My experience of the RWSN Mentoring Programme

This is a guest blog by Joshua Azaki, a young professional from South Africa enrolled as a mentee in the 2020 RWSN Mentoring Programme.

I was introduced to RWSN by Professor Ulrike Rivett in March 2018 and I signed up to receive updates about the activities of the RWSN. In 2019, when I received the notification about the application for the 2020 mentoring programme, I applied immediately. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the water sector from experts, professionals and other participants. I was open to learning how they overcame the challenges of working in the water sector. I was glad to be among the successful applicants and privileged to be matched to Dr Vassiki Sanogo as my mentor. My mentor and I soon developed a working plan which included the time frame, the activities to carry out, the aim and objectives and our expectations from the mentoring programme.

The RSWN mentoring programme became one of the outstanding events for me in 2020. As a mentee, the programme was a journey of self-discovery and sharpening of my capabilities. My mentor was an astute, honest, relentless, and very resourceful person. He provided guidance and valuable inputs that will facilitate achieving my personal and professional goals as an upcoming researcher in the water sector. Table 1 summarises the activities we carried out during the mentoring programme. We met virtually nine times via Zoom and Microsoft Teams while keeping in touch through emails. We achieved our goals as spelt out from the beginning of the mentoring programme between March 2020 and December 2020.

Meetings and activitiesAim
NetworkingTo expose the mentee on how to explore and exploit networking opportunities
Academic writingTo improve the writing skills of the mentee by exposing him to tips on writing to the academic community.
BrainstormingTo sharpen the critical reasoning and problem-solving skills of the mentee through analysing journal articles.
CV presentationTo help mentee explore the best ways to professionally present himself
Data analysisTo guide mentee towards choosing the appropriate ways of collecting data and conducting data analysis
Continuous learningTo discuss further on the webinars organised by RWSN
Thematic expertiseTo expose mentee to potential work or research opportunities in the water sector
Time management and record-keepingTo improve mentee’s organisational skills through scheduling of meeting, taking of minutes of and keeping records of meetings
Table 1: Activities carried out during the 2020 RWSN mentoring programme 

Impact of the 2020 RWSN mentoring programme

The impacts of the mentoring programme are numerous, some are listed below:

  1. I learnt more about how to craft a credible research question through identifying gaps in the literature, generating smart and achievable research objectives, ways of conducting research (data collection and data analysis methods) as well as reporting my findings.
  2. I learnt how to select journals to publish in (which includes knowing the target audience of a journal, their writing and referencing style and the impact factor of the journal).
  3. I learnt what an Individual Development Plan (IDP) is and created one.
  4. My organisational, record keeping, and time management skills were sharpened.

The above-listed points were key to me, especially now that I am about to start my doctorate. The mentoring experience provided me with the opportunity to be better prepared to take on the task associated with pursuing my doctorate and future career.

The mentoring programme also helped me navigate the lockdown period that accompanied the COVID 19 pandemic with less stress because I was productively engaged throughout the period. I was exposed to useful resources during the RWSN webinars especially the webinar on WHO/UNICEF JMP methods for monitoring SDG targets for WASH in households.

My mentor was pleased and excited that we worked as a team to achieve all our goals.

In conclusion, the 2020 RWSN mentoring programme was very engaging, educative, interactive and well organised. We thank the organisers and sponsors of the programme for this platform.

About the mentee and his mentor

Joshua Azaki is a Christian, a husband and a postgraduate student with the iCOMMS research team at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His research interests are broadly in Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D), knowledge management in the water sector and the use of persuasive information campaign to encourage water-saving practices. He is about to start his doctorate at the time of writing this blog.

Dr Vassiki Sanogo  is a well-organized and dependable professional, equipped with a positive, can-do attitude in leading and educating diverse levels of team member. Armed with expertise in applied economics, health economics, health/water policy, economic development, public policy, payer/clinical decision-makers, comparative study, cost-effective, budget impact, assess risk, quantitative methods, statistics, business analytics, machine learning, deep learning, visual text analytics, data project architect, forecasting, optimization, experimental and case studies, and data science. Equipped with exceptional ability in working and interacting with students and colleagues in a professional manner. Known for strong work ethic, complemented with unparalleled professionalism and proven ability to conceptualize new ideas as necessary. Articulate communicator, fluent in English, French, and Dioula. Technologies: SAS, SQL, STATA, R, Python, Cplex, Gurobi, Java, C++, TreeAge, Tableau, MATLAB.

About the RWSN Mentoring Programme

For more information on the RWSN Mentoring Programme, see here. RWSN thanks the Swiss Development Cooperation and World Vision for their support to the mentoring programme in 2020.

