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New efficiencies for money in the fight against AIDS in Africa

The Poles of Excellence program of the Dakar-based NGO Africa Consultants International is a cost-effective approach to community-oriented HIV prevention

Daniel ENGER

01 / 1999

In his first address as Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan emphasized the need for "new efficiencies for money" in the operations of the UN.

Given the harsh funding climate in many countries today, that same principle applies to projects and programs aiming to curb the spread of HIV and improve the lives of those affected by the epidemic in Africa. When it comes to the cost-effective reinforcement of NGOs and CBOs (community-based organizations)involved in AIDS work at community level on this continent, we are well-advised to take a close look at the Poles of Excellence program, which has been designed and implemented by Africa Consultants International, an NGO based in Dakar, Senegal.

The Poles of Excellence approach is a relatively low-cost, organic process of skills reinforcement, tailored to the specific needs and activities of each community awareness-raising organization. The program has brought on impressive improvements in the quality, frequency and effectiveness of the dissemination of essential reproductive health information. Begun in March 1997, activities to date have been concentrated in four regions of Senegal: Dakar, Kaolack, Thiès and Ziguinchor and have reached over 50 organizations. The approach is now being expanded to groups in other regions of the country.

ACI started by identifying a certain number of groups in each region that had already become actively involved in AIDS and STD-related activities and that had demonstrated the will and/or the potential to assist other structures in carrying out and improving their activities. They would be called "Poles of Excellence": groups that had proven capacities and, if reinforced, could not only improve the number and quality of their own activities in the field but could possibly have a multiplier effect by strengthening other groups in the development of local responses to the HIV epidemic and the promotion of reproductive health.

The Poles of Excellence structures in each region receive regular visits and ongoing input from one of several ACI "caseworkers". The caseworkers, who over time have developed close ties of collaboration and friendship with the local organizations, provide them with training, tools for learning and communicating, access to local and national networks, and much more.

As their confidence has grown, the local organizations’ vision of their own community role has expanded beyond improving understanding of reproductive health issues with audiences in their own communities. By providing learning materials, guidance, and opportunities for collaboration, solidarity and mutual assistance, they have become local resources for other smaller awareness-raising organizations and associations working in the same geographic area. This indigenous technical assistance has developed with little recourse to additional outside funding. It has created a steadily growing, informal network of organizations that has been mobilized for the rapid dissemination of accurate health-related information and the facilitation of community discussions of health-related issues by individuals who are familiar with and credible to the local people.

The Poles of Excellence are becoming increasingly autonomous community-based centers of skills and resources. This is of crucial importance if we wish to help those participating in community initiatives to improve their skills to manage and ensure the quality of community-based reproductive health awareness-raising activities. In the long term, even in a context of dwindling funds, these Poles of Excellence will continue to ensure the sustainability of activities that help people and communities adopt responsible behavior for their own health. The corollary will be the increased use and effectiveness of technically improved reproductive health services.

Today, the Poles of Excellence entity is being discovered by major organizations (Peace Corps and World Vision are just two examples)looking for a way to improve their own activities at the local level in Senegal. That’s completely logical, as the Poles of Excellence offer third parties immediate, fluid and efficient interface with a dynamic network of dozens of carefully selected organizations in a growing number of regions of the country.

Key words

AIDS, health

, África, Senegal, West Africa


For international structures interested in making a very low-risk, high-impact contribution to the fight against AIDS in Africa, it would be a good idea to strike up a dialogue with the people behind the Poles of Excellence program.

The Poles of Excellence are also well-positioned to facilitate the efforts of outside specialists who would like to carry out on-site, local-level research in the areas of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health in Senegal.

Perhaps most importantly, structures involved in HIV prevention across the continent and beyond should take time to study the Poles of Excellence model with a view to its replication elsewhere.


For further information on the Poles of Excellence program, contact ENGELBERG, Garyor DIA, Fatim Louiseat ACI, B.P. 5270 Dakar, Senegal. Tel (0221)824 83 38. Fax (0221)824 07 41. E-mail:

Interview with ENGELBERG, Gary; DIA, Fatim Louise


Resource person ; Interview

This file sheet is based on a rich dialogue and ongoing interaction with the <ACI>team since early 1996. In drafting this text, I also drew extensively on the case study written in late 1998 by Mr. Engelberg and Dr. Dia entitled, "The Poles of Excellence Approach: Promoting Reproductive Health by Strengthening the Skills of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs)".

GDT (The Global Dialogues Trust) - B.P. 11589, Dakar, SENEGAL. Tél : (0221)824 97 65 Bureau du Burkina Faso: 06 B.P. 9342, Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO Bureau du Royaume-Uni: c/o SJS, 7 Allison Court, Metro Centre, Gateshead NE11 9YS, UNITED KINGDOM - Senegal - -,

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