Learning Journey: The art of living – perseverance and positivity as we transform today for a better tomorrow

Date: May 9, 2016
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“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”  Thomas A. Edison

Mariatu FonnahMy journey as the Regional Governance and Gender Justice Programme Manager in the Gender Links (GL) family continued in 2015 in the face of funding uncertainty that posed challenges to the sustainability of country offices and the growth of GL’s achievements over 15 years. I immersed myself in donor contracts and programme log frames as the governance team continued achieving desired results and more in 2015. The team was fired up to close on several donors concurrently.

Multiple priorities sometimes took a toll on my health and my ability to balance life, work, family and ensuring that whatever we hope to achieve through the Governance programme makes tangible differences. My key learning in 2015 was that it is important to invest in a healthy personal and working environment and team to be able to tap from positive energy within and around me and gain the needed strength to persevere in the quest for effecting social change.

At headquarters and in countries we have had to grapple with an uncertain funding environment caused by dwindling funding for women’s rights organisations, especially in the global south. One of the major challenges was how to remain relevant and continue to influence gender sensitive and responsive political and socio-economic transformation at local and community levels in the light of this. The global and regional reality directly affected two of Gender Link’s 10 regional offices, Namibia and Swaziland; affecting their optimal operations. These two country offices had to downscale to project sites due to lack of in-country and regional funding. Most of the other country offices, including Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe had funded projects ending in 2015 with no secured funds for 2016 onwards. This uncertainty caused anxiety for me as the programme manager with a responsibility to ensure that we are increasingly doing impactful work.

I had to embrace prioritisation of fundraising while also ensure effective programme implementation. This meant encouraging team members to doSouth Africa National Summit Gala Dinner 2015 the same. That balance was often challenging within the limited time and stringent donor deadlines. I found that perseverance and determination to work hard in meeting competing priorities “against all odds” was an important approach to dealing with multiple challenges. Key strategies I employed that are working even as these challenges loom in 2016 are

  • Building the capacity of all team members in fundraising and proposal writing. It was important for me to sharpen my fundraising and proposal writing skills and guide country managers to do the same and also improve their in-country fundraising to secure funding for their work.
  • Making use of key tools that help make the workload manageable. These tools include among others:
  • Scoping any document and ensuring conceptual clarity of any situation or writing exercise. This helps to create a structure for what needs to be done and how to do it at all times and within tight deadlines;
  • Preparing checklists with timelines to allow for a comprehensive and detail oriented way of working;
  • Timely consultations with other team members who may be knowledgeable on a specific area or issue, or just to discuss and bounce ideas with can ensure good results. Sometimes brainstorming or discussing a task helps one to understand it better and devise good interventions or strategies;
  • Analytic writing with conceptual and comprehensive clarity.
  • Value, invest in and nurture healthy working relationships and teams. This belief enabled me to rely on others and also be relevant to others as the GL family works together to imprint lasting footprints, especially at the level close to majority of the people, local government.

In addition to the above tools, my career growth in 2015 was made possible with the strict and sensible guidance from the Gender Links CEO, Colleen Lowe Morna, who has guided me to be visionary and have conceptual clarity in all my work and to be able to see opportunities even when a mariatuthings seem bleak and to never give up. She coached, mentored and led me and my team. Where I faltered, she helped me to “turn broken eggs into omelettes.”

I could not have sailed through “calm and stormy waters” on a daily basis without knowing I could tap positive energy and lean on my core team comprising Susan Mogari (Governance programme officer), Ntombi Mbadhlanyana (Deputy governance manager and South Africa manager), all country managers and their officers. Reliable sources of technical support, strong leadership and strength is appreciated from fellow foot soldiers in the GL family comprising other programme managers – Sikhonzile Ndlovu, Sifiso Dube, Anne Hilton and Monica Bandeira and all officers and the entire Finance and corporate services team led by Bhekiwe Ncube.

As the journey continues in 2016, I transit into a new year in hope that my learnings from 2015 are useful in making me a better person, colleague, leader, mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, neighbour and gender activist, advancing justice and fairness for women and girls in private and public spaces, individually and institutionally.

Written by Mariatu Fonnah, Governance and Economic Justice Programme Manager, Gender Links