Why I’m at the Micronutrient Forum

Stuart_GillespieBy Stuart Gillespie

“Why are you here?”  I have often asked myself this question in past conferences. But this time it was being asked of me and other panelists by the chair of a panel on building enabling environments at the Micronutrient Forum in Addis Ababa.

Normally, I don’t sign up for a week long conference on micronutrients.  Previous conferences (the last one being Beijing in 2009) have tended to be for the hardcore micronutrient crowd – full of presentations and posters on single-nutrient RCTs. But this one is very different.  Two years ago the organizers made a conscious effort to revive the Forum and open it up to research and debate on the big current issues of multisectoral engagement, scaling up, operationalizing integrated programs, strengthening capacity and leadership, innovative financing and how to build enabling policy and political environments. They have brought together a wide ranging, multidisciplinary group of participants (up to 1000 registered) and developed a lively program. 

Transform Nutrition’s work has been presented in 5 sessions (including the opening plenary) in two of the four tracks on “Scaling Up: bridging the gaps between evidence and implementation” and “Stakeholders and sustainability: elements of an enabling environment”.

One strong theme in discussions is “yes, we get the need for a multisectoral approaches, but how do we do it, and how do we avoid the mistakes of the past?”. A recent report from the SUN secretariat Effectively engaging multiple stakeholders  describes how several Multistakeholder Platforms (MSPs) are being given a legal footing through presidential or prime ministerial decrees and several countries are decentralizing the MSP mechanism from national to district-level. Implementation is clearly the new frontline.  We need to catalyse more experiential learning by developing stories of policy change, and we need to undertake more and better research on the nuts and bolts of how to make programs work.

Today, Transform is involved in sessions on “capacity development and leadership”, and on “defining obligations and taking responsibility”. Tomorrow, I present the Transform Nutrition evidence review (co-authored with Purnima Menon and Andrew Kennedy) on “scaling up impact on nutrition: what and how?”