struggle with its limitations. How do we account for China and India, the behavior of our own political elites and even the emerging business class in contributing to the mess we find ourselves in? Here in Zimbabwe the centre-periphery framework (read- sanctions) although real has fallen into the trap of exhausted denialism on the part of political elites- everything that has gone wrong in our country is due to sanctions imposed on us by the West! Really. How about sheer ineptitude, lack of capacity and also pure greed. I must admit the discourse is beginning to shift to putting the blame on institutional weaknesses and abuse of office by those in senior positions of decision making. I still struggle with the extent to which we will take responsibility for our own continent and move it forward. Since slavery things just get done to us when we will do things to others?

    I struggle with the idea that free markets (read Foreign Direct Investment) are the panacea to Africa’s underdevelopment. Recently Zambia increased mining royalties to 20% and every so-called analyst raised the fear that this will dampen investment. But they do not talk about the purpose of that investment and how Zambia has benefitted or not from previous cycles of FDI. Equally I struggle with the idea of state based economic planning and intervention through public enterprises. Almost every public enterprise has issues. I think the division between the free market and state based economic planning/intervention is a false one- it creates the impression that the two cannot co-exist. My real struggle is how come we are not debating these issues any more we have made these institutional arrangements seem as if they are natural. They are man-made for heaven’s sake and for all we know they could have reached their sell by date and we need new ideas for organizing our economies!
    Now allow me to be controversial… I struggle with democracy. Please do not shut me out as yet. I struggle with the limitations we have imposed on democracy. We have erroneously reduced it to a formulaic prescription of reforming the constitution and introducing a system of regular elections. The latest invention- where there is a dispute-encourage a power sharing arrangement! That is good but that is not all. Such an approach to democracy has led to narrow institutionalism without an organic evolution of democracy from the bottom. The ‘democracy is equal to elections’ mantra has been exported to most of Africa with mixed consequences for governance, economic development and the manner in which political power is exercised within the polity. In many ways it has led to an elite based and unaccountable dynastic form of politics strengthened by clientelist relations which fuel corruption and entrench inequality.

    Democracy promises so much more than we have- we literally shape it for our own context -it’s time to flip the social and political order. The rot in our politics and economic systems does not require new laws, institutions or expectations of messianic politicians who will be duty bound to serve. No. We need active and empowered citizens with the capacity to engage those in power and speak truth to them. Only then will our politicians understand that a town-hall meeting is not for them to engage in grandiose political posturing but instead for listening and understanding the concerns of the citizens. Only and until we reclaim power for citizens will we have real democracy here in Africa and indeed in the world. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

    Well I can go on with my struggles and might even overwhelm you- there is hope though. Let me share some bright spots.

    With regards to travel- it’s inevitable- but distance makes the heart fonder and we learn not to take loved ones for granted. But we can also limit travel and take advantage of technology. For instance I intend to have more skype based meetings and even virtual participation in workshops this year rather than travelling for close to da day to make a 15min presentation!

    I also strongly believe that there is hope for Africa. The fact that we are having this discussion means that there is a core amongst us not happy with the mediocre results we are churning out in our societies. We can do better. The incessant power cuts, water shortages and craters (potholes) in our roads only serve to make us stronger. I am fully convinced that we need to change the power equation- sovereignty does not lie in the leader but in us the people- I am not calling for another Arab Spring (and also not Burkina Faso) but instead a much more coherent patient building from the bottom up of citizen based democracy. We need to build our own democratic systems within our communities where we live and in the process reinstall a sense of dignity amongst our people who have otherwise been battered by poverty and shameless dictatorship that rule and squander in the name of the people.

    So where do we start- you may ask? One thing for sure all of us are associational creatures- one of my mothers (don’t worry I am an African we call our aunties mothers as well) belongs to more than four associations serving different needs including spiritual (church), financial wellbeing (rotating savings), welfare and support in times of family bereavement. Why don’t we start here by empowering what already exists and create a new democratic movement of the people by the people. We are tired of being told what we as a people need, in 2015 we will being a process of ensuring that we tell them what we need and that those in political office take orders from us.
    Finally I remain committed to contributing, however modestly, to the debate and related processes that will lead to a better and just Africa- where we all have equal opportunities. That keeps me sane despite my other everyday struggles!

