Leading Voices: Meet Hammouda Bellamine

November 07, 2018

Leading Voices: Meet Hammouda Bellamine

“Work to lose your job. If you don’t have that in mind, you shouldn’t be working in development,” says Hammouda Bellamine, Senior Technical Advisor for Capacity Building for the USAID-funded KJK (Keneya Jemu Kan) Project in Mali.

Hammouda and his team are modeling important leadership skills and building capacity for social marketing and behavior change communication activities among local NGOs and public and private organizations. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hi Hammouda. Could you start by describing your role and responsibilities on the KJK Project?

Our project has three components. One is social behavior change communication (SBCC), one is social marketing (SM), and one is institutional capacity building. The role of our team is to work with selected partners within the private and public sectors and with NGOs in Mali to improve their capacity to manage SBCC and SM activities.

We approach the work from a performance improvement perspective. We look at both the skills needed and the elements that have an impact on both organizational and individual performance.

On our team, I have two roles, actually. One is the official role as the team leader for institutional capacity development. The other is to be a resource for our team and for other teams, too, because I’ve been in the business for a while. I can help compare what’s happening here on our team with what I’ve seen in other countries.

So I’m a little bit the grandfather. As the old man, they call me ‘Dean’ because I’m the oldest guy with the most years of experience.

Can you tell me a bit about your previous professional experiences and how you think that they have prepared you for where you are today and making you “grandfather”?

Well, I started in 1969 as one of the pioneers of family planning and reproductive health activities in Tunisia under a USAID-funded project. When a new program started, they needed somebody to deal with mass media. A couple of weeks after the initial contact with the project, I got a call and was offered a position as press attaché working with the media.

I knew the communications part but not the health part, so I got a scholarship from USAID to get my master’s degree in public health from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. After two years as the head of the IEC and training department of the national FP/MCH program in Tunisia, I accepted a position on the faculty of the Ecole Nationale de la Santé Publique in Rennes, France—the only Francophone school of public health at the time—from 1974 to 1980. After that, I worked for WHO and on projects financed by USAID, the World Bank, and the EU and for several organizations, including Pathfinder and MSH.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with people from various aspects of public health. I brought the methodology, and they brought the content. I worked in many countries—so many that I lost count! And I helped set up community-based reproductive health programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Senegal, and other countries.

Now, here I am, working on the capacity building part of the USAID-funded KJK project in Bamako, Mali. I am so lucky that I have worked with so many people from all aspects of public health, from service delivery to management. It’s been a fun ride full of learning and sharing, I have to admit.

Why is the work in Mali so important and how does it relate back to MSH’s mission?

We know that it’s not enough to provide services. By building the capacity of our partners, we ensure the continuation of activities, even after the project closes. We’re not here to do it for them, we’re here to assist them in the process and, at the same time, transfer the skills that they need to do the work successfully. Basically, we work ourselves out of our jobs.

That’s the way we approach our work at MSH, and that’s the reputation that MSH has in Mali.

When a country or program tells us they no longer need us, that’s the ultimate success. As they say, the only stones that stay in the river are the original stones embedded in that river. The rest? They go with the flow. I used to tell my students: “Work to lose your job. If you don’t have that in mind, you shouldn’t be working in development.”

Can you share a recent success that the team achieved?

Our main NGO partner just mentioned to our team that the way we worked with them made it easy for them to manage and now replicate our work. They now accept what I call the matrix approach to leadership. You can be the boss but you don’t have to be the leader of everything; leadership is based on who knows how to do it best.

One of my mentors used to tell me that to be a “good leader, you have to be a good follower. Know when to lead and when to let somebody who can do it better than you take the lead. Most of the organizations we work with now are adopting this approach—that leadership is not linked to a job position but to the person most capable of taking the lead.

Can you talk a little bit about how the ongoing political instability, including the recent presidential election, affected your project and what strategies the team, and your partners are adapting to remain resilient and operational in these contexts?

We’re taking precautions, but we are moving ahead. Unfortunately, some areas of the country are off limits. And we have to be aware that the danger is there.

If we transfer the skills to the people, the work doesn’t stop. By transferring knowledge and skills and helping people from the area acquire positive attitudes toward durable development, using a cascade approach, they stay to take over the work here in Mali. Not only do they have the skills and the systems in place, they know the culture, they know the environment, they’re more efficient. And that’s the way to ensure long-lasting development.

Before we wrap up, is there something that your colleagues may not know about you, some hobbies, a special skill that you have that nobody knows about?

Well I love to cook but one thing I do regret is that I no longer have time. I love traveling and I get paid to do it and I can help people in the process. The day I lose my commitment, I’ll quit.