Improving Nutrition for Women and Children in Kenya

The four lessons learnt during the implementation of the Improving Nutrition project, from the perspective of a Project Coordinator.

The Improving Nutrition for Children and Mothers Project in western Kenya was funded by UK Aid Match and implemented in the counties of Busia and Bungoma between May 2018 and April 2021.

Thanks to this project, 73,729 men, women and children from smallholder farming families now have improved nutrition and health. The work was carried out with several key themes in mind: the production and consumption of nutritious food, primary health care practices, income generation and gender inclusion.

It was my job as Project Coordinator to lead a team of seven colleagues to implement the work. Throughout the process a quote from Joy Gumz, the Director of Project Auditors (a project management, training, and quality assurance auditing firm) guided us along:

“Operations keeps the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train engine that moves the organization forward.”

Joy Gumz Director of Project Auditors

1. Bringing the team together

Right at the beginning of the project, we struggled with team cohesion. We’d all come from different backgrounds – bringing with us different behaviours, attitudes, knowledge and experiences. Speaking personally, nothing prepared me for what I had to deal with on a daily basis!

This was quickly reversed when I looked into team effectiveness and training on how to merge conflicting interests for the good of the project. I ensured everyone played their part, aligned to my vision as a team leader but also focused on Ripple Effect’s mission of giving communities the hope and means to secure their future from land.

To gain a better understanding of how to support each team member, I allowed myself to be mentored by the Programmes Manager. This resulted in a high performing team, composed of amazing colleagues who I truly valued. Together we developed simple management tools to guide us on our progress, conducting assessments, managing risks, managing the budget and capturing critical lessons.

2. Building quality Relationships

If we were to achieve our goals, it quickly became apparent that establishing and maintaining quality relationships between a variety of development stakeholders would be crucial.

I built relationships with the project participants, project staff, stakeholders and our implementing partner, Support for Tropical Initiatives for Poverty Alleviation (STIPA). I also got to know those who had the most influence over the project activities – mostly the government departmental bosses.

My preferred approach for building relationships was through arranging frequent feedback sessions and keeping open lines of reporting. For the latter approach, it helped to form a steering committee to monitor the projects activities.

This helped to build an efficient environment for all players, bringing strong synergies together. The team also had a good relationship with the fund managers Manion Daniels, who channelled information to enable the grant holders to act appropriately in relation to the reporting requirements, budget management and inclusion.

3. Adaptive management

Adaptive management was a useful approach that I learnt. It involves making decisions and adjustments in response to new information and changes in context – by changing the path being used to achieve the goals. It’s all about being flexible enough to respond to change. The UK Government supported my use of this approach to manage the project, and I believe this contributed to us achieving our goals.

The project’s target group was young mothers of child-bearing age. We anticipated that they might face challenges in participating with project activities like training, and also that they don’t always own the land needed to farm. In response to this we changed our approach, ensuring that they were able to bring their young children to training. We also involved spouses during training, and arranged learning tours for awareness and support.

In the end, this helped open the road for them to adopt the farming techniques, nutrition and health-care practices that the project was all about.

4. Community participation

Another key lesson we learned was that the group you’re working with needs to feel like they own the process, if it’s going be successful.

The Improving Nutrition project encouraged broad community participation during its training activities. The more that groups began working together, the greater the sense became that the communities were collectively solving their own problems.

While it’s important to work closely with the community, there is also a need to give learning opportunities to them – so that a sense of ‘internal community capacity’ is built, as opposed to a dependence on outsiders. Through the Participatory Self-Review Process (PSRP) the groups were able to internally assess their progress towards the achievements of their goals, whether at individual, group or community level. From the review processes came action points – and from these came a sense of ownership, interest and increased motivation and commitment. In this same regard, we found out that the role of peer farmer trainers is crucial to building this sense of independence, through peer learning.

Together with my team, we surveyed the community’s fears and achievements; we explored the moral dilemmas of men, women, young people and those living with disabilities. This reflection helped to reaffirm the impact of the project on their livelihoods.

By Elizabeth Odhiambo, Project Coordinator