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Michael Ngigi and Sarah Mpapuluu

What we learned from the world-first Africa Social Behaviour Change Conference…

It is the single idea driving so much of the positive impact being achieved across Africa and beyond in the current moment.  

Behaviour change.  

And it is an idea that is at the core of the work ThinkPlace is engaged in from Kenya to Cote D’Ivoire; from Mozambique to South Africa.  

So when leaders, changemakers and decision makers from the media, donor community, implementors, the private sector and government came together for the first annual Africa Social Behaviour Change Conference, we just had to be there.  

The conference kicked off in Nairobi and drew some of the most influential voices in development from around the world. The theme was 'Disruptive SBC strategies for the future of Africa'.  

The objective was to provide learning opportunities and healthy discussions about how we can leverage Social Behaviour Change to catalyze development in Africa.   

Here are the five big takeaways from three days of inspiring and stimulating discussion…  

ThinkPlace in first annual Africa Social Behaviour Change Conference
The conference brought together changemakers from all over the world in all sectors including the media, donor community, private sector and government

1.Africa is unique  and needs a unique approach  

Africa remains a very dynamic landscape and it is widely agreed that solutions and interventions for the continent's challenges need to be tailor made for its people. In one of the initial discussions of the conference it was noted that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, players in the development sector need to make great efforts to understand what it is that makes Africa unique and how this understanding can lead to unlocking its potential.   

It was also clear that both governments and the private sector have now accepted that social behaviour change is the most effective, efficient and impactful approach for addressing African challenges. This was further strengthened by narratives from government representatives on the importance of involving citizens in designing solutions to challenges in their environments.  

 

2. Governments  cannot and will not drive change alone  

One of the important quotes to illustrate this came up on day 2 of the conference from Sabina Chege who is a representative in the Kenya county assembly and is also chairperson of the Parliamentary Health Committee.  

  "For a long time we have looked to government ministries to give us direction on public health and this has never worked,” she said. “We shall now look to the citizens to direct us because they know what they need."    

 

3. But we should expect more from our governments  

The role of governments in driving behavior change was a topic that drove discussion and sparked diverse views. Despite calls for citizens to seize the initiative themselves the historical inability of many governments to take the lead did not mean they could absent themselves from responsibility, some argued.  

A highlight was when one of the Kenyan panelists Prof. Khama Rogo the Lead Health Sector Specialist with the World Bank & Head of the World Bank Group's Health in Africa Initiative, turned the spotlight on African governments and the need to embrace behaviour change for it to work in their countries. He believes that citizens should demand greater capability for driving behaviour change in government ministries and not just wait for it to happen.  

"Our people are tired of changing behavior. Our governments should change behavior first." Prof Rogo told the conference.  

"Until we make our governments do the right thing, let's stop asking Africans to change their behavior. They are not chameleons."  

For our part, ThinkPlace recognises the importance of governments in forming collaborative relationships with NGOs and the private sector and helping to drive positive behavior change in areas such as reproductive health and nutrition . Acting as a catalyst, connector and amplifier of these collaborations is a huge part of what ThinkPlace does.  

  

4. Innovative methods can drive us forward  

The conference featured a number of eye-opening presentations about current reproductive health interventions in social behavior change from around the world.   

One such intervention was the use of mobile films projected on truck carriages to enable communication about male circumcision and vasectomy to men in remote areas of northern Kenya such as Turkana.   

For us, as ThinkPlace designers, this resonated a lot. Given that we have a project about  increasing demand and uptake of sexual reproductive health and rights in Kenya's Arid remote north (starting in April), this presentation gave us additional insights regarding how we could design in the context of deep cultural and religious influence.  

 We are always striving to find new ways of connecting with communities, cohorts and individuals who have proven difficult to reach. It was great to see others sharing enthusiasm for this spirit of innovation  

  

5. Fight corruption (but work around it too)  

One of the major concerns that kept coming up in the conference was how to address corruption as we work across the continent. It’s an unfortunate reality in many parts of Africa and one we can’t ignore. But it can also be paralyzing. It can be a disincentive to attempt the kind of change that is needed.     

The general consensus was to keep fighting corruption head-on but also to find ways of working around it in the meantime. As organisations striving to make lasting, positive change we should embrace the idea that even corruption can be designed out especially in the health sector.  

 

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