The Poles of Excellence program of the NGO Africa Consultants International is a model worthy of replication
01 / 1999
It is abundantly clear to all members of the stop-AIDS community in the Sahel region of Africa that we will continue to fail unless we find ways to share information and work together more efficiently. An important first step toward greater collaboration is to increase the flow of information on existing structures and resources.
The Sahel today is not lacking in dynamic, committed individuals and organisations in the field of HIV prevention. Unfortunately, most of them have never even heard of one other - even if they live and work in the same country. Probably the greatest barrier of all to the development of collaborative relationships in this region is the insufficiency or even total absence of systems to help potential partners find and become familiar with one another.
In this region, there is no shortage of innovative ideas on HIV prevention. The problem is, those ideas are not circulating as they should. The Sahel must be enabled to take far better advantage of the expertise that has accumulated here since the beginning of the epidemic. Well-crafted educational and training materials, audio-visual resources, and the like often end up tragically under-utilised due to the absence of systems to ensure that they find their way into the hands of people who could put them to good use in the field.
Furthermore, the world as a whole stands to benefit a great deal from the Sahel’s accomplishments in the field of HIV/AIDS. Systems for the circulation of relevant information from and to the Sahel must be reinforced.
The Poles of Excellence program, coordinated by the Dakar-based NGO Africa Consultants International (ACI), has proven to be an effective means to facilitate in an ongoing, sustainable fashion the circulation of information relevant to HIV prevention among members of the stop-AIDS community in Senegal and beyond.
The Poles of Excellence program aims to strengthen the reproductive health-related skills of a variety of community development organizations and associations with particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS, STDs and adolescent reproductive health. 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 will be expanded to groups in other regions of the country in 1999. One highly trained "caseworker" serves as the liaison between ACI’s headquarters in Dakar and the organisations located in each given region.
The caseworkers have emerged as ultra-dynamic vectors of information exchange on a number of levels:
*They provide locally based organisations with top-quality resources (documents, video tapes, etc.), information on successful practices identified in Senegal or elsewhere in the world, and much more. In this way, geographically remote, electronically deprived structures suddenly find themselves "in the loop".
*The caseworkers circulate information on successful practices among members of the stop-AIDS community of their designated region in the course of their regular (at least monthly)visits. The Poles of Excellence caseworkers have, in many cases, been the initiators of fruitful dialogues across disciplinary lines and between representatives of the public and private sectors.
*Regular meetings of the Poles of Excellence coordinators and caseworkers allow them to share their experiences with one another. The caseworkers are subsequently in a position to circulate information on one CBO’s successes with scores of other organisations throughout the country.
Thanks to the Poles of Excellence program, ACI is an important hub of information exchange among grass-roots structures in Senegal. However, it is important to emphasize that there is also an international dimension to all this. ACI enjoys great respect throughout Africa and around the world, and international specialists in HIV/AIDS or adolescent reproductive health often visit ACI when conducting research or embarking on other relevant activities in the region. ACI’s Poles of Excellence program is a unique and invaluable interface between the international stop-AIDS community and grass-roots organisations throughout Senegal.
With regard to the circulation of useful, relevant information, who is better off: a small CBO in rural North Carolina accustomed to Internet use, or a geographically remote CBO lacking access to electricity and participating in the Poles of Excellence program? Neither is a hands-down winner. The Poles of Excellence cannot offer round-the-clock access to chat rooms, e-mail and hundreds of relevant web sites. However, the Internet lags behind the Poles of Excellence when it comes to quality-control filters for the information being transmitted, and chat-room correspondents are not in a position to interact nearly as comprehensively (i.e., not only intellectually, but also emotionally, spiritually)as a caseworker with his/her CBO partners.
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: email@example.com
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 - www.globaldialogues.org - firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com