4 takeaways for the next generation of MNH advocates

Grassroots civil society organisations (CSOs) play a central role in improving the health of mothers and babies. Empowering them with advocacy skills to influence decision-makers in government to take action to improve health services can save lives. The Evidence for Action - MamaYe (E4A) programme trained grassroots CSOs to identify priorities in their context and champion change for improved maternal and newborn health.

In Kenya, 14 women and 79 newborn babies die every day from preventable causes. Despite this, maternal and child health is often not seen as a priority by decision makers in government. Therefore, in March 2020 our team of experienced maternal and newborn health advocacy and financing experts from Kenya delivered an exciting comprehensive MNH Advocacy training. These trainings were designed to equip advocates from Bungoma and Nairobi counties with the skills and knowledge to advocate to their governments to provide women and their children with the health care they need. This is particularly important in the current COVID-19 context, as recent studies show that child deaths in Kenya could increase by 22 percent and 26 maternal deaths over the next year.

Instead of jumping into the training process, the E4A project team first met with the civil society organisations in Bungoma and Nairobi counties to identify their training needs. This was done by applying an organisational capacity assessment. This exercise enabled CSOs and the E4A team to work together to identify in what ways their advocacy was already strong and where further capacity strengthening was needed.

  • Grassroots CSOs in MNH workshop

Following this assessment, our team worked with the grassroots CSOs to develop a capacity strengthening plan. This plan specified capacity strengthening requirements, including the need for a strong foundational understanding of key advocacy concepts and effective targeting of target audiences. In this blog, we share the 4 key learnings that the next generation of Maternal and Newborn Health advocates took away from the training.

1. CSOs need to identify and understand maternal health problems unique to their context

Identifying the root cause of a problem and developing specific solutions to address these causes is essential to developing effective advocacy messages. One of our training modules takes CSOs through the problem tree analysis which helps them to identify the ‘real’ causes why women and newborn babies are dying, specific to their community.

2. CSOs have different strengths & working in a coalition makes their advocacy more successful

Powerful decision-makers are more likely to listen if many people raise their voices and clearly ask for action. Advocacy is therefore a collective process that requires individuals to work together and build a strong network that leverages the relationships that each individual member of the coalition brings to the table. In addition, sharing lessons can help CSOs to learn from each other and prevent ‘reinventing the wheel’ or making the same mistakes. The training gave advocates an opportunity to share with others how they have successfully done advocacy in the past.

Whereas CSOs have different levels of understanding of the advocacy subject, it was evident that they are all able to pin-point key problems that require advocacy interventions and map out key stakeholders to resolving the problems.” Stephen, our County Advisor in Bungoma

3. CSOs can identify key opportunities for advocacy through a political economy approach

Advocacy is a dynamic process in an ever-changing context. Effective advocates respond to political and economic changes in their context. Most importantly, they should have the ability to identify windows of opportunity to influence budgets or policies that could improve lives women and newborns. By understanding the budget process, advocates can bring issues to the addition of policy-makers when they are making planning and budgeting decisions. George, our Nairobi County Advisor identified that “Initially CSOs didn’t know who to engage and how to influence the budget process for MNH. After the session on budget-making process they saw the opportunities to influence and demonstrated improved ability to meaningfully engage in the process.”

4. CSOs strengthen their advocacy communications and evidence use skills

Use of evidence on what causes poor health of women and children is important to influence decisions. CSOs need to be able to identify sources of MNH data that support their advocacy message, package or visualise this so that it can be communicated effectively and target the right audience. Data does not have to be complex. Gathering community testimonies or a simple situation analysis can help to capture the attention of politicians and make a strong case for change.


Our team have continued to mentor civil society organisations over the last months, in particular by adapting advocacy to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to the health of mothers and newborn babies. Watch this space to know more about how E4A has modified its approaches to work in the socially-distanced COVID era, how it has made its tools accessible during these times, and the successes that CSOs have achieved since this training to improve maternal and child health outcomes.

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