Interview with Jennifer Bakyawa, Knowledge Management/Learning Officer, USAID/Uganda RHITES-N, Acholi Activity
Jennifer Bakyawa is a Knowledge Management/Learning Officer for the USAID/Uganda RHITES-N, Acholi Activity, for which Panagora Group is a subcontractor to URC. Jennifer is leading efforts in communications, stakeholder engagement, and learning activities in eight districts of the Acholi region in Uganda and is progressing knowledge management, communications, and health research engagement projects to improve the health outcomes in communities for the RHITES activity.
What inspires you about working for Panagora Group?
Panagora Group allowed me to practice knowledge management (KM), which I had not done fully since completing my M.Sc. in KM. I wanted to work with a global team, where I could learn and hone my skills, especially in KM. I have a team that supports me all the time, with phone calls and related tasks. The team looks out for my needs, sends me the information I need, and when I request help, I get it. At Panagora Group, I am given the leeway to initiate ideas and implement them. For me, that is very important.
Why are you passionate about health and KM/collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA)?
Everything in life revolves around health. If you do not have a healthy body or a healthy mind, there is little you can do in any other sector. So, for me, health is important. We must be healthy in our body, mind, and soul, for the other sectors to succeed as well. Working in this sector gives you an opportunity to impact someone’s life through your work without your work being tainted by politics or scuffles that may happen between groups. You have an opportunity to change someone’s life if they read the information you created or if you engage them. I enjoy it when I see the before–and–after results that show that the health of an individual, the community, or the environment has improved. That gives me satisfaction.
I am passionate about KM vis-a-vis health because there is a lot that is done in terms of implementation and new strategies. If knowledge is not garnered, passed on, or shared, then it is as good as wasted. For example, if a person leaves with crucial knowledge, then the community or the people it would have helped do not benefit. So, knowledge management allows me to pass on these good things that others are doing, to share them, and to impact people’s lives.
How do you support USAID in the context of health outcomes using KM/CLA?
USAID requests information, success stories, and pictures, and sometimes they request help when they want to come and document stories on their own. I must look out for possible interviewees in the area; then, I meet with them to see whether they have stories worth reporting. Another way I help USAID is by overseeing branding for the activities, and ensuring that activities are being branded appropriately.
Lastly, I work with a team to document what impacts we have made or how we’ve helped our communities. The team writes success stories and case studies or takes pictures and these are shared with USAID who then can share with broader stakeholders and other partners. This indicates the impact USAID is having on health outcomes in the region. I support the communications team with the documentation or respond to any call from the media for information. Branding helps to show visibility of USAID, not only for the region but beyond the Activity. I am acting as a buffer between the Activity and the media, and pointing them in the right direction where they can get the correct information.
How does your work support the Uganda Health project objectives and in country development?
We are looking at behavior change and healthier communities in the Ugandan context. So, if stories are documented, these stories are then shared in communities. That way, community members who may have a fear that they cannot change their lives can learn from these stories. People can pick one or two activities; it could be at an individual level, it could be at the facility level, it could be at a community level, or even at a district level. So, my work helps me, individuals, in terms of behavior change. It allows for learning from one to others, such as facilities, communities, and peer-to-peer learning. It also helps between districts to pick some best practices that they can adapt to whatever they are implementing in a region.
What is an important aspect of your work that you would like to share?
Use of data for activity improvement is crucial. From time to time, the team presents data which we analyze for successes or a need for adaptation. KM is key in every organization, whether it’s health, whether it’s separate culture, whichever sector it is. KM is key because we can learn, collaborate with it, adapt, and prevent reinventing the wheel. By having KM in place or the knowledge manager on-site, teams are not going to repeat what they did before if it was not successful.
How are you, as part of the RHITES-N Activity, responding to the COVID-19 crisis?
We have had to come up with some strategies to ensure that work continues despite the restrictions and the Government of Uganda’s partial lockdown. At the health centers which we support, staff that are not considered “key” have been requested to stay at home, or can come in to pick-up documents, like data collectors who pick up information, and then work from home.
Activities at our Gulu office continue, but due to transport challenges and restrictions, not everyone can travel from their home districts to Gulu during the lockdown. We have had to adapt. Some key technical areas that have to be on the ground are still there. For instance, laboratory, accounts, supply chain, and monitoring and evaluation are still on the ground. Some staff also come in for one or two weeks and then go back to their families. We have had to adapt in that way and some of us are working virtually. Before the pandemic, we interviewed people face–to–face. Now, you must find ways of getting stories, even if you are not in the region because our work must continue. We are communicating using virtual interfaces as we work from home. We have some staff still working at the office in terms of supporting facilities, but even health facilities have reduced shifts from three to two people at a time in order to minimize COVID-19 risks. We have had to deliver drugs since the clients cannot come to the facilities now like they used to do, so we have had to adapt and bring the drugs to them in communities.
RHITES-N, Acholi has received funds from USAID to support the COVID-19 response in the Acholi sub-region and is working with district task force teams to implement approved activities.
We are trying to support the region in terms of sharing information on COVID-19 such as social distancing, hand washing, and correct use of personal protection equipment. We give the laboratory personnel in the region data bundles to participate in the Ministry of Health weekly updates on sample collection, management, and transportation. We ensure that the motorbikes on which suspected COVID-19 samples are transported are in good order.
Our teams are working with village health teams to ensure that homesteads have proper WASH equipment such as the “tip-tap.” The teams are ensuring that facilities receive and understand treatment guidelines from the Ministry of Health in line with COVID-19.
Lastly, our team is part of the eight district task forces, which meet almost every week to find out relevant happenings. Since we are a big implementing partner in the region, we have membership in the district task forces and we have inputs in what the district tests for and discusses.