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Get ready Africa, we are training health budget advocates

It has been exciting to meet with health budget advocates from six countries in Africa – Senegal, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania; working to strengthen their ability to carry out effective budget advocacy engagements in their countries.

The four day training climaxed with health budget advocacy simulations to Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Health by Civil Society and the Local Government Authorities. It was fun and at the same time gratifying to see how participants applied their knowledge of budget analysis, government commitments, international benchmarks and impact of the problem to produce human angle stories and catchy strap lines to pitch to hard-line politicians and policy makers an increase in health budget.   

The simulations demonstrated that indeed the participants had acquired skills in effective health budget advocacy within a short period of time. I daresay this was largely due to the practical and hands-on training approach adopted by the team of well experienced trainers from the Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) and Evidence4Action (E4A) Mamaye, which enhanced quick assimilation for all participants.

AHBN convened the training on Health Budget Advocacy at the Jacaranda Hotel, Nairobi from 4th – 7th of April, 2017 in order to equip participants from selected African countries with skills to develop a health budget advocacy strategy that will guide their respective advocacy efforts. Did AHBN achieve her objectives? With all modesty, I can boldly say “Yes, country representatives left the venue with a draft strategy”.

How did we get the task done? On the first day, we gave an overview of the strategy development process which outlined the five steps required for putting together a strategy. Then a practical example from Nigeria showed how the strategy had been useful in a successful health budget advocacy engagement. In the group work we focused on setting objectives, and this helped participant develop their own goal, objectives, and strategies.

Highlights of day two were the practical sessions on budget analysis using country specific budget and identifying stakeholders which enabled participants to narrow down on primary and secondary stakeholders and how to keep the powerful ones engaged.

Communications products are usually very interesting and refreshing, oftentimes underscoring the level of efforts that go into producing them. It was no different with the session on “Communicating and Advocating for Real Change’’ led by Evidence4 Action (E4A) MamaYe. Participants discussed the benefits of framing their Ask around People, Commitments and Evidence and why it is important to ensure that their messages leverage a human element. From the exercises of the previous days, the task for day three was set, Framing “Asks’’ and developing memorable straplines. Just like what Straplines do to people, I got struck by the one from Sierra Leone:

 "Nothing about us, without us!"

However, an ill-timed budget advocacy engagement with the best communication materials is as good as doing nothing. During the session on “Identifying opportunities for engagements’’, some of the participants disclosed that they had experienced situations where policy makers had said they were late in presenting their “Asks”, as budget preparations had concluded. This session assisted participants to identify the appropriate time and type of budget engagements the public could be involved in, to promote active participation.

Finally participants had to “Pull it all together”, on the last day in one beautiful CSO Advocacy strategy document showing  the problem statement, goal, objective, data sources and analysis, communications, key stakeholders and entry points for engagements. With all the bits and pieces of work produced from all the group work session, this was no doubt an easy task for our participants. Certainly this approach can be adapted for any other strategy development process but don’t  forget these tips – ensure participants come to the training with relevant material to support their research, link activity sessions to their organizations realities and each session should build on the other. 

This blog was written by Esther Agbon, Health Finance and Advocacy advisor for the Mamaye-Evidence4Action programme in Nigeria. 

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