    It's Implementation Stupid- The Power to Follow Through

    I have always wondered what makes individuals and institutions successful- not once off but consistently. So like any other good student of success I have read a number of books. Others have claimed the need for a certain kind leadership styles/skills/levels, others have raised the need for emotional intelligence, others the importance of setting good goals and targets. The list goes on. I have also faithfully followed up on the suggestions with regards to having a successful marriage, a balanced life, being a success at what you do etc. Others would suggest 7 Principles of this…others will talk about the character ethic etc- well and good and I think it’s necessary. But I have always felt inadequate had to read another book immediately afterwards- because I thought maybe foolishly that the answer is based on knowing and then developing the right formula. I was so wrong.

    But last week something week- and my life and way of doing things has probably changed forever. It was during our board meeting- for those who work with non-profit boards will know how challenging boards made up of mostly volunteers can be. I was challenged at many levels, the frustrations (especially mine) were at times very audible, it was also adrenalin pumped, but there were moments when I had to dig deep into reservoirs of stamina dependent. A realization suddenly occurred to me that what matters at the end of the day after all the lofty discussions is following through the every decisions and idea and in the process making sure they are not abandoned –this is what I have decided to call ‘the power to follow through’. If I were Bill Clinton maybe I would say ‘it’s implementation-stupid’. A Christian friend of mine always says it’s about what you do on Monday- I suppose this refers to after hearing all the good preaching on Sunday.

    Before I lose some of you- let me use examples from everyday life. Today is the 2nd of March- how many still remember their resolutions. I have noticed that most of the times we are not short of good ideas or goals but our struggle is in following through. Sadly this is where most of us fail.

    The power to follow to through on ideas or decisions made is what separates those who end up successful and those who despite good intentions end up not succeeding in their different ventures. In the game of tennis one of the fundamentals of a good backhand is the ability to literally follow through. One does not just hit the ball but instead the motion of the hand should be one of guiding the ball even after hitting it- sort of directing its path. In football (a favorite for many) the most successful striker is the one who is always looking for loose balls- to follow-through. In innovation the most successful inventor- Thomas Edison made more than 1000 attempts at developing the light bulb literally learning from the previous mistake. Not giving up but learning and improvising-that is follow-through.

    One the best books I have read is Slight Edge: Turning Simple Decisions into Massive Success’ by Jeff Olson. The author suggests very simple and easy to reach steps of achieving goals-for instance if one wants to improve their literary skills- all they need to read is 10 pages of a good book each day- at the end of the year one would have read 3 650 pages which could be more than 10 books. If one wants to lose weight- don’t go for the punishing schedule- you will give up too soon instead- but focus on starting by running just one kilometer each day- until you are comfortable with day. I could go on- but I am supposing you are getting the picture it’s about disciplined consistency.

    Maybe to build another layer of thinking to this- let me make some suggestions on building great institutions.  I have come to believe that institutions are not built and sustained just on good decisions or big visions alone but through the development of disciplined capacity to follow through on ideas/suggestions in a back-hand like manner in almost all facets of the institutions. Instructions, suggestions and orders can be made and at times even written down but adequate attention to follow-through carries the day and learning from mistakes. Ideas are delicate they need to be nurtured, recorded and also follow-through. In my short stint in leadership I have come to the realization that we are not short of a vision but the ability to follow-through even on those seemingly mundane discussions we would have held over lunch, at coffee break or even in a shared ride. The slight edge idea here would be to develop a habit of recording, develop action plans, deadlines and accountability structures- sounds mundane right but just check if you doing it. It’s not rocket science that will turn around an organisation but consistency of action and unity of purpose.

    Great ideas that are not nurtured/incubated remain essentially prisoners without hope if we fail to create a vehicle to carry them forward. One of the biggest obstacles to follow through is the lack of appropriate record keeping processes or just the absence of the habit to write down things or also not caring enough about decisions. Some of us just make the mistake of assuming that they can remember everything in meetings and even in their quiet moments and never invest in jotting down. Ideas will come to those people and fly away without ever being implemented.

