Education created respect and a platform for development

Eight years, numerous courses, and a wide range of ICLD programmes – most recently, “Local Leaders – Capacitating Local Politicians in Zimbabwe” in 2016 – have now been laid to rest and the new 2017-2018 programme has been launched.
The discussions in Harare addressed the importance of politicians and public sector administrators working together to achieve agreed goals and the ways in which they can urge each other on.
Stepping forward into the public arena is not a given, particularly for women.
But all that is changing.

Shannon talks about meetings with shy, retiring and uncertain women who blossomed into strong, enterprising individuals.
“It’s fantastic to see how they change and how quickly that change can happen. They gain self-confidence and the courage to step forward,” says Shannon.

The male/female breakdown was around 50/50, with the majority of the women coming from ICLD’s two programmes for female politicians in Zimbabwe.
The number of women participating in the training programme has increased over the past three years as part of a deliberate strategy on the part of ICLD, who have had no difficulty in identifying interested participants.
“It is, however, a little tricky identifying women with the right mandate and the power to change things in their field. A mere one year of the programme, however, and a great deal has happened in terms of their ability, which has soared. This is a masterclass!” says Shannon Lövgren.

What’s the secret to the transformation?
“When they have the chance to reflect together and realise that they have a mandate, that they have been elected to a position that offers them opportunities to do good things, it strengthens them. They need a bit of encouragement to realise this and to gain the self-confidence and improved self-awareness that they need,” says Shannon.
“Affording the women the change to express their opinions and ideas as part of a group created a particularly creative environment.”

Do men feel threatened by the programme’s strong focus on gender?
“We try and create an atmosphere in which everyone feels secure and no one feels left out. The men understand that the women are coming from an inferior starting position and are actually encouraged by the fact that things go better when men and women work together.
“They realised, pretty quickly, that encouraging women meant an enhanced potential for realising visions and projects and this resulted in a good sense of “us” amongst the project participants.”

What was the most important experience people took from this day?
“The experience of networking with one another. They come from different political parties, different age groups, and different genders, and from rural and urban areas, and they have different issues on the table. Now they were doing things together.”
One particular word crops up a lot when Shannon Lövgren describes what happened within the group: “Respect. They have all undergone the same change, they have shared experiences, and they have done things together, and this has forged strong links between them. And built a great deal of mutual respect.”

What are the biggest challenges for the future?
“They all have areas in which their leadership skills could be improved. That might mean improving their planning or time-keeping, for example, but the biggest challenge they face is not splintering along party political lines. There’s an election in Zimbabwe next year, so it’s important that they can keep in contact as friends and not allow party politics to come between them.”

Do you think this sort of work can bridge party political divides?
“Absolutely. We’ve seen clear evidence of that. Particularly when women from different political parties get together – they realise that they have a lot of shared experiences in their backgrounds that can be addressed. They identify as women, not as politicians. Their personal situation is often far more important than their politics.”

All of them have clearly defined objectives to deliver for their respective municipalities, but these objectives are – unlike in the Swedish model – clearly focused on the individual citizen.
They are personally responsible for every individual’s ability to obtain help – and delivering on that is naturally impossible.
“But if you’re a good leader, you can do your job in other ways. Ways that don’t involve corruption,” says Shannon Lövgren.

The different methodologies of public sector administrators and politicians also point to the need for change. The current systems create parallel jobs, rather than synergies.
And the fact that politicians have short mandate periods while public sector administrators might remain in their posts for up to 20 years is another factor that must be taken into account.
“They’re sometimes working against one another instead of towards the same goal, so part of the reason we invited them was to show them how they can achieve more by working together. They’ve never had the chance to talk like this – we give them a space and then encourage them to discuss their goals with one another.

So what happens now?
“They will be choosing a strategic goal that improves their leadership skills. Politicians and public sector administrators will be discussing how they can help one another improve, e.g. by planning meetings.
They are also expected to submit a report in diary format to ICLD on a monthly basis, and ICLD will then use these reports to support each individual delegate’s work.
“I read the reports and forward them to a mentor in Zimbabwe, who comments and provides encouragement. No criticism – just encouragement.”

Are you hopeful for the future?
“I’m very optimistic – the changes I’ve seen result from our two programmes are incredible. It feels like we’ve given them an opportunity, that they’ve enhanced that opportunity, and that pretty much all we need to do now is check on how they’re progressing.”
ICLD invited the training programme’s participants to Sweden to give them a new perspective and new impressions. During their visit, they accompanied a Swedish politician (who also acts as a mentor), which was an eye-opening experience for the Swedish and Zimbabwean politicians alike.

“Sweden has good things that Zimbabwe can learn from, and Zimbabwe has things it can teach us too – it’s really exciting!” says Shannon. “There are lots of little ideas we can pick up on.”
The new programme for 2017-2018 is now underway and the current group will act as mentors for the new group that starts its work in July in the form of a workshop in Zimbabwe, followed by a two-week visit to Sweden in September.

“We’ll be going to Kiruna, where there are a number of elements that are reminiscent of the situation in Zimbabwe, and which we can compare.”
The visit will be rounded off with a few days in Stockholm.
“The goal is to open these people’s eyes – to show them that there are both similarities and differences between our countries and that examining them is exciting,” says Shannon Lövgren.

Security and stronger personal relationships have dismantled barriers and allowed the delegates to open up. The foundations have now been laid for carrying the work forward.