EXCLUSIVE: Acquiring the Attributes of an Effective Leader: Benetta Davies Tells her Story
Lessons learnt from the Civil Society Leadership Institute (CSLI) are bearing fruits in NAYMOTE.
Benetta Davies (BD), Programmes Officer at NAYMOTE was among the nine females who were selected to be part of the first cohort of 20 middle-level civil society practitioners who took part in the Civil Society Leadership Institute. This was organised by WACSI from March 9 – 20, 2015 in Accra.
After the training, she said, “this programme has planted a seed within me that will flourish in time to come”, she said.
Ten months after the training, we caught up with her to tell us the milestones she has been able to achieve as a result of the CSLI.
WACSI: What significant changes have you influenced in your organisation?
BD: I have contributed to and influenced change in two key aspects of our work; (i) enhancing our reporting system or the hierarchy in my organisation, and (ii) at the level of policy implementation.
Firstly, at CSLI, I learned that a leader does the right job and clearly defined leadership structure is important for the growth of an organisation. In the past, many staffs in my organisation unconsciously regarded the Executive Director (ED) as the leader through which all reports and decisions should be directly channeled and finished. As a result, personal productivity of staffs was reducing and caused repeated exhaustion for the ED as his responsibilities became overwhelming.
After CSLI, I realised that such system weakens the leadership in the departments, reduces productivity and impedes growth in the organisation. During a meeting, I proposed the use of performance as a means of evaluating staffs’ individual performance. As per the human resource (HR) policy, department heads evaluate their staffs. As a result, every staff began to report to their department heads and became more productive. Currently, decision-making in my organisation is decentralised in the departments with very little interference from the ED. Since then, the ED has been focused on securing partners and donors for NAYMOTE and creating strategies for sustainability. Staff’s productivity has increased and the organisation is functional even when the ED is absent for a period.
On policy implementation, as part of my action plan, I worked along with the HR Manager and a consultant to revise the HR Policy. But prior to the revision, the administrative and finance officer also played the role of an HR manager. After the revision, my organisation saw the need to have a staff focused only on implementing the HR policy.
An HR manager was recruited from amongst my organisation’s pool of volunteers. Being a colleague from the Bus project, I shared with her lessons from Human Resource Development session I took at CSLI and how with a clear plan, the programmes department can raise funds to support staff capacity building that matches the institution’s need. Since then, the HR manager has not just been promoting a positive work culture, ensuring safe travels for staff to rural Liberia, acquiring insurance and providing other support, but has also been ensuring that staffs are trained and capacitated.
Since May 2015, 8 of our staffs, both national and regional staffs, have been trained in different courses both internationally and locally. As a result of such capacity building, NAYMOTE, though run by young people, is regarded by its peers and even donors as one of the most vibrant organisations with committed and competent staff.
WACSI: Are there changes you’ve experienced in your career life as a result of CSLI?
BD: My leadership skills and productivity have improved. I have experience huge change in my performance. Prior to CSLI, I was Program Associate in my organisation. During that time, I was always occupied and tied up with responsibilities that I sometimes did not complete on time or with standards. So my bosses always perceived me as hardworking, talented and passionate but incapable of leading in their absence.
At CSLI I did not just learn but I understood the reasons why a leader must delegate and train others to perform. I also understood the importance setting standards that define every task one performs.
After CSLI, I relinquished my responsibility in the call center and supervised. I also trained and guided other programme staffs in basic report writing and facilitation and then set up a project management team. With this delegation, I was able to focus more on securing and managing grants for my organisation and expanding our programmes. I had the time to improve my proposal writing skills and networking skills. Within six months after CSLI, my organisation secured 3 grants, 2 of which were developed by me.
These were my first successful proposals in 2 years. I was also promoted in July (4 months after CSLI) as Program Officer. I have been the acting head of the programmes department since July 2015. From the quality of our programmes and reporting standards we are gaining donors’ trust and staffs are becoming more productive.
My strategic thinking ability was greatly improved. Prior to CSLI I did not have a strategic plan for my own life. All I did was work to help my organisation achieve its vision and objectives. However, after CSLI, I realised that there is so much I can contribute to my organisation if I first develop myself. So, I set specific goals in different aspects of my life. I mapped out exactly the skills, knowledge and networks I needed to help my organisation achieve its objectives at the time.
At such, I participated in programmes that increased my knowledge on elections and governance and worked on my public speaking skills. My participation in such programmes enabled me to design successful projects for my organisation. CSLI has turned me to a person who thinks about the skills and knowledge needed to implement a project months before the project even kicks-off. Practicing strategic thinking has helped me plan better, become more organised and perform my duties with ease and showing no sign of difficulty to the people around me.
My participation in events has been enhanced. Prior to CSLI, I struggled in making contributions and speaking fluently at meetings and conferences. During a session at CSLI, I learned how to use performance thinking in preparing for such events. I also learned that as a civil society practitioner, I have to have sound knowledge of governance issues, not just youth issues in my country, best practices in other countries and theories surrounding the issues I am working on.
Since CSLI, I have been making use of learning opportunities that will enable me understand good governance better and I have also been reading research papers and materials. I prepare for every meeting or event equally using a performance thinking strategy. I make bullet points of the issues I want to speak about and even practice how I want to say it (if I have time).
This has helped me communicate my ideas at events fluently and with cognition than in the past. Having a good participation in events is also broadening my network and increasing the visibility of my organisation. Many of our partners and donors have serious respect for the institution and admire the leadership of my organisation.
WACSI: What aspects of CSLI helped you the most?
BD: The lessons on leadership, personal productivity, strategic thinking, performance thinking and people management were helpful.
The mentoring aspect of the programme was quite helpful. I would not have overcome the many challenges I faced without the guidance and support of my mentor [Margaret Jackson]. The CSLI programme is excellent for developing middle level civil society practitioners. The programme dramatically influences your behaviour, leadership style and thinking in a way that shocks the people around you (particular the bosses) that they think you’re being too bold about you thoughts, until they finally realise that the change is good not just for you but for the organisation. Therefore, a person returning from CSLI needs guidance and support in implementing their action plans, until their colleagues are comfortable and have embraced the change; and that was exactly what the CSLI mentoring phase provided me with.
I am so thankful to WACSI and the FORD Foundation for such a life changing opportunity.
Benetta, second from right, with colleagues at NAYMOTE
WACSI with support from Ford Foundation rolled out the Civil Society Leadership Institute in 2015. This programme seeks to strengthen the leadership capacities of middle level practitioners and enable them to be able to influence change in their organisations and social transformations in their society. The first edition was organised from March 9 – 20, 2015 in Accra. It benefitted 20 middle level civil society practitioners (11 males and 9 females) from The Gambia, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Watch the video below to get participants' impressions about the programme. Davies shared her views.
The Institute has a resource centre that is open to civil society actors in the region. It serves as a library of civil society documents, research reports and edited volumes that are accessible to both individuals and organisations.
The Institute has partnered the Foundation Centre to provide online learning resources and a database of grant giving institutions in the United States of America.