    Since I assumed leadership at TrustAfrica I have been insisting that every member of the team send me a  ‘3 things accomplished last week and 3 things you are doing this week’ list and this was partially based on this kind of thinking but today I realized that the 3 things is only a part of the arsenal. Our most brilliant moments tend to happen when we are so far away from the desks or even a pen and we just do not have the discipline to journal ideas, thoughts and suggestions. Somebody recently said that ‘the only thing that will carry forward TrustAfrica is the power of the idea’- I slightly disagree and instead put it this way ‘…the only thing that will take an organisation is the power of a well-executed idea’.  I honestly do not think it’s the lack of good ideas currently crippling our continent but weak execution- ‘the power of follow through’

    Many organisations including ours face two challenges; one of consistently archiving brilliant ideas and the second one on following through those good ideas. I will dwell on the latter a bit more. Organizations rise and fall based on their capacity to judiciously follow-through on the claims they make either in proposals, the values statement or broadly their strategies.  These important documents are mostly used for fundraising documents and rarely internalized to be the guiding soul of the organisation and also to establish benchmarks of accountability. The crafting of any strategy presents an opportunity of developing consensus over an idea of what is special/unique about that organisation and also what is will do. Rarely do organizations feel challenged at the stage of writing these documents- the well-resourced one bring in consultants to help going them. The real test is always about follow-through on the idea contained within the strategy. The test is not about how good an idea it is but essentially about whether we can follow-through on the commitment we have made within the strategy through our daily small steps.

    Our everyday work seemingly made up of mundane activities such as never ending meetings, reports here, and teleconference with so and so, lunch meeting etc lead to the big results. The challenge is in how we follow-through from these meetings to implement suggestions. On most occasions we tend to endure meetings and glad once its over- then we go to the ‘real work’-so sad!

    I have come to the realization that the real answer to success in anything do is in implementing the few ideas that come my way and at times I will fail but that is also a fundamental part of success. My question to everyone is how can we make follow-through a part of our everyday work? Below I have made some suggestions;

    • Keep a journal and a diary- record your own thoughts and interesting ideas from others
    • Value time- start off the week/day with a modest list of things to do and people to talk
    • Allow for disruptions but ensure you derive value from every interruption
    • Work according to your own pace- do not be overwhelmed
    • Create a follow-through chart- discussions held, decisions made and record outcomes after implementation
    • Help others and share their success
    • Keep tabs on decisions/ideas implemented
    • Celebrate successful implementation
    • In case of failure- evaluate why it failed- remember…at first you may not succeed but dust yourself and try again.

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    Falling in Love Again: Reconnecting with Purpose 1

    One of the most difficult challenges any individual confronts is doing things that they do not love. I have always felt blessed in that area… I love effortlessly. I love my wife, my daughter, my extended family in my own way- and I am comfortable with how I relate with all the people that matter in my life. It was only recently when I asked myself why I do what I do. In other words, why am I working for TrustAfrica. It started off as a minor irritation- why I do lose sleep and am growing grey hair about this institution.

    I tried the list thing- you know the one that says 10 good things and another 10 bad things and you try to rationalize- I did not go past 3 good things- that got me worried because my list of bad things was exceeding 10 and it included constantly being away from home, feeling unappreciated, always under pressure, difficult relations. I spoke to colleagues of mine who have done well at executive coaching but that also did not change much- I still found failing to pinpoint ‘…the thing that gets me fired-up in the morning’. I must also explain that at the beginning (years ago) I was so convinced that I was at the right place at the right time doing the right thing (you know serving the continent, fighting for justice and all that jazz). This was the dream job … an answer to many prayers, clarity of destiny, the blessing I have been seeking for. But you may ask- then what went wrong? So much I can tell you.