My experience of the RWSN Mentoring Programme

This is a guest blog by Byamukama Arinaitwe, a young professional enrolled as a mentee in the RWSN Mentoring Programme.

My name is Byamukama Arinaitwe, a recent civil engineering graduate from Uganda. In September 2019, I started out in my career working with Kigezi Diocese Water and Sanitation Programme as a Civil Engineer. The programme champions WASH interventions in South-Western Uganda, with its water supply interventions ranging from point water sources like protected springs to piped water systems like gravity water flow systems. It is an exciting field to practice in because it directly impacts the quality of people’s lives.

The desire to grow my knowledge and skill in the WASH sector led me to the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) mentoring programme. When I applied to join the mentoring programme, I didn’t have specific outlined expectations on what benefits would come from being part of the programme. I mostly looked forward to being matched with a mentor, a senior to me in all ways from whom I would learn a lot. I was matched with Engineer Oria-Usifo Ehi Ekiado. He is a Nigerian professional with a vast experience in managing water resources and also doubles as an academic with the University of Benin. He also has a stellar research portfolio of published journal articles and conference papers.

The RWSN mentoring programme has benefited me almost invariably at every turn. To begin with, the application process. When applying for mentoring, mentees were asked to write a one page essay explaining why they wanted to be mentored and then came the filling of the mentoring agreement. The agreement had a part of skills a mentee wanted to improve throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship. I don’t know of a time in my life when I did so much introspection to find out which skills I was confident about and those I wanted to improve but I was certainly sure of the skills I wanted to acquire. This whole process made me more self-aware and helped me learn a bit more about myself in regard to my abilities, hopes and ambitions.

Since March 2020, my mentor and I have held online discussions by both e-mail, video calls via Zoom, WhatsApp as well as text. Our interactions have to date been guided by an agenda prepared for a given meeting. He gives me assignments based on the list of activities that was included in the mentorship agreement at the start of the programme. This list has activities based on the skills I desire to improve as well as acquire throughout this mentoring period and they are broken down according to the months of the year.

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A video call interaction between my mentor and me.

The benefits of being mentored so far are quite invaluable and innumerable to me, both directly and indirectly.

In my career/at the workplace, this mentoring has enhanced my ability to address problems as well as coming up with solutions through sharing the challenges with my mentor. My mentor guides me on how to come up with viable solutions to the problems. Case in point was improving the safety and quality of water used in beneficiary households through enhancing behavioral change.

I have also learnt how to communicate effectively the changes or solutions I think could significantly solve some of the challenges encountered in the workplace. I am currently working on a PowerPoint presentation on how my organization can use PRINCE 2 (a project management methodology) for which I am a certified practitioner, to run our projects better. In the near future I also intend to write some papers that could influence change in my workplace and also propel me professionally.

Through this mentoring programme, I have also learnt to be intentional in choosing and prioritizing activities or programs that I think may add value to me professionally. My mentor’s input in my decisions has and continues to clear my judgment and decision making ability. This has come to play in choosing some desired certifications over others because of the varying benefits each add as opposed to random choice.

Through the mentoring programme, my mentor continuously recommends resources like books and webinars that have enriched my knowledge and understanding of different facets of engineering.

The RWSN mentoring programme has so far been a learning curve for me and I look forward to continuously learn.

For more information on the RWSN Mentoring Programme, see here. RWSN thanks the Swiss Development Cooperation and World Vision for their support to the programme. 

 

 

 

Getting the basics right

I’ve just returned from Liberia, where Kerstin Danert and I, together with Caesar Hall and Jenny Schmitzer are coaching, training and mentoring staff across from government agencies to prepare the first a Sector Performance Report (SPR) for Liberia. Ultimately, this this could become an annual report for the whole WASH sector across the country. It pulls together data from different sources and provides the evidence base for making decisions decisions and prioritising at the second annual Joint Sector Review (JSR) – a two day workshop of around 200 stakeholders that will happen at the beginning of May.

Monrovia Water Point
An Afridev handpump in central Monrovia, behind the Ministry of Education (photo: S. G. Furey, Skat, 2014)

The approach, in this form, was pioneered by the Ministry of Water & Environment in Uganda ten years ago. A decade later, it is the primary mechanism for coordinating WASH actors across government, NGOs and Development Partners, and for reporting activities, outcomes and priorities for the coming year in Uganda.

This is not an easy. It has been a challenging, but rewarding, process and it has been a long journey for Uganda, and Kerstin was there, coaching and cajoling for the first seven SPRs (SSOZI, D. and DANERT, K.,2012). For this reason, the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) invited us to Liberia to support the government as they start on this long journey.

