“Happiest man in Africa…….and change is possible….”.

By Willem Bettink

I participated in the annual regional  implementation workshop of the East and Southern Africa  region. A full week immersion in Africa, to be more precise in northern Tanzania,  at the foot of mount Kilamanjaro. It was an  exciting and dynamic 4 days, not in the least thanks to “veteran” Edward Chumamoto. He facilitated -189 people- with grand style, a sense of humour and enormous skill –a true pleasure!

The project coordinators in the region decided last year to radically change the format as they felt there was not enough interaction and added value generated.  The workshop embraced the  open space methodology which generated many unexpected sessions about a variety topics from learning routes, communication and social media, gender equality and many more.

The theme of this workshop was: Managing for Impact-one of those development  concepts that appear clear at face value, but are not . As a participants said : “over these 4 days we have unpacked the concept and it has become clearer for me what it means to me in my work in our project”. 

Over the days we unpacked the managing for impact into its key elements from the perspective of a project team . One of the  results was a practical diagnostic tool referred to as the learning wheel for managing for impact. It brings together  12 elements that enable a project team to diagnose its performance.

The outcome of this diagnosis enables a team to discuss and agree on corrective actions to improve its delivery to achieve impact. One of these elements is “ continuous experimentation with new ideas and approaches as a source of innovation and performance improvement”.   

Almost all- if not all- development programmes are change management programmes. Research and our own experience  has proven  that a typical organizational change programme has a 20-30% success rate . Or if we  look at innovation and start –up businesses: only 10-15% make it through year  1 and go on to achieve sustainable profits.

If we truly believe in “managing for impact",  it implies that project teams, given the change and innovativeness of development programmes,  continuously need to perform at the top of their toes. Delivery has to be of an exceptional quality while it is conditioned by known obstacles , unplanned interferences, unexpected natural disasters and what have you.

This implies that a project team  needs to have  a strong predisposition to openly reflect upon its challenges and mistakes , harvest the learning (in particular from failed attempts ) and share  this learning with its stakeholders.

In my opinion , managing for impact is closely linked to return on investment. If we do not focus persistently on achieving impact, creating value,  we are not ensuring the pay-off to the rural poor for what they invest to engage with the changes and innovations promoted by development programmes.

A final personal note: that change is possible whether at  personal, process, technological level  I am strongly convinced off. While I was in Arusha  I witnessed the transformation of a colleague to be the happiest man in Africa.