Who are you?
Sowo Lebbie, Community Engagement and Accountability Advisor for the Partnership Management, Evaluation and Learning (PMEL) project in Sierra Leone.
What do you do?
I work with community stakeholders at district level and in smaller communities making reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) evidence available to them. They use this evidence for decision making at the district level.
I support civil society organisations (CSOs) that advocate for better RMNCH services to use evidence, specifically to improve the status of health facilities and in particular for facilities to provide obstetric care services. At community level, I help to make RMNCH evidence available to use at district level to support decision making.
What does ‘be bold for change’ mean to you?
‘Be bold for change’ means that you are familiar with the issues and you are able to better talk about them targeting appropriate decision makers and other stakeholders using available evidence that will convince them to act for a change.
Tell us about a time where you’ve had to be ‘bold’.
The time that I have had to be bold was during the election campaign in Sierra Leone in 2012. I worked as part of a civil society coalition to use evidence to advocate for more funds to be allocated to the health sector in Sierra Leone. It was scary but it was the right opportunity to talk to politicians and stakeholders who wanted the communities’ vote. We had the opportunity to meet with politicians at community level and we got commitments from some of them to improve the health facilities within their localities. And my great achievement was, together with other colleagues and CSOs, the commitment from political parties to increase the budget for the health sector. This was a time we were really bold for change.
Did you face any resistance?
Initially we did not face any resistance, as the evidence we provided was additional information for them. All of them had committed themselves to do something on health, but the evidence highlighted where the problems were. For example, the budget tracking results showed how much money had been sent to the district, how much the council had spent and where the gaps were.
What challenges to being ‘bold for change’ do you face in your country?
Initially people commit themselves, but putting that commitment to action is where the challenge lies. When you succeed, it is because there were opportunities for that success. For example the free healthcare initiative that we advocated for, we saw it happen because of commitments from the politicians. Success depends on political will and priorities. If there is no political will then we won’t succeed in our advocacy. To sustain those changes is another challenge.
I believe there should be more inclusiveness and in this part of the world there are some strong traditional and cultural practices that exclude women, for example, women cannot be paramount chiefs in some areas. These things need to be looked and discussed at community and policy level to give equal opportunities.
There are a lot of strong women in Sierra Leone but we need more. We need more women to be educated to be aware of and talk about their rights. As it is, literacy rates are lower among women than men.
What bold actions would you like other people to take, to see a more inclusive, gender equal world?
Education – we need to have opportunities for more women to be educated and free education needs to be scaled up. The government should provide more opportunities for women to go to school, and then college so that we have more people who can stand up and defend their rights. Women are passionate when it comes to children’s issues. This will create greater awareness that will help to address issues such as maternal deaths.