    First, I simply tried to do too much by myself. When I started, I was just so super-charged (have you seen the energizer battery commercial-yep that was me) backed up by my power-point presentation on how we can turn around the institution and also literally change the world! I still think the ideas were good but not necessarily new. Over time more pressing but unplanned for matters filled my plate. I didn’t get to do what I should have accomplished at the beginning, especially recruiting the team into the vision and that cannot be done over a power-point presentation. I have also recently learnt that I come across as smug, brash and over-confident and through that I lose supporters especially amongst peers- instead of consensus building apparently, I can actually at times cause dissension. Coming across very passionate over an issue can also be seen as a personal agenda.

    Second, life happens- and I was just not prepared for it. Within the first year of my tenure four colleagues resigned literally one after the other- creating a perfect crisis especially for those assigned with the responsibility of oversight. The resignations in themselves are symbolic and dramatic but once the dust has settled one then needs to deal with the challenges of resolving capacity gaps and lost institutional memory. The amount of time that one takes, trying to assure stability is very significant and it cuts into the planned for activities and also something happens to your own momentum-thus begins the process of disconnecting from purpose.

    Third, expectations- the world is not waiting for you to get started or sort out your own mess- you are literally jumping onto a moving vehicle-have you seen the conductors of matatus? Historical issues can re-appear, and you are bound to spend more time acquainting yourself with them given that they are new to you. Meanwhile real new issues come up, donors make their opinions about you and before you know it you have a reputation- either you are never available, or you don’t answer emails. Life. Staff expectations also shift- they remember the good old days and you are the author of the bad present for several reasons- you have just not kept the momentum, or you have tried to introduce new things too fast either way you are the fall guy.

    Fourth-your rolodex is just too thin. Networks or just friends in the right places are like gold in this space. Don’t take that for granted. Our sector is literally about who you know. Opportunities or even problems are first discussed in the informal spaces before becoming official. If you are not in these networks, you are always the last to know and the last to respond. You can actually make some wrong turns and will only be told later that you should have asked so and so. I remember a bad recruitment decision that I had done and was only told that if I had asked so and so before hiring, I would not have gone through with the hiring- the unofficial channels still matter. Also, if it was not for these, we would not have secured some of the resources we have managed to mobilize in the past year.

    Fifth I am not superman, and I was bound to get a burnout at some point-the signs were already there- but I chose to ignore them and focus on ‘the task at hand’ trying to do too many things at the same time. I will not list the number documents and papers (for journals and magazines) book chapters and of course my personal blogposts that I have written in the past twenty months- but it’s a massive tome of work. Besides these I have contributed to official documents such as our annual reports, planning for retreats, writing the strategy documents etc and of course countless power point presentations. There are also three important stakeholders that one deals with on a daily basis, (i) staff, (ii) board and (iii) donors- all of them at some point want their pound of flesh and if not carefully balanced you are in trouble. For example, last year I travelled for approximately 16 hours arrived early morning and failed to secure a hotel room because check in time is at 2:00pm but used the time to rush to attend a meeting starting at 10:00am- then the following morning flew back to base and you think I can’t get a burnout- who am I…even God ordered that on the Sabbath we should rest.

    Sixth think about others first…when I took the job, I made a terrible assumption that my family will also just migrate with me to Dakar. This is the 21st century- women are just as empowered and gone are the days when they would follow hubby everywhere he goes-besides my somewhat gender awareness-I just did not pay attention to what this would really mean for us as a family. Maybe I thought we were unique, and the distance would not affect us or it was just the excitement or maybe deep down I am just a creature of patriarchy-who knows? In 2015 I spent less than 45 days at home with family-even the strongest can crumble. Recently, I noticed that my family has developed norms of coping/forging ahead even in my presence. Very sad to realize that they can go on as normal without you.

    The idea is not to complain about what I have come across but just to illustrate the fact that having a vision and plan on their own are not enough- one has to understand that at every turn you are dealing with people, you have your own limitations (including ego) which may trip you and also life is just dynamic.  In part B I discuss how I am engaging with the issues raised above as part of a deliberate exercise of falling in love with job/what I do again.

    Management Lessons from Everyday Life

    It has been a while since I got time to make an entry into my blog. But something I noticed/picked in an everyday mundane conversation at home just fueled me to write. I overheard a conversation between our Gardener/electrician/plumber and Dalitso’s nanny who also doubles up as the chef which was essentially the stuff for boardrooms. If you thought management/leadership was only for you white collar types- sorry you are very mistaken. Let me set the scene first.

