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Leadership In Challenging Times: Joyce Wanderi-Maina (SPNM 2019)

By: Joyce Wanderi-Maina 08 Apr 2021

This post is part of our “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series, which highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this post, Joyce Wanderi discusses her work as CEO of PS Kenya and its response to the COVID-19 crisis. Joyce participated in the Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management (SPNM) Program with HBS Executive Education in June 2019, as well as SEI’s Nonprofit Crisis Management workshop series in June 2020.

Tell us about your work.

PS Kenya is a local NGO in Kenya that supports the Ministry of Health to address public health priorities including HIV, Malaria, TB, Reproductive Health and most recently the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our approaches include social behaviour change, social marketing and social franchising for health; all geared towards empowering Kenyans to make healthier choices. We provide care to more than 10 million Kenyans.

How has your organization and your role responded to this year's challenges?

On March 13. 2020, the first case of COVID 19 was announced in Kenya and immediately after that the government instituted movement restriction, a ban on public gatherings and curfew, among other restrictions. Our organization responded in a few ways...

Creating an enabling environment:

We quickly designed COVID policies for continuity of our essential services, shifting our implementation model from community gatherings to house to house visits to ensure access to information, products and services. We reallocated resources; increased need for personal protective equipment and IT upgrades meant negotiating with our funders to create room for this emergency. We secured a grant to support the Ministry of Health to develop a national behaviour change campaign aimed at sensitising Kenyans on the key interventions that would help us fight the pandemic, dubbed Komesha Korona (“Stop Corona”).

Innovation our ways of working:

  • The power of digital: we have embraced it fully in training, communication and even in getting services and products to clients. This has included utilising online pharmacies more, adapting digital technology for training and including social media platforms.
  • The power of self-care: when people shunned hospitals because of fear of the pandemic, it became increasingly important to ensure access to self-care solutions. These included HIV self-test kits which people can safely use at home and access linkage information online or call a health care worker in case of adverse results.

What do you draw upon from your SPNM experience? 

A couple of takeaways from these sessions were very useful this time:

1. Not all problems are predictable, hence the need as a leader to have the ability to respond to constantly changing circumstances and keeping the courage and confidence high even in the light of uncertainty. Ernest Shackleton started with a mission of exploration [to reach the South Pole], but it quickly became a mission of survival. This is what COVID-19 has taught us, to be agile and evaluate the goals as we keep going.

2. Creating the right conditions for employees to succeed even amidst a crisis – license, capability and motivation. Allowing employees to have ownership and become solution oriented which is what we needed to survive. Ideas came from everywhere, and we didn’t hesitate to test them out, we learnt through doing and adopted what worked and failed fast what did not work.

3. A leadership philosophy of leading from the front; making bold decisions during crisis and figuring it out in real time under stress. This is not a time to second guess; you have to make bold hard decisions to survive. As I always say, in times like this it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

4. Innovating through crisis is critical to survival. What can we do differently to navigate the challenges ahead of us? Because our known methods will not work and what got us here won’t get us there.

What has inspired you to keep going during these difficult months?

The biggest inspiration during these difficult months have been my staff. They were so committed to keep going. Our front line workers in the communities and facilities had this desire to make a difference even when it meant putting their own health at risk. This was quite inspiring. It made me realize that if we all pulled together and I provided the right environment for creativity, leadership and motivation, we were going to make a difference.

We therefore put our best foot forward and worked collectively to provide solutions and the best part of all this is that we not only survived, we made a huge contribution to the health of Kenyans. All our programs continued and excelled. Despite the pandemic women and children continued to access other essential services and we joined hands in the communities we serve all over Kenya to make a difference.

How can someone interested in your work get involved or learn more?

Our website is www.pskenya.org and you can find us on social media as well.