Friday, 22 May 2009

My Rhoda Karpatkin experience

Left to right: Emma Wanyoni, CI Director General Joost Martens and Pelisa Manqoyi of NCF
Emma Wanyoni from the Consumer Information Network (CIN) in Kenya writes about her experience as one of CI’s Rhoda Karpatkin advocates:

Nerves and excitement
My five-week stay at the Consumers International (CI) London office for the Rhoda Karpatkin Advocate programme was very inspiring…for the number and diversity of the institutions and individuals I met, as well as for the great work that is being done, especially to promote the rights of consumers around the world. It was also challenging…now I am required to put into practice the skills and knowledge that I acquired during that period to strengthen the capacity of my organisation!

(Image: Left to right - Emma Wanyoni, CI Director General Joost Martens and Pelisa Manqoyi of NCF)

I was very excited to have my application accepted; second time lucky as I was not accepted the first time. But I was a bit nervous; as this was going to be the longest period I had been away from home. So I carried two heavy suitcases of clothes….just in case! Even though I had met some of the CI staff before, I was unsure of what to expect…would they be friendly, accommodating, or would they be too busy fighting for the rights of consumers to notice these two girls from Africa…

Capacity assessments
The most impressive thing about the programme started long before we arrived in London. As soon as our application was accepted, we started discussions with the campaigns team at CI to identify our individual and organisations’ areas of interest in which we wanted to have our capacity improved.

These capacity assessment discussions ensured that the programme was clearly targeted towards meeting our capacity needs. The activities that we took part in revolved around the identified needs and I have to say that this was very effective as it kept the whole process focused around the three key objectives of the programme, ie building our capacity on consumer issues and the workings of consumer organisations, campaigning and advocacy and learning about the work of CI and its member organisations.

The programme
Meeting other organisations
To help us understand more about consumer issues and especially in relation to specific issues we are working on, my discussions with Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and the UK consortium on Aids were very useful. CIN has been involved in Access to Essential Medicines (AEM) issues for a number of years, and is currently coordinating the Kenyan Chapter of a regional Campaign on elimination of stock outs of medicines in health facilities in Africa. ( It was therefore interesting to learn about successful campaign strategies/tactics around this. Our visits to Which?, Consumer Focus, the International Consumer Research and Testing(ICRT) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) also gave me further insight into consumer issues and how different types of consumer organisations working at different levels are able to tackle consumer problems either through campaigning on policy intervention or through empowering consumers through provision of objective information. My lesson from this is that consumer issues are very varied and therefore so are the solutions. Clearly one organisation cannot handle it all and there is need to identify a strategic intervention that will have the most impact in a particular context!

There were also two visits to the British Standards Institute (BSI), the first for training on consumer representation in Standards and the second to learn more about the work of BSI. This was critical in relation to CIN’s interaction with Kenya’s National Standards Body, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) on standardization and building the capacity of other consumer organisations to participate.

On engaging the media, we visited the Independent Television News (ITN) and the Panos offices in London. These gave us exposure on news coverage and the kind of stories that are of interest to the media. It was also helpful in suggesting how to engage the media in our own countries as they also play a key role in advocacy.

Campaigning and advocacy
On campaigning and advocacy, we participated at a five-day training course on advocacy and policy influencing course run by the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) in Oxford. I have been to a number of similar trainings on this topic before, but it was still very enlightening; perhaps because of the calibre of the participants; who were all very much experienced in their respective fields and came from such diverse places as Niger, Benin, Zambia, Uganda, Fiji, Netherlands, Slovenia and Moldova, all already had some practical experience in advocacy and policy influencing and it is the sharing of these rich experiences that made it even more worthwhile. But even with all the diversity in background, areas of interest and experiences, there was agreement around certain facts/ concepts:
  • It is important to understand your problem and possible solutions to it and to have so mush conviction about it that you are able to summarize it in 15 seconds, if ever you need to convince a person with the power to make the change you want- The elevator pitch
  • A good campaign needs to go beyond educating…it must motivate. In fact, an effective campaign must pass the TEA test…it needs to Touch and make connection with your audience; it needs to Enthuse them to do something about the problem and finally it must prompt them to Act…
  • A good campaign must incorporate a ‘plan for success’. Once you achieve your intended objective…then what…do you have a plan of how to proceed?
  • A good campaign must also have a monitoring and evaluation component…progress is measured in terms of output, outcome and impact and where the campaign is digressing mid- way, efforts must be put in place to bring it back on track to ensure achievement of objectives.

The training also incorporated group activities and case studies to assist the participants put the theory into context. The most interesting one for me was the drawing of ‘rich pictures’. These are representation of your campaign problem (s) and solution(s) in a pictorial, which enables one to critically analyse and breakdown their complex problem.

CI and Pelisa
Besides these ‘external’ activities, we also got the chance to meet and interact with the staff at CI. This provided an insight into the operations of CI and their interactions with its members. I also had an opportunity to present my organisation and its work to the CI staff. It was clear for me that the context in which the work of CI and its members such is CIN are based is quite varied. For instance, while consumers in developed countries where some of CI members are based are grappling with reducing consumption of some services such as energy through efficient use, consumers in developing countries like Kenya still do not have adequate coverage and access to energy! It must be a challenge for CI to reconcile such extreme situations into global position that would be relevant for and appreciated by all members!

CI staff was also useful in building our capacity around resource mobilisation. This is very important and timely for CIN especially at this time when the organisation is exploring avenues for building its resource base.

Of course this experience would not have been the same without the other successful applicant- Pelisa Manqoyi from the National Consumers Forum (NCF) of South Africa. It was a real pleasure to meet Pelisa and to share this journey with her. I learnt a lot from her and the work they are doing especially in relation to the linkage that they have with consumers through the town meetings they hold and magazine that they print. These are models that we at CIN should learn a lot from! It was also just great to have someone to share, compare notes and chat with…and of course nothing can beat the sense of relief I felt when I looked at her in the middle of a tube ride, just to get that confirmation that indeed we were on the right one!!

Finally, my sincere thanks to the entire staff of CI for their great reception. Every one of them was helpful and accommodating and always ready to help. They wanted so much to hear about our work, opinions and experiences and went out of their way to meet our needs.

I found the programme very useful and my time in London very enjoyable.’

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