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Interview with the Dr. Hjordis Ogendo, Head of Social Affairs and Environment, EU Delegation in Kenya and SUN Donor Convenor

School lunches are fortified with 15 essential vitamins and minerals in Nairobi, KenyaBackground

Kenya was one of the first countries to sign up to the SUN Movement in November 2012 and the European Union Delegation in Kenya agreed to be the SUN Donor Network convenor in 2013. Around this time, Hjordis arrived in Kenya as the Head of Social Affairs and Environment and volunteered to take on the task of facilitating the SUN Donor Network.

She has been in the post for three years and will soon step down after handing over her role to anther Donor Convenor. NEX editor Carmel Dolan interviewed Hjordis to get some insights into her experiences of this role.

1. How does the Donor Network function and are there specific terms of reference or guidance documents?

When we started, nobody really knew what signing up to the SUN Movement meant. We started mainly from scratch and had to think through how to go about it. I felt that we were largely alone as a Donor Network (DN) in Kenya and didn’t know how it was for other DNs being established in other countries. There was a generic terms of reference developed by the SUN Movement Secretariat (based in Geneva) which we used and adapted to set out specific roles and responsibilities in the Kenya context. The Kenya DN was approved and adopted in late 2014.

2. How much work is involved for you in this role?

The DN-specific work requires about two days per month of time and I was fortunate to be able to share this workload with a DFID-funded consultant, who worked full time for one and a half years supporting the DN. Without this support, we would not have got to where we are today. This additional support has proved vital, as facilitating the DN is on top of my main European Union Delegation role in Kenya.

The key function of the DN is to support government directly through the SUN Focal Point (SUN FP) in their efforts to address malnutrition. Kenya has already achieved reductions in undernutrition and is one of only a few countries on track to achieve the World Health Assembly targets by 2020. However, many challenges remain as the disparities are large between various parts of the country and in the urban, informal settlements and there is also a growing problem with overweight and obesity.

Every SUN network in Kenya meets quarterly so this includes civil society, academia, UN agencies, business and donor networks. The Government SUN FP attends the DN meetings as well as other network meetings. As well as SUN-related network meetings, there are technical working group meetings on technical nutrition-related areas. Recently, a task force was established to discuss the need for a multi-stakeholder platform and Common Results Framework and to discuss advocacy on nutrition at  national and county level. In Kenya most of the nutrition related areas lie with the counties, so it is crucial to advocate also at this level.

The network facilitators also meet quarterly, so I attend these meetings to represent the DN. In essence, there are a large number of meetings (perhaps too many), not all of which everyone can attend. It is also important to inform the DN on what has been discussed and agreed in these other meetings.

3. How does the Donor Network interact with government – the SUN Focal Point and actors within other ministries?

The SUN FP is the key actor with whom the DN interacts on a regular basis. The EU has also supported the financing of a full-time policy support position in the Ministry of Health (MoH) to help the SUN FP with her workload, which is considerable. In terms of other ministries, there is limited interaction between the DN and these ministries at this time.

4. Do you think the network is better coordinated now in Kenya? Is there a better understanding of duplication and gaps between donors and between donors and government now that there is this network?

Yes, I would definitely say this is the case. There was no donor-specific coordination on nutrition before, but now we all know who the main donors are as well as who the smaller donors are. We have been mapping the ‘who, what, where’ and are much better at sharing information. But I am not saying we could not improve on this – for example, we have a long way to go in terms of coordinated programming at county level to avoid gaps and prevent duplication of efforts. This is particularly pressing given that Kenya has now devolved to 47 counties.

5. What would you say have been the main achievements of the Donor Network?

I would highlight two great achievements. Firstly, the First Lady of Kenya is now our Nutrition Patron, thanks to considerable advocacy work by all the networks in Kenya. This has had tremendous impact and still has great potential. The First Lady is a spokeswoman and role model and therefore she is listened to. Often in her speeches she refers to the need and importance of a healthy and balanced diet also related to reducing maternal and child death in the country.