    Today is chicken slaughtering day at our home. Ever since we moved from Harare we have been regrettably unable to continue with horticulture because of water issues and also the fact that our current home is on a smaller piece of land compared to the previous one. So I thought seeing that we have an unused building let’s do chickens. We have been gradually increasing our stock, started off with 50 and now every 3 weeks we slaughter at least 60 for the market and also our own consumption. We also give away quite a bit.

    Anyways into the management question of the day. As already mentioned we moved away from horticulture to chickens because of water and land challenges- that was my decision after consulting with my very entrepreneurial wife. That decision could be equated to what happens in business strategy- diversification or just closing down shop to open another one. I am glad to say ever since that day Ba Simba (our gardener) has singlehandedly and successfully run with this enterprise as the manager, the operations person and also at times as the salesperson. Today he had to make an important management decision either to slaughter the chickens or postpone and buy chicken feed for today. A bit of a Context– municipality water ran out at exactly 8:15am (this is usual by the way) before slaughtering could begin and our 5 000l storage tank is currently sitting with less than 500liters- we have been unable to increase the volume because when the water is available it’s a mere trickle and it does not have sufficient pressure to move up into the tank.

    Dalitso’s nanny Amai Tino raised the issue that he can’t slaughter on such a day when we have no water- understandably she lives with us and is aware of the discomfort that is caused by a lack of running water in the house. To compound matters for Ba Simba he also needs hot water for plucking the feathers (everything is still being done manually here) and being a Wednesday we will not be having electricity for long (the story of Zimbabwe and may I add Africa as well) and the generator is mostly for my computer, internet and also to warm Dalitso’s food. So I was very curious as to how the discussion (or call it bargaining if you like) will end. By the way if he goes ahead with slaughtering he will also need to continuously make requests for hot water which can only be heated in the kitchen that is run by you know who.

    First some management issues:

    Scarcity- we all have to deal with resource allocation and in many instances they are scarce and there are genuine competing needs for the resource.

    Dialogue/Bargaining– we have to ensure that competing interests have sufficient room to engage and make trade-offs. Where possible allow them to, on their own, establish their own solutions

    Flexibility- we should not keep stock with tight deadlines-create flexibility where possible to allow for over consumption

    Planning– our preparations should include the unforeseen happening on the day. Create different scenarios

    After realizing Ba Simba’s frustration I went over to have a chat with him and in our discussions I discovered the following:

    (i) He has customers who will prefer to buy live chickens- I asked him why he does not offer even other customers the opportunity to buy a live chicken. I might as well add that this is a BIG Trade-off that I am are making here- we normally keep the chicken legs, head and insides for our staff to use as relish for lunch and also lately my mother has started a business of selling these in the low income areas. So this is a big trade-off for me and Ba Simba. Whilst it makes sense from a production perspective it may affect the morale of staff and not to mention my relationship with my mother.

    LESSON- Management decisions should not necessarily focus on optimizing production (read profit) but also consider the soft issues to do with morale at the work-place

    (ii) We can stagger the slaughtering-today we will prioritize customers that have emphasized that they need live chickens and only slaughter enough to ensure that we have enough feed for the remaining chickens

    LESSON- There is always another way.

    (iii) My suggestion was for him to start the day earlier tomorrow- he could come to work at 6am and take advantage of municipality water- BUT he just reminded me that he has another job as a security guard in the evening and only knocks off at 6am. He needs two hours of sleep before he can come to our place.

    LESSON- pay your staff an adequate salary that will allow them to only focus on your organization.

    (iv) Long term solutions- seeing that I couldn’t resolve the one above I quickly suggested that we look for a long term solution. I am glad that Ba Simba is already thinking of a long term solution. We should purchase (yes another expenditure) an electric pump that we can use to create sufficient pressure for water to be pumped into the tank. According to him municipality is always available from 4am until around 8am and our challenge has been that our water tank is too high and thus water is not moving into the tank. Secondly we should create capacity for him to pluck the chickens without waiting on those who oversee the kitchen- more expenditure!

