Leading Change with Hearts and Minds: National Conference Concludes in Kenya

Leading Change with Hearts and Minds: National Conference Concludes in Kenya

Conference attendees were still full of energy on the final day of Kenya’s First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

After a very busy week scurrying around behind the scenes at Kenya’s First National Conference on Health Leadership, Management and Governance, the staff of the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Sustainability project in Kenya (LMS/Kenya) gathered on Friday morning before the start of the fourth and final day. Generally, the last day of a conference is filled with summaries and closing-day formalities. But this time, Project Director Karen Caldwell informed us that we still had one essential task ahead. Our challenge was to assist the more than 250 participants to articulate, with a common voice, a clear and actionable “Way Forward” based on all of the rich and complex discussions of the many sessions, skills-building workshops, and networking meetings that had occurred during the past week. This is critical as Kenya is transitioning to a new health sector governance structure that will give responsibility for service delivery to the county-level authorities; for many conference attendees it was their first opportunity to discuss how they can shape and support this process. A last-minute reshuffle of the day’s schedule allowed an hour-and-a-half for conference attendees to break into self-selected teams and hash out recommendations based on the conference theme—“Towards our devolved health system: leading and managing change for better health”—and subthemes. Groups worked on recommendations for:

  1. Ensuring a Smooth Transition Process (Kenya is moving towards a new health sector governance structure)
  2. Professionalizing Health Systems Leadership and Management
  3. Harmonizing Leadership and Management Development Opportunities
  4. Best and Promising Practices
  5. Networking and Peer Exchange
  6. The Kenya Institute of Health Systems Management (KIHSM) (Watch "System launched to address the health sector’s poor performance" on NTV.)
Participants working in groups to determine recommendations for the “way forward” post-conference. (Photo credit: MSH)

I joined the Best and Promising Practices team, where group members participated with excitement and urgent dedication. Everyone quickly threw their ideas out to the group with others responding with clarifications or additions. Related ideas were grouped together and refined. Then, with the clock ticking and everyone sitting on the edges of their seats, there was just enough time to quickly edit our ideas before the bell rang and we were called back into the plenary session. There, the entire assembly watched patiently as a spokesperson from each group read their three or four recommendations, while a note taker typed them into a PowerPoint projected onto the assembly screen. At the end of the process, Karen Caldwell asked the assembly, “Are these our recommendations?” The audience, impressed with what they saw, replied with a resounding, “Yes!” Following a short tea break, the conference Master of Ceremonies, Mr. F. K. Musyimi, read the recommendations and conference resolution to the honored guests, including Dr. Tomohiko Sugishita of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), representing the Japanese Ambassador; Kenya Medical Training College Director Dr. Charles Onudi; Renee Burger of USAID/Kenya, representing the US ambassador; Dr. S. K. Sharif, Director of the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation; and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Medical Services Mary Ngari, representing Minister Anyang’ Nyang’o, who sent his apologies that he could not be there as he was campaigning for the upcoming election.

Dr. Tomohiko Sugishita of JICA addresses the assembly. (Photo credit: MSH)

The morning’s accomplishment was empowering. The satisfied participants are now tasked with implementing the conference recommendations in the devolving health sector when the elections are over. Dr. Sugishita, who participated in the conference from start to finish, captured the spirit of the event when he said, “Change should be led by hearts and minds.” Speaking on behalf of my esteemed colleagues at LMS/Kenya, I know we all agree with Dr. Sugi-san, as we affectionately call him, and feel honored to have been a part of this ground-breaking conference where Kenya’s healthcare leaders and managers stepped forward to determine their own way through a delicate and significant transition in the history of their country.

Participants working in groups to determine recommendations for the “way forward” post-conference. (Photo credit: MSH)

Kate Steger, MA, MPH, is the communications specialist on the LMS/Kenya project, based in Nairobi.