The PartnerGlobal Fund, Ecobank, AfID Partnership
Ecobank and Global Fund (GF) have been collaborating since 2011 on various capacity building programmes for GF grant recipients in Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Building on successes the parties have decided to expand their partnership and enter into a 3 to 5 years agreement to formalize Ecobank’s support for GF’s work in selected countries in Africa. The main objective of the partnership is to leverage private sector resources and skills in the fight against the three diseases.
Ecobank has made a significant contribution over 3 years in the form of a direct cash contribution, pro bono services, innovation capabilities, linkage through 18,000 African employees and a vast network of business partners, a strategic partnership with the Ecobank Foundation, and involvement in local and global advocacy. It has been agreed that the programme will start in Nigeria and South Sudan and possibly Senegal as well before the end of 2014.
More specifically under the partnership, Ecobank with the support of AfID will seek to strengthen the financial management capabilities national disease prevention programmes through the provision of technical assistance and capacity building expertise and services in Nigeria. Ecobank has partnered with Accounting for International Development (AfID) to deliver one to one staff trainings for selected national partners in the country.
1. Why did you choose to volunteer and why the Global Fund Project in Abuja appeal?
It has always been my long term ambition to steer my career back into the International NGO sector, having worked for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance prior to emigrating to Australia. I found myself at a suitable place in my personal and career to take some time out, make a contribution, whilst reconnecting with the INGO sector.
The Global Fund project in Nigeria appealed as it was finally an opportunity for me to set foot on African soil! I have travelled and lived in all the (habitable) continents except Africa, so that was a great pull. I also had a very good skills match for this particular project, so was particularly excited to be part of a global pilot scheme.
2. As you know this is a pilot for similar GF funded projects in other countries; do you think Nigeria was a good choice?
Yes, Nigeria was a great choice. It has a well-developed economy; well-educated and qualified finance professionals working within the NGO sector, and so is in a good position to quickly embrace quite a high level of technical upskilling in a short project such as this.
3. It is unusual for AfID to work on a project with so many active stakeholders, what challenges does this bring? How did your previous experience prepare you for these challenges?
Many issues came down to having too much information rather than too little, my general accounting and project management experience easily lent itself to a solution, through methodical analysis of GF guidelines, on the ground verification of the previous needs assessments, and communicating a final negotiated terms of reference with the NGO themselves. My experience enabled me to craft my own terms of reference out of the noise, and deliver a work plan of financial capacity training based on most relevant and up to date needs.
4. Do you feel the role of an AfID volunteer draws upon a difference set of personal than that of a typical commercial assignment?
I don’t think it is a commercial versus volunteer issue. If you have the skills to offer, there is no barrier to doing this kind of assignment. It is as much about the soft skills as it is about the accounting. You need to listen very carefully, you need to negotiate, you need to not be afraid to be assertive, and you definitely need a good sense of humour!
5. Working in a development setting can be very frustrating – how did you overcome the frustrating elements of the role?
There were two occasions where I felt that there was not sufficient “buy-in” from the recipient organisation, given we had a very short timeline in which to deliver. On both occasions I took what I felt was appropriate action by airing my concerns in writing to the relevant parties.
I believe that on both occasions it got the outcome I intended, but I also felt somewhat guilty after each event. Although my intention had been to be assertive, Nigeria is clearly culturally very different to working in UK or Australia, and so on reflection my language may have come across as more aggressive than I intended it to. So there is certainly no shortage of learning and personal development for the volunteers in this environment!
6. You worked closely with other AfID volunteering at GF partner organisations; what were the benefits of a more team based approach?
Undoubtedly there is a huge benefit being here in a team. I have been able to draw on the other consultants heavily for direct support be it the superior Internal Audit experience of one and the strategic finance presentation materials of another.
We collectively brought the senior finance and internal audit staff from all the PRs and SRs on the project for a 2 day training workshop, which was an immense success, and again only possible because there were three of us here simultaneously.
But perhaps more important than all of the above is to be able to sound each other out with simple problems or ideas after hours on a daily basis. This has certainly improved the quality of all of our assignment outcomes.
7. Commercial organisations often require clear and measurable results to prove an assignment has been successful or financially viable; do you feel this approach can work in this setting?
Undoubtedly. This environment does require a much longer term game plan, but there should still be measurable outcomes. What is most important though is that there is collective agreement around those outcomes from the outset and ensuring that all preparatory material is accurate and relevant.
8. Can you give examples of how you added value on assignment?
Bringing the whole team together for a 2 day workshop; delivering MS Excel training courses built around specific organisational reporting requirements; building consolidated budget schedules showing multiple funding sources in standard format and showing overhead recovery rates; redesigning Chart of Accounts to facilitate move to multi-user accounting platform; major revision of Finance Manual.
9. What in your opinion are the biggest wins from the AfID volunteers input – For a) your host partner organisations, b) Global Fund c) The global project of support that evolve from this pilot?
Our host organisations are receiving high quality training in accounting techniques and resources delivered in an implementation ready state. Global Fund are getting a much more cohesive project team “one project, one team” with all local implementing partners working together with common practices and real non-threatening communication between parties. The wider project is gaining a really solid template for rolling this out, in terms of content, tools, logistics, and resources required.
10. This project is sponsored by Ecobank; do you think more commercial organisations should explore ways of partnering with non-profits?
The logistical support provided by Ecobank has been very good. The senior Ecobank staff have also made comment to the effect that they would like to provide additional support to this project.
You cannot doubt that this project has benefited hugely from the financial contribution by Ecobank, but it would perhaps be prudent for future program managers to sit down in advance and scope out where the legitimate commercial benefits might be found for a corporate partner but also setting boundaries.
11. After so many security concerns in the region, many will be fearful of following in your footsteps. What would you say to these people – what tips would you give them?
Abuja is very safe. The locals are very friendly, transport is safe, plenty of places to wine and dine without any sense of fear. I found there is nothing dangerous about this city.
12. As they say ‘it’s not all work, work, work!’ What was one of your favourite moments outside of the office?
I certainly encourage any ugly single white guys to come to Abuja - I have never felt so attractive! Mind you, if you are not clear up front on the terms, expect a night out where you are also paying for the manicurist, his brother, and an assortment of best mates.
13. What is next for you – has this experience changed your focus or the direction of your career (even life) in any way?
This has certainly focused me firmly back on getting back in to the international NGO sector again. I have thoroughly enjoyed the assignment, in particular delivering these work plans has been really challenging but very rewarding.