Developing the African ecosystem through mentorship: a seat at the table of evidence leaders

Developing the African ecosystem through mentorship: a seat at the table of evidence leaders

Photo: Talitha Mpando

The evidence ecosystem on the continent is one which is growing every day, as leaders remain determined to push the agenda of enhancing evidence use for policy and practice. Considering our often resource-limited settings, it only makes sense to do what has been proven to work. The need to develop capacity on the continent to do this important work can therefore not be overemphasized. But which opportunities are available and what approaches can be deployed to support young and emerging actors who desire to provide leadership for the ecosystem in the near future?

How it all started

A few months ago, through the power of my networks, I stumbled into the Corporate Evidence Leadership Mentorship Programme (CEP-MP) introduced in 2021 by PACKS Africa. How else can I explain how a Malawian lady gets selected without public solicitation to learn the ins and outs of an indigenous Ghanaian think tank, if not through benefits of networking?

The 12-month long programme seeks to create a pool of young evidence leaders on the African continent, by engaging them through rigorous weekly activities. It is designed to provide opportunity for learners to maximise their competencies through embedded learning within their organisational settings.

Focus of the programme

Prior to my first conversation with Kirchuffs Atengble, Executive Director of PACKS Africa, in October 2021, I did not know what to expect in the programme, but soon I was captivated by the goals of PACKS Africa. The words “youth-led”, “Pan-African” and “development” quickly caught my attention, and I was intrigued by strategy of the organisation to grow its reach to other regions in Africa through young people.

The mentorship programme makes room to engage learners in various capacities after the mentorship programme, minimum of which includes possibility to serve as associates of the organisation. This is initiated by signing a hybrid contract with the mentee as an associate even during the programme.

My own background

I have been working as an integrated knowledge translation Research Fellow for the past two and a half years. Knowledge translation as a relatively new field was a concept that somewhat eluded me at the beginning of my career. However, being part of a thriving network has given me the confidence to push through what was once conceptual and vague, to become tangible and meaningful. Knowledge translation for improved evidence use means more than distributing transformed knowledge resources but there are many nuances that require one to think strategically and engage a diverse skill set.

My reflections for transition

In just about a month into the programme, my resolve was strengthened to make evidence count in decision making, and to support this activity with intention. With the majority of my work focusing on the technical aspects of evidence informed policy, this mentorship has made me consider the other side of the coin. What are the elements that make an organization function? And what elements should be considered when thinking about the strategic vision of an organization?

Programme competency areas

The mentorship programme aims to cover both technical EIDM and corporate competencies. The technical aspects target EIDM competencies such as knowledge for evidence ecosystem governance, critical thinking for evidence use and analytical thinking for evidence production. The availability of data in organisations doesn’t necessarily mean it is available to the right people at the right time for decision making. Young people with these skills will be able to navigate the knowledge management process in different contexts.

Corporate competencies to be covered include knowledge for organisation development, administrative skills, ethical leadership skills and ability to transform open ideas into viable initiatives. For young leaders who expect to be civically engaged and working within non-governmental organisations, they can confidently tap into these skill-sets.

So far, I have found the organisational development aspect most interesting as I have had to consider the elements that would position me as a good leader within the evidence space. Having my work focus primarily in the Malawian Health sector, I look forward to being exposed to exploring the policymaking processes in other sectors and other countries in Africa.

Looking forward

Through the weekly mentorship sessions and assignments, I have been forced to look beyond the obvious. And I am very sure that the holistic nature of this programme, together with the diversity of perspectives which I will encounter, will propel me towards being a valuable member of the EIDM community in Africa. I’ll urge as many young and emerging actors within the ecosystem in Africa to get involved in this programme in its next cohort when it is announced later this year.

But for me, I look forward to gleaning from the expertise of Kirchuffs Atengble whose passions in Evidence Informed Policy Making propelled him to become a founder of PACKS Africa. I am excited to share a complete reflection of my experience by the time I’m done with the programme in October 2022.


About the author

Talitha Mpando is a highly-motivated public health professional currently working to bridge the gap between evidence and policy/practice as a knowledge translation research fellow. Her research interests focus on global health, with particular respect to the upstream determinants of health in the Global South. As a 2018 graduate of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Southern Africa Regional Leadership Centre in civic leadership, she has developed an action-oriented, Pan-African and holistic approach to leadership. She joins the first edition of PACKS Africa’s Corporate Evidence Leader – Mentorship Programme (CEL-MP), and looks forward to serving as a trail-blazer for many other young people. She can be reached via Facebook and LinkedIn (as Talitha Mpando) and on Twitter on the following handle: @Talitha_mpando.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Evidence Network, its secretariat, advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the afore-mentioned parties.