The partnership between Royal College of Midwives and Ugandan Private Midwives Association worked together to ensure that their project plan was relevant to the UPMA's strategic plan. As they explain, communication is key to getting this right and the process of aligning project with strategy is an on-going one.
The Global Midwifery Twinning Project (GMTP) was a partnership between the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in the UK and professional midwifery associations in Cambodia, Nepal and Uganda.
The partnership ran from 2012 until 2015. Its aim was to strengthen the midwifery associations in these countries, helping them to raise standards of education and practice, and building their capacity as organisations in leadership, advocacy, lobbying and organisational management. In addition to pairing up organisations, individual midwives were also matched. The project aimed to contribute to the improvement in care of mothers and babies and the reduction of maternal, newborn and child mortality. Senior UK midwives volunteered their experience and, during the three-year project, there were 75 volunteer placements, each lasting up to four weeks.
In Uganda, the partnership organisation was the Uganda Private Midwives Association (UPMA). Mary Musoke is the UPMA president and Andrew Kibuuka was the project co-ordinator. Joy Kemp is Global Professional Advisor at the RCM.
The partnership was interested in strengthening all aspects of UMPA’s capacity. As part of an initial organisational capacity assessment exercise, it was identified that UPMA’s existing strategic plan had expired. A new strategic plan was developed with the assistance of a Ugandan national external consultant. He facilitated a workshop from which an initial draft was produced. Two country directors from RCM were included in the workshop, providing technical expertise, but the development of the strategic plan was a process owned by the UPMA, independently of the partnership. The final draft, as approved by the UPMA executive board, is a user-friendly document, detailing the organisation’s goals and objectives as a network of midwives, strengthening their role representing midwives and addressing midwifery education and regulation in Uganda.
Involving people – staff at all levels, members and other stakeholders – in the process of putting together a strategic plan can be as important as its content. According to Joy, if a plan has been worked on collectively by the organisation, is jointly owned and everyone understands it, it is much more likely to be used. A beautiful strategic plan is useless if it is not owned by the organisation or cannot be understood.
Mary describes the UPMA strategic plan as being “almost like a Bible” for the organisation. They consult it frequently when planning and thinking about direction. Particularly when working with UK midwives as part of the twinning project, the strategic plan helps to communicate where UPMA is going.
Mary recommends sharing strategic plans early in the process of planning a partnership. Where possible, sitting down together and looking at what the strategic plan contains will help to deepen the understanding of relevant goals.
Joy explains that it was important for the partnership that its project plan – building capacity for education and leadership, and improving care – would be relevant to the UPMA strategic plan. The two plans were different but aligned. “It was my role to dovetail in the plans, so that what we were doing was complementary.”
Some elements of the strategic plan may not be relevant to the partnership plan, and the focus should be on where the partnership can offer something. For example, UPMA is a network of private midwives, so some of its goals relate to supporting its members as a network of women in small business. Although an important strategic goal, this was not a relevant partnership goal.
According to Andrew, there have been other benefits of sharing the strategic plan – being open about goals and objectives meant the RCM team and visiting midwives had a better understanding of what might benefit UPMA, even in areas where the partnership project was not addressing specific points. For example, RCM midwives have been able to highlight other opportunities beyond the project plan, and have shared training models and resources with UPMA. He says working with RCM on approaching stakeholders has helped UPMA staff to improve their skills in networking and approaching new partners more generally.
The dovetailing of plans and goals was a process of negotiation between the two partners, which began early on in the partnership. After project set-up workshops in the UK, RCM staff travelled to Uganda in the first few months of the project and every six months subsequently. Joy and the executive board met and looked at which things in the UPMA strategic plan the partnership could help with. They considered what elements would need to be reported on, and how project objectives could be met. Following the initial meeting, discussions continued by email and through Skype calls.
Open and honest communication between partners is important, and building relationships is key to establishing trust. In addition to having a plan on paper, Mary emphasises, “you need to be open with each other, to say how you really feel and share with each other”.
Joy adds that there is really no substitute for face-to-face contact and as extensive a series of stakeholder visits as possible. “The sooner you can get out and do a visit, the better. You do not understand the context until you get out there.”
Looking at the strategic plan is only one part of the process of understanding it. It is not enough to simply read a document in isolation. For a partner organisation, learning about an institution’s goals and plans also means building relationships with the people involved, understanding the context they are working in, and learning about the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the organisation.
Understanding the plan may be easy, but understanding the context in which the plan will be implemented can take longer. For the RCM and UPMA this included identifying and understanding the strategies and plans of other important stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Health, UN agencies such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund. In order to successfully represent its membership, UPMA needs to be aware of the context midwives are working in – and for the RCM to contribute to their work in a meaningful way, it is important that priorities are set which reflect the situation in Uganda.
Joy also describes the importance of ongoing communication. RCM staff visited seven times and met with the UPMA executive team at the start and end of visits. This provided an opportunity to revisit the partnership plan, renew the relationship, discuss priorities for the visit and report back on outputs. Additionally, UPMA representatives visited the UK twice during the project. The partners recognised that aligning partnership goals with strategic planning is an ongoing process.
Following the successful completion of this project, RCM and UPMA have now begun working together on MOMENTUM – developing a model of mentorship for Ugandan midwives. A pilot mentoring scheme, trialled during the twinning project, evidenced the potential for wider mentoring of student midwives. MOMENTUM aims to address the poor quality of mentorship for student midwives in Uganda by developing a national standard for mentorship, developing centres of excellence, and developing work-based learning to prepare midwives to be mentors.
Mary Musoke and Andrew Kibuuka Uganda Private Midwives Association. Joy Kemp Royal College of Midwives.