     Lessons for all of us

    My initial response was lets close this venture, it’s already caused a lot of headaches and poor Ba Simba has to feed these chickens even during the weekends. Besides all I have done is pump precious bucks into this venture and am yet to see a return. But upon further reflection I have realised why it’s necessary to have this venture continue for many reasons:

    1. welcome distractionfrom my day job- that alone should suffice. It allows me to have a meaningful conversation with Ba Simba. I don’t do bars or other social events here in Chinhoyi so Ba Simba has become a friend and at least we can talk about chickens! Whenever I am having a mental block all I have to do is join him in whatever he is doing. Every decision maker needs a distraction (and fellow writers too may I add)!
    2. Management– the lessons are legion. Everyday I learn something new about chickens and people skills/management.

    2.1 In our first batch more than 15 chickens died before reaching the age of 6 weeks- I could have thrown in the towel but I have always been a believer in what Aaliyah turned into song ‘…at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again’. So everything in life, (management included and also running a venture) may not turn out the right way on the first attempt but you keep on trying. The success is in repeating so I suggest you pay the fees my friend and be prepared to repeat until you get it right.

    2.2 We (me and Ba Simba) have learnt the importance of record keeping– this may look unimportant but you will be surprised by the number of SMEs that cannot keep records. We both know that we are not yet profitable- thanks to the deep freezer ( a joke that we make that we could have kept the chickens in my wife’s kitchen instead of buying a freezer and we would be profitable by now).

    2.3 Listening skills– this has been one of the most humbling lessons I have had to learn. Initially I would bully poor Ba Simba as the know it all boss until he reminded me one day that I had made a decision on a matter before he had made his input and truth be told he is an expert in this more than I am. So now I defer to his knowledge and trust him when he makes a recommendation (although half the time I am praying that he does not recommend that we make another purchase!)

    1. Forget about 1 above for a moment- it has a lot to do with my current TrustAfrica job.

    3.1 I see our ICBE program in practice here. Our focus is on the small and medium scale entrepreneurs. The majority of those who raise chickens for a living are (micro-small business enterprises) SMEs and they have to deal with the problems of electricity and water. Many of our commissioned research has shown how reliable and affordable electricity can help stabilize the operations of SMEs. I am experiencing how electricity and water shortages can negatively affect operations.

    3.2 In setting the scene I did not mention how the supplier value chains for chickens and chicken feeds are literally controlled by not more than 3 companies in Zimbabwe whilst I suspect that in Chinhoyi and surrounding areas we have more than 5 000 small scale chicken growers- I should start a movement to ensure that input prices are low and also ensure that fellow chicken growers (the more serious ones) have improved access to markets- especially the supermarket chains- our Ag. Advocacy program.

    3.3 I am sure my colleague running the Africa Philanthropy program would be interested in the new forms of giving that we are trying to introduce. My mum receives what others either throw away or consume on their own and she sells within her neighbourhood- hopefully at a reasonable price. We still have to devise ways of empowering Ba Simba beyond his salary.

    My friends I hope you learnt something out of what I call the mundane. Go ahead and change the world for all of us.

    On Being Complicit

    Ndizvo Zviripo!

    (This is what is there…we have to accept it)

    The above words ‘…this is what is there’ or just ndizvo zviripo were used to help explain a very uncomfortable situation that we found ourselves in when we were visiting close family. The temperatures were very high, it was humid and also mosquitoes were having a feast on ‘new blood’. Our daughter was struggling, she could not sleep for more than two hours continuously, I was equally very uncomfortable and definitely the wisdom made a lot of sense…we were visiting and had to be polite to our hosts who were doing their best to make us comfortable. So, I had to live with the…ndizvo zviripo advice.

