Why we need to work ‘Together for Nutrition’

Stuart Gillespie, CEO of Transform Nutrition reflects on the “spectrum of collaboration options available” on day 1 of the ‘Together for Nutrition 2014′ conference in Delhi which is jointly supported by Transform Nutrition and POSHAN.

“We have had a great first day, with a lot of energy and a richness and diversity in the experiences of “coming together for nutrition” in different states, and at different levels (from policy down to block-level convergence). Everyone who registered for this conference believes that undernutrition is a neglected but crucially important issue, and that it is multifaceted in causation, requiring multisectoral approaches in response.

 But we have also learnt that there is a spectrum of collaboration – from simple communication and networking on one side right up to a full integration of planning and action where resources and capacities are pooled in pursuit of the common goal of addressing undernutrition.  Not everything needs to be integrated, not everything needs to converge…..sometimes key stakeholders simply need to do their job!  Co-location of programs and interventions may be all that’s needed…..so that the vulnerable child (and mother) have access to key services and programmes where and when they need them.

Where a more developed form of collaboration is needed, both partners need to collectively develop and agree on a shared vision and goal, and a theory of change as to how they will reach that goal.  Both partners need to perceive a clear net benefit in collaborating where the gains outweigh the costs.  This in turn needs a transparent and joint assessment of incentives (or disincentives) for action, along with the trade-offs that need to be anticipated and resolved.  It requires the identification of “win-win” solutions or synergies that can be exploited and realized through the collaboration.  Waving the nutrition flag is not enough…..partners need to be open to learning new sectoral “languages” and understanding different mindsets and motivations.

Different approaches were suggested for enabling such forms of collaboration, including the Theory U process which involves Co-Seeing, Co-Understanding followed by Co-Acting.  20 years ago, while working with UNICEF, we used a similar approach termed the Triple A process of Assessing the problem, followed by an Analysis of causes and resources to respond, and finally deciding and implementing appropriate Actions.  This was a cycle…..as it needed to be iterative…following the action, the situation is re-assessed (M&E) to see if there’s been a change, and the cycle continues….

We heard some fascinating and innovative approaches for collaboration in many states, and at several levels.  We heard from a group of journalists who look for the faces behind the facts, who understand the art and science of telling stories that can be summed up in the phrase: “outrage and inspire”. And we heard from civil society on the important of convergence at the grass-roots, about ownership, shared learning and focused advocacy.

Finally, we heard some interesting parables and analogies.  The story of King Bruce watching the spider struggling to weave a thread across the ceiling beam….falling back, then starting again…..two steps forward, one step back…but eventually succeeding!  Patience and perseverance is the message…stay the course and eventually we will get there.  We also heard of Lawrence’s seaside experiences with penny slot machines….hoping that the next penny will be the one that shunts the pile of coins over the edge.  It’s possible with small inputs….if they’re strategically timed and focused….to have a cascade or multiplier effect.  Leadership – whether at the level of policymakers or anganwadi workers, or indeed any level – works like this, and can have such a catalytic effect.  Leadership is pivotal for transformational change in nutrition.”