In our last discussion we placed a heavy responsibility for transforming the heath status of African populations on technical and professional leaders. We agreed that this time round we will discuss how we can produce a critical mass of techno-professionals who will design and drive the reforms that are needed and to close the gap between what needs to be done and what is actually happening on the ground.
Every activity is impacted by the surrounding environment in which it takes place and our behavior is in real life a response to what is happening in our surroundings. In our previous discussions we have referred to the good old times when African techno-professionals were confident, motivated high performers. This was largely because there was a prevailing enabling environment for them. We have also discussed how this changed for the worse bringing in its entrails loss of confidence and poor performance. We have mentioned and welcomed the current era of a new hope for Africa with economies growing at 5% and above, more democracy, louder voices of civil society and a globalized world where we are all watched and are subject to international codes and norms.
While this gives us hope, the journey is still long and hard. In most of our countries, it is very hard for professionals to pursue excellence. The working conditions are not conducive with inadequate pay, a weak work-place resource support base, highly dependent society with heavy demands from extended family and colleagues, no social security and low pension, corruption with some colleagues getting too rich too quickly and bad politics including nepotism, sectarianism etc.
We have no choice but to change this! For all this to change for the better we have to grow today and tomorrow’s leaders who have faith in the future of our countries and who are change agents. Even in these apparently difficult conditions, I have seen techno-professionals who have made a difference.
What should we do? The first step is to acknowledge that it starts with each one of us as individuals. We have to start to take responsibility and be the leaders that we should be … leading to change, aiming for continuous performance improvement and above all being role models for the younger regeneration and for society. This commitment is taken at personal level, alone like you decide to join a religion or some other network. Mentorship is the traditional way in which health professionals were always brought up since the days of Hippocrates. Let’s create positive work-place environments where younger colleagues feel welcome and at home. If there are no young people hanging around you then you should immediately realize that something is wrong with your leadership. Let’s spot talent, nurture and develop future leaders and not see them as threats. Let’s embrace all of them irrespective of their origins devoid of sectarian considerations. My own experience is that talented people are generally reliable; once you win their trust, they will stick with you irrespective of all other considerations. I am what I have turned out to be due to a number of influences: my genes, my early childhood upbringing and equally important the role models that influenced my development as a young professional.
I also have a message for the younger colleagues. During the last two years as part of the Sub Saharan African Medical Schools Study (www.samss.org), we spoke to many students from many medical schools. One of the statements that struck me most is from a group of students who asserted that they also want “to be like the others” in other words to live well and get there quickly too. I appeal to the younger professionals to exercise patience and to commit themselves to grow up into the techno-professional leaders that Africa is beckoning them to be. There is plenty of room at the top for young professional who persevere and pursue excellence. I know this because I have seen it.