The SUN CSN Secretariat, along with our West and Central African nutrition champions, Action Contre La Faim, and representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have been working hard over the past few months to make sure that our West and Central Africa regional workshop is a resounding success. We are currently in Abidjan facilitating a three-day workshop with representatives from 19 countries including Nigeria, Sierra Leone Senegal, Mali, Benin and Burkino Faso. A huge number of SUN delegates are in attendance and over the past few days, we have had some fantastic sessions on MEAL, nutrition advocacy and preparing for N4G.
It has been a huge learning curve for me, and it hasn’t helped my already over-saturated brain that the meetings have been in French. I find if I concentrate really hard, I can just about understand what people are saying. But as the laughter which followed my introductory sentence showed, my speaking leaves something to be desired. However, after two days of meetings and presentations, countless questions and a permanently bemused expression, there are a few things which have finally begun to sink in.
1. PEOPLE REALLY CARE ABOUT THIS WORK
And they should! If there is one thing which I will take away from this workshop, it is that everyone is working incredibly hard. From championing women in leadership roles in Sierra Leone to creating a proposed plan for universal health coverage in Mali, nutrition work at the national and sub-national level is happening all across West and Central Africa. Every representative we have heard from is fiercely passionate about the projects they are working on and are amazingly close to the work, all the way from community-level projects to encouraging heads of state to become nutrition champions.
2. CIVIL SOCIETY HAS A REALLY IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY
All of the representatives here work for Civil Society organisations but work closely alongside parliamentarians and donors to draw up and push for both nutrition-specific and sensitive plans. In areas where nutrition is sidelined, civil society organisations put pressure on policymakers to implement nutrition plans and their role cannot be underestimated.
3. DATA AND ACCOUNTABILITY ARE INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT
It seems obvious right? If you want to prove or measure the success of a project you should be able to quantify it. But as nutrition champions push for nutrition to play more of a role in government development plans, the role of monitoring and evaluating becomes ever more important. Using scorecards in some instances has been seen to improve the case for nutrition when put in front of ministers and leaders. Equally, with an increase in available data, we will be able to better demonstrate the extent of the problem in many countries.
4. BUDGET ANALYSIS IS ACTUALLY REALLY INTERESTING!
Now I’m not an economist (I know that will come as a shock to many of you). But being able to analyse a government budget and confirm which parts of the plan have been implemented is crucial when dealing with government nutrition plans. The process itself seems to involve a deep dive into government ministries development plans and, despite a lot of adding up, can also be a real insight into political decisions and changes.
Overall, it’s been very exciting to see nutrition champions from all over the region of West and Central Africa coming together to share ideas and agree on actions for the future of nutrition in the region and it has certainly encouraged me to practice my French.