    The advice made a lot of sense at that time as a tactic to cope with difficult circumstances and as long as you are in Africa there will be many other austere moments and all you can do is to suck it up and move on- especially for fellow travellers.  However, there is a danger that this could turn out to be a more long-term posture of despair and accommodating what we can otherwise change. We can become used to mediocrity- most of the situations that we face are not natural conditions- take poverty for instance- no matter how dire it is man-made and does not need rocket science to address. Many other conditions and circumstances that we face are literally man-made (manufactured problems) we just a need a higher level of thinking to resolve them. The BIG challenge is us-we have come to a place where we do not  care anymore and have literally become so used to the mess that we do not see how we can get out of it- very sad. At the point where we resign from being active agents of change to accepting what life throws at us, we have become a part of the problem- we are complicit.

    Look around and see what you could have stood up against, but you let it be or you ranted a bit but eventually developed a coping mechanism. Let me give you an example- power cuts have become so common across Africa, even in Mzansi of all places- TIA (This is Africa)! Do you remember way back at the turn of the century when we started to feel the pinch of power cuts here in Zimbabwe- remember the blackouts and 12-hour outages- there was so much rage and all sorts of threats calling for leaders to be more accountable and the state more responsive etc…but what has happened since then. Things have become worse, it’s not only power that is in short supply even water but and here is the contradiction we seem to have accepted an abnormality. We have instead re-organized ourselves around an apparent collapse of the state- through generators, inverters and others are even contemplating getting off the power grid completely. Seems like a sure clever way of addressing what looks like a problem that is going nowhere. But in it are we not being complicit to the failure of the state to provide essential services. In areas where we were supposed to create sufficient pressure for improved services, we are letting the state off the hook.

    I could go on about how the middle class (those who have some little money) has without intending to do so become complicit in perpetuating ineffective local and national government regimes. Take water supply for instance- have you seen how the middle class has installed boreholes to an extent that we actually face a threat to underground water supplies. Those who cannot afford boreholes have supported the emergence of new water merchants- who would have thought that people could make money from selling water- privatization of public goods! How about education? Same story- there are more elite private schools registered in the post 2000 period –thanks to the collapse of the public school system. So why do we still need a government if we can take care of all these needs?

    We are not investing in making the state responsive but instead we are taking matters into our own hands- others call it agency- that is well and good. But at some point tax dollars and being in public office should mean something- accountability and effectiveness. Not all of us can afford to recreate what should be public goods on our own.

    We are complicit in the rot that we are currently going through as a nation, instead of confronting mediocrity we disengage and create our own little bubbles/islands of comfort. Very sad. It is easy to crack jokes/gossip about government’s failure and the insatiable greed of political leaders and other office holders instead of openly confronting the injustices they perpetrate- we are all complicit. Here is what James Allen in his classic book. As a Man Thinketh, written over one hundred years ago had to say:

    “It has been usual for men to think and to say, many men are slaves because one is an oppressor, let us hate the oppressor. Now, however, there is among an increasing few a tendency to reverse this judgement, and to say that one man is an oppressor because many are slaves; let us despise the slaves. The truth is that the oppressor and the slave are cooperators in ignorance, and while seeming to afflict each other, are in reality afflicting themselves”.

    So, we are all responsible- instead of blaming just one man. I will not even write about those amongst us who have entertained thoughts of joining the political bandwagon as a strategy to be part of the inner circle. I doubt if democracy can ever work without citizens engaged in a continuous process of what I call ‘humbling power’ through demands for accountability, effectiveness and justice. May I conclude by quoting Malawian Author Chiku Malunga.

    “Fear is a key obstacle to surmount. The great tragedy in Africa today is not the powerlessness of the grassroots but the silence of the enlightened and educated people who are paralyzed by fear”.

    I appreciate that many of us are afraid, and you have your reasons for being afraid but please don’t convert into praise singing of what is blatantly unjust. We have to be careful about the legacy we will pass onto those coming after us-history has a way of not creating neat divisions between the rulers and the ruled but will only talk about what happened to Zimbabwe after the turn of the century and guess what, just by the coincidence of us being alive during this period we are complicit in the ruin.

