Living Our Values: Q&A with West & Central Africa Regional Director Mohamed Ly
In 2020 and 2021, EngenderHealth engaged our global staff in a process to articulate our organizational values. As part of our commitment to reflection and learning out loud, President and CEO Traci L. Baird shared that process, as well as how we applied our values in the redesign of EngenderHealth’s website.
At EngenderHealth, we strive to incorporate our values into our programs, policies and systems, and everyday work across our offices. Traci recently spoke with Mohamed Ly, EngenderHealth’s West and Central Africa (WCA) regional director, about how he and our WCA team are living and implementing our values.
Traci: Mohamed, as you know, one of our organization-wide priorities is to ensure that staff and key stakeholders are familiar with our values and to integrate our values into our work and systems. I know you have been doing a great job being explicit about our values and incorporating them into the work of the WCA team. How are you approaching this?
Mohamed: We do our best to incorporate our values as much as possible in our daily work. In fact, I map our decisions to our values the same way I map our impact data to an output of our strategic plan. This helps team members understand that our principles of reflection, inclusion, integrity, respect, and transformation are not just words.
Traci: Can you share an example? How are you living into our value of reflection?
Mohamed: For us, it is crucial to share lessons across projects and programs and adapt strategies for use in new places. We hold a weekly meeting for the regional office and a monthly meeting for the entire region, which brings together the regional staff with staff from country programs across the WCA region. During these meetings, we review our work, share data and lessons learned, and discuss ways we can improve. Recently, during the preparation of a new project proposal, staff from Benin and Burkina Faso shared how they had implemented similar projects to inform our proposal for a project in Côte d’Ivoire.
As another example, for another donor proposal, we decided to partner with a local NGO that was in the role of “prime”—leading a consortium of organizations. During the process, we found that this organization did not have the capacity to manage the proposal and bidding process, and, ultimately, we were unable to complete the proposal package. We realized that our criteria for evaluating organizations as partners only took into account their ability to implement projects and not their capacity to develop a strong proposal. As a result, I decided to work with the team to revise our approach to selecting partners, including more questions related to the capacity of partners to conduct and manage the bid process. This has allowed us to make better choices on what organizations to partner with for subsequent proposal processes.
Traci: That’s a helpful example of reflecting on experience and learning across countries. I know you also reflect on data to course-correct our work on individual projects—there are many ways we can be reflective. How about our value of inclusion?
Mohamed: We make sure that no one is left behind in our daily work. For example, in addition to the standard meetings, I regularly speak with staff individually to ensure we are on the same page and to keep everyone engaged. During our activities, interns, junior consultants, and senior staff are all involved simultaneously. We also debrief with staff in French after important meetings or catch-ups with global staff conducted in English to ensure everyone is engaged and understands the next steps and to resolve any misunderstandings.
As another example of how we live inclusion, we recently developed a partnership with a local LGBTQ+ organization to submit a proposal to the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office. We strive to create more inclusive programming by partnering with organizations that are different from ours, such as feminist groups, youth-led organizations, and women’s organizations, among others. The staff was very committed, and it was a very rewarding experience for everyone. We will continue diversifying our partnerships with organizations working on a wide variety of important issues to ensure our programs aren’t leaving anyone behind.
Traci: I like hearing your examples of how inclusion is lived within the team because I know you also design your programs to be inclusive of partners and individuals; it’s critical that we are also inclusive of our staff, across many areas, including language.
Mohamed: Yes, of course, this is why we systematically ask for French interpretation during important catch-ups or meetings within the organization, as well as translation into French of documents and other organizational resources. On these points, I must note that EngenderHealth’s head office is very supportive of efforts to minimize the impact of the language barrier on our daily work.
Traci: I know you have an example about integrity, which we can only share very generally, but I still think it is important.
Mohamed: Yes, this example is hard to share, but I agree it is important. I was confronted with a situation in which a colleague violated our code of conduct. We recognized this quickly, and therefore the person did not have a chance to hurt the organization. Even though this was someone we had an otherwise-good relationship with, we initiated an investigation and followed through on the recommended sanctions. This experience was emotionally challenging for me, but the principles and security of the organization came first.
Traci: That’s a hard one, and I agree that having clarity around our values can guide us to make principled decisions and support the organization’s goals. Let’s talk about respect next. How are you helping to ensure our work in the region is respectful?
Mohamed: As opportunities arise, we are developing proposals with local organizations and work carefully to ensure we are creating equitable partnerships. For example, when working with youth Led organizations in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire, we use a co-creation process for all interventions to learn from each other. Our project development processes are rooted in the respect we have for the knowledge and expertise of our partners, and especially the respect we have for youth leadership.
We are working with youth, not for youth—the partnership is based on respect. This means that we humbly acknowledge that we can learn from the people at these organizations, even if they have less experience than we do. Therefore, all the processes we put in place are participative. This approach makes the youth organizations feel very comfortable in our offices. They do not hesitate to come to work and discuss issues with us because they know they will always have an attentive interlocutor. There are no barriers; we are partners and learn from each other.
In addition, as part of our partnerships with local organizations, we sub to local organizations for some opportunities—meaning that they lead the consortia—because it is a way to recognize their leadership and strengths.
Traci: And finally, I wanted to ask about transformation. How has our work in the region evolved over time, and why have we made these shifts?
Mohamed: In the WCA region, we have been known in the past as an organization dedicated to family planning. Now, we are among the leaders on rights, broader sexual and reproductive health issues, and gender, youth, and social inclusion issues. During last year’s 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Côte d’Ivoire, we were able to mobilize others and bring NGOs together to conduct joint activities, for example. We also developed an advocacy document to call for action against GBV and organized meet-ups and round tables to raise the issue of GBV with activists and other NGOs. While we are still focused on family planning, we have transformed our work also to address gender and rights, all toward our goals of sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality for all.
Traci: Thank you, Mohamed. I value the leadership you provide to our WCA team and your role as part of EngenderHealth’s global leadership team. I know our staff and colleagues at other organizations will appreciate learning from your experience with our organizational values.