Similar to Uganda when it started, Liberia is now a decade clear of a long and often brutal civil war. The physical and government infrastructure, which was weak to begin with, was largely destroyed and the social scars still have a rawness. Liberia has a unique history in that it was founded by American freed slaves, but resentment between Americo-Liberians and those of indigenous descent added fuel to the fire of the brutal wars that took place between 1989-96 and 1999-2003.

The current president, H. E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the first woman to be elected as a head of state in Africa and she has been a unifying voice both at home and abroad. She is also the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) so the sector has a champion at the highest level.

However, responsibility and scarce resources for WASH are split between around nine different ministries and government agencies. Policy and strategy has been established, thanks to strong support from UNICEF, WSP and bi-laterals such as IrishAid,and USAID. There are also several other development partners in the country . However, implementation through government has been slow, for example the rural water division of the Ministry of Public Works has no budget for implementation for the current year. Stuff is happening: water and sanitations systems are being built and hygiene and CLTS is going on at quite a large scale, but it is NGOs, not government who are doing the spade work.

Is this a problem? Short term maybe not, because the needs of the people are great, but without a strong, capable government there can be no end to dependence on international aid funding international NGOs, neither of whom are directly accountable to the people or leadership of Liberia. We shouldn’t expect the private sector to ride the rescue either: where there is social and environmental responsibility, a fair, strong Government regulator is essential.

So what is needed? The basics done well.

  • Data: collection, quality control, storage, access, analysis, presentation
  • Information flows: so that stakeholders really know who is doing what, and where so that collaboration is improved and duplication avoided.
  • Writing: literacy, touch-typing, analytical thinking; articulating persuasive and logical arguments; self-critical review and proof reading.
  • Presentation: structure, content and timing, voice and body language, listening and responding.

These, and many other communication and analytical skills, seem so obvious that surely to consider them in the context of experienced, national government staff could be considered patronising. However, during the war they would have been less worried about using PowerpointPowerPoint and more worried about avoiding the likes of ‘General Butt Naked’ (CNN report). Fragile States are exactly that.

Mapping information flows in the Liberia WASH Sector with the NWSHPC
Mapping information flows in the Liberia WASH Sector with the National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Committee (NWSHPC) – Abdul, Watara, Joseph, Kerstin (photo: S G Furey, Skat 2014)

While many of the staff we have met are knowledgeable and committed, there is need to build morale and confidence; so even they not only improve their reporting and analytical skills but also have the confidence to really commit them to paper.

So what’s the answer? Perhaps hire some international consultants to come in and write a thick report “for government”. WSP didn’t want us to do that and there was no way we going accept the task if that had been the case. The 2014 Liberia SPR will be written (mostly, though not entirely) by Liberians.

To achieve that, where capacities are low, and experience lacking we ran a four day writing course then followed up remotely, and in person, with each team of writers who were charged with creating thematic mini-reports on rural water, sanitation, hygiene, gender, urban water and sewerage, solid waste management and water resources.

This is a tough process for all involved. For the ministry staff, they have been chasing around bringing together the data and activity reports that are often scattered around their organisations or guarded. In certain cases, the process uncovered new data sources from Government officials – in particular the data collected through surveys and publishes by Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LSGIS).

For us it has been tough to resist the temptation to dive in and write it all for them. On occasion I give in where it was clear that the data analysis and presentation would take much more time than we had available and I couldn’t leave it. But as I write this, the writers were spending two days to review the entire report; and decide what to change.

However, the pleasure came from seeing the final product start to emerge and the shared sense of accomplishment.

So have we strengthened the capacity of the WASH sector to go it alone? No. Clearly not, and as I write this I still don’t know whether this approach will work, but the process so far as proved to be as valuable as, hopefully, the final report will be. The international community will still have a crucial role in tackling the chronic poverty found across Liberia, but that role needs to diminish with time as Liberian institutions take over.

From what I experienced, I saw the importance of education and mentoring to develop skills and confidence to discharge duties effectively, but that alone is not enough. Karwee Govego, Director of Rural Water, complained that their best staff get poached by NGOs. That ‘brain drain’ is inevitable as long as salaries and morale are low, management and mandates are disorganised, and career paths are determined by more than than merit.

Love it or hate it, government is essential; to build a strong, competent one in Liberia is going to take a lot of teamwork, hard graft and getting the basics right.

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Liberia is an active member of the Sanitation, Water for All (SWA) Partnership and will be presenting a new set of commitments at the High Level Meeting in Washington DC this month