As Kenya has a devolved system of power to 47 counties, we now have the opportunity to engage the Governor’s First Ladies in each county. People listen to them, so they are an ideal channel to transfer powerful and simple nutrition messages for the general population, as well as support their role as nutrition advocates to parliamentarians.

Our second biggest achievement has been undertaking a donor-mapping exercise for nutrition. Although we were not given a template for this, DFID provided support for a consultant to take on this task. We created a donor landscape of who was doing what where and with what resources in Kenya. As a donor community, we have found this very useful. The report has been published and is available on the EU Delegation’s website.

This may have been simpler for us if we had had more guidance on how to go about such an exercise. In fact, at a later stage, while attending a SUN Movement meeting in Kampala, we discovered that a methodology for this type of donor mapping was being developed and took it further by developing a scoring system to identify nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. We had not known about this before and think it would have strengthened our work in Kenya. Nevertheless, I am proud to say our mapping work has been very valuable.

6. What have been the main areas of difficulty/frustration with the Donor Network?

One of our main difficulties is that nutrition is still seen as a health problem. The nutrition agenda needs to open up and go beyond the current health and food-based approaches of supplementation and emergency nutrition interventions focused on treatment, although these are life-saving and vital.

The European Commission has a great interest in nutrition; therefore I had an increasing role to play to take the nutrition agenda forward and beyond the DN. We supported meetings between many stakeholders, not just donors, but academia and government too to discuss the need for multi-sector engagement and activities. It has been difficult to get key players to see that nutrition requires a life-cycle approach in order to tackle undernutrition as well as the growing overweight/obesity and non-communicable diseases challenges. What the increasing problems of overweight and obesity mean in the context of the SUN Movement is unclear. The perception that nutrition is an MoH problem remains a key issue. We need to see the ministries of education, agriculture and others equally engaged.

7. What have you learnt along the way and what advice will you impart to the next donor convenor?

I would mention a few priorities. First, the DN needs to be more strategic. I do not think we are there yet, mostly due to our time constraints, as we only meet quarterly and we are competing with other focus areas of development. We simply don’t have time! Devolution offers an opportunity to enhance our strategic thinking, identify county-level gaps and avoiding duplication of our nutrition programmes. There is scope for perhaps embarking on some joint donor programmes at the county level. Donor networking takes time and can’t be rushed. This is a key point and one that needs to be appreciated more widely. To transition from a DN that openly shares information to one that works and plans strategically is the next stage, but this will take time and patience.

2016 is the year of the DN and other SUN networks in Kenya for focusing on nutrition advocacy. This is important in order to maintain momentum for nutrition in a devolved context. Advocacy is needed in all 47 counties.

I would encourage the new DN convenor to continue to support the SUN FP in the country, as this is their main partner. The SUN FP’s main role is to get the other line ministries in the country on board and be proactive in pursuit of SUN-related activities. In the case of Kenya, the SUN FP is housed under the MoH, which we have seen has an insufficient level of influence with other line ministries to be able to get the necessary engagement. This is not a criticism, as the SUN FP does a huge amount of work; rather, she is limited by her position in government. Multi-sector scale-up relies on buy-in from the highest levels and this requires a high level, multi-stakeholder platform. This is beyond the reach of the MoH not only in Kenya but in many other countries. In Kenya, the SUN Movement would probably achieve much more under the Office of the President or under the responsibility of a line ministry that has the convening mandate, such as ministry of planning, to get the the President. I would like to see SUN at this level. I believe there will be great benefits from improving the current set-up.

8. Looking back at SUN in Kenya in two to three years time, what changes would you like to have seen?

If I were to look back in a few years time, I would very much like to see the following achievements:

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Interview with the Dr. Hjordis Ogendo, Head of Social Affairs and Environment, EU Delegation in Kenya and SUN Donor Convenor. Nutrition Exchange 6, May 2016. p29. www.ennonline.net/nex/6/drhjordisogendosun

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