    On Age and Responsibility

    How do you tell you are getting old- white hair or just sheer forgetfulness? I have seen signs of both recently but never really took notice of their significance until a recent humbling encounter which forms the subject of this blog. I walked into an interview room of one of the most prominent embassies recently and the room was full of eager faces of all ages with a desire to secure the all-important document. The subject dear reader is not about the travel Visa but about the manner in which I was treated by one of the applicants. As I was about to take my standing position because all the seats had already been taken by the early comers- a young smartly dressed girl in her High School offered me her seat and despite my visible discomfort in taking she politely insisted and would not take NO for an answer.

    Where am I going with all this you may ask?  Well for starters it was the realisation on my part that  I am not the young man that I used be But more importantly that I belong to the generation of those responsible for making it a better world for the next generation. There is a joke that makes the rounds in my native Zimbabwe that when the Central Bank Governor offered to resign the President told him that he is welcome to do so as long as he ensures that he leaves the rate of inflation where it was before he took over office. You should understand that at the time of the joke inflation had peaked to more than 1000%. How have we become complicit in the destruction of our country (or even Africa)?  I am a nearly born free and for the past two decades I have not really taken seriously my responsibility in Zimbabwe’s (and Africa’s) reconstruction and creation of equal opportunities for all. My role has been to analyse and criticize. But to what end has that changed my country-if not worsened it? What is my role now that I am qualified to occupy a seat vacated by someone who considers herself junior to me? Should I just peddle the traditional age difference or the fact that I am male as a sine qua non of seniority? If she is obliged to surrender her seat what I am obliged to do in return?

    I have taken the liberty of talking about myself so far but I believe the issues I am raising resonate with many in my generation. I have enjoyed (literally) the fruits of independence, free education, health and to a certain extent some level of equality- although this remains contested in many ways. I have also suffered from the heavy handedness of the state- been tortured by agents of the state as a student activist and am not sure if I am really free. BUT the question lingers how have I contributed towards the betterment of Zimbabwe for the next generation?

    We recently celebrated the heroic role of the mostly unemployed youths in what is now famously called the Arab Spring. I am keen to know if the post-revolution dispensation offers better opportunities for the youth just in terms of economic emancipation. The energies and creativity of the youth have not been appropriately harnessed for the development of the continent but rather we have witnessed the abuse of this group by political elites for their own expediency? Is this why they surrender their seats for us in crowded buses, public places etc?

    Statistics (I hear you say there he goes again) indicate that Africa’s population is bulging in the middle (15-35 year olds) and this trend is bound to increase in the next 30 years. What are we to do with this mass of youth? Train the privileged and facilitate their migration into the global diaspora? Leave the rest here- to literally worship us (madhara) or to be abused by us (especially the girl child) for their next meal-hatinyare! Whether you like it or not this has been the most visible trend in terms of post-colonial countries-the elite (that oversees public resources) is very efficient at sending their kids abroad for education and in the meantime engage (or they become passive observers) in a process of organic deterioration of education institutions. It looks like everything has to grind to a halt before we see the need to restore sanity and order.

    How do we harness the anger, energy and also creativity of the youth into a potent force that can drive a more legitimate and inclusive Africa’s renaissance? OR maybe the real truth dear reader is that we are actually afraid of the ideas and hope that they carry to an extent that we are more comfortable with a tokenist approach in dealing with this age group.

    What do you think would be the verdict if our generation and the one ahead of us were to be subjected to a public trial over the failure to safeguard our resources for the next generation? I honestly believe we have a case to answer- at the least for not speaking up when we were supposed to. I know it’s easy to shift the blame kuvatongi (the rulers) but what did we do about it? I am taking responsibility for my actions, aloofness from it all and just sheer intellectualism which has not contributed towards real change. I will start off by listening to their aspirations. In many cases the complaints of the youth are that no-one bothers to listen and that may explain why they end up embarking on destructive behaviour and also hopefully contributing towards the creation of at least one decent job-just imagine the movement we would create if we all contributed towards one job at a time- a slight edge moment indeed.

    For purposes of brevity let me conclude by saying I have come off age and am working towards an awareness of my responsibilities to the so-called next generation.  If they are the ‘next’ what am I? I am the current generation that has to make it a better place for them. If we can’t improve it lets at least keep it the way it was (ensure there is something to hand over) until they can take over-maybe they will have the decency of doing a better job than us!!!