Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Harvard Ministerial Leadership in Health Program: Advisory Board Meeting

On Saturday, 5 November 2011, the Harvard Ministerial Leadership in Health Program held an Advisory Board meeting in South Africa. I gave a talk over Skype on what kind of support would be valuable to Ministers from an international collaboration seeking to provide counsel and expertise. You can read it below. You can also download a PDF copy of the slides I designed and presented for the meeting as well.

What Kind of Support Would Be Valuable to Ministers?

Honorable Ministers and dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

Before beginning, I would like to quickly thank: the organizers of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Advisory Board for the invitation to join; and to my colleagues from around the world for your dedication and collaboration. Your question for me was: “What kind of support would be valuable for Ministers”. I would like to first lay the foundation by defining what the role of the Minister is within the Government. And I will use the example of Rwanda.

The role of the Minister depends on the Cabinet; and the role of the Cabinet is to get the country from Point A to Point B in order to improve the situation of the population. Cabinet is akin to a steering committee that validates and enforces decisions of technical sectors for the implementation of the nation’s vision under the leadership of the President-elect. So the Minister’s role boils down to being the implementer of a national vision that is guided by the Cabinet, articulated by the President, and informed by the population.

In Rwanda, Ministries are working together into Clusters in order to maximize synergies and overlaps in target interventions. This Cluster method began in 2009, and divided all Ministries into three Clusters. The Ministry of Health is part of and chair of the Social Cluster, which includes Gender, Education, Local Government, Infrastructure and Youth. These are all of the important ministries for social development. This organization enhances collaboration and cooperation, while allowing Ministers to lead policies and make strategic decisions according to the availability of infrastructural, financial and human resources. This assures connections and smooth implementation. Decisions made must be harmonized with Ministries within and outside of a given Cluster. This also increases each member’s knowledge of what is needed for good social development – it is the same for increasing the economic knowledge for the economic cluster, etc.

Ministers must plan, reach countless targets, and monitor closely – these are not easy tasks, as we need to coordinate and get many national and international partners to work together around one plan. This gathering can bring valuable support to Ministers to identify the goals of the goals of their health sector, what it takes to get there, and identifying what is needed to ensure that the plan stays on course. Based on this example, I see some opportunities for improvement where support for Ministers would be valuable.

For Setting Targets
  • Agreeing on a shared and inspired vision for your country, because alone you will achieve nothing.
  • Articulating goals and policies to achieve them by using participatory processes and evidence-based decisions.
For Strategic Planning
  • Working across clusters and constituencies to build consensus and synergies, and taking a holistic approach for development, as health is not a stand-alone. Health is too important to leave it just to Ministers of Health!
For Monitoring & Evaluation
  • We need to do periodic measurement of progress and shortfalls by structuring systems for documentation and learning so that we can take lessons to improve our future work. This allows us to rectify quickly when needed – if you implement fast, you increase your targets. In Rwanda, we have already achieved many health sector targets for our Vision 2020, so we sit and review for more ambitious ones. This brings a culture of flexibility and allows us to always do the best at the moment. 
  • Inculcating culture of transparency and accountability for all is key for the success of the sector.
All of this said, we must be very careful to avoid the trap of thinking that simply articulating a vision and planning your monitoring and evaluation strategy will be enough. Setting targets, and measuring how you are doing against them, these are the fun parts. The real trick is in the delivery, and let me be very clear: there are no magic shortcuts here. As the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Advisory Board, we must be sure to also focus on the key middle part of the equation in the middle of this slide – the process of implementation.

I believe that there are seven steps for executing your vision, and each of these must draw on a ministerial culture of discipline and entrepreneurship. First, a Minister must be able to honestly assess the situation of your health sector – to plot where you are right now.

Next, you must choose your team – a team designed to succeed, not one that you are most comfortable with. You need people who have the courage to stand and challenge you. You must have the right people before you can start moving in the right direction.

Third, you must focus on building momentum; this does not mean that you are always progressing at a fast pace – it may be very hard to get things moving at first, but with consistency, small steps add together to become a powerful force with a life of its own.

In order to build such a culture in all members of your team, you as the Minister must lead by a disciplined example. Act out your Ministry’s values in your own actions.

Fifth, I believe that the key to successful execution is to focus on your outputs, in the way that a well-run business does, but in the social realm.

Your team must understand the importance of running your health sector like a business focused on social outputs of health and wealth for the population. You are not after financial profits, but you must measure your progress in health outcomes with the same careful attention that the best CEOs apply to their bottom line. Always have in mind that your end product is health and wealth in a cost-effective manner, meaning the best you can possibly achieve given the investment you make.

Finally, you must be aware of the right time to take advantage of technology to help accelerate your planning cycle and your delivery process. This does not mean jumping at every new gadget – you must be strategic about how a new technology well-applied could make your vision take off. This requires the ability to see ahead. It must also to be a cost-effective analysis, like a chief of industry sometimes invests one million to save ten million.

All of this matters only if Ministers of Health are ready to be the leaders that our health sectors need. When the health sector experiences success, give credit to the. When there is failure, the Ministers have to look in the mirror and take responsibility instead of looking out the window. I thank you again for having me. This presentation contains many ideas that I am ready to develop with you and to share with my colleagues.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you all.