This blog originally appeared on the Center for Health Market Innovations blog.

In early 2017, Mali Health partnered with Wild4Life Health and The Ihangane Project to participate in the 2017 CHMI Learning Exchange program. Our organizations explored the different contexts in which we work, sharing successes and challenges related to our respective continuous quality improvement programs.  
Afterwards, Tara and Mariam returned to Bamako to share what we learned with the rest of our team. This was our first opportunity to participate in a formal learning exchange with other organizations working on quality improvement. We were eager to see how the approach that we designed with our partners in Mali compared to other quality improvement programs across the continent. The exchange led to some unexpected lessons. So we decided to reflect on why we’re determined to learn from others, and why we seek opportunities like these. Together, our entire team reflected and engaged in a conversation about learning. Below are the main points our junior and senior program managers wish to share with others:

Why is it important to participate in intentional learning opportunities and to learn from other organizations?

  • People learn from those in their life – parents, teachers or friends. It’s no different for organizations. If we are committed to learning, we must interact with other organizations, learning from them and sharing our information with them.
  • Above all, we care about impact, and learning from others is essential to ensuring that we’re having a high impact. We can benchmark our approach with similar strategies, asking questions like who is seeing better results, and why? We can also learn about entirely new strategies that may result in better implementation and impact than our current approaches.
  • Learning exchanges may lead to new opportunities, like partnerships with organizations or funders that will allow us to extend our impact. A learning exchange also doesn’t have to end. As partners, we can continue to be resources for one another, sharing questions and results in the future, not just about program models, but about operations or any subject our organizations share in common.

  Why do we value intentional learning at Mali Health?

  • In our Quality Improvement (QI) program, we bring our partner community health centers together to share their successes and challenges. It helps them learn what others have done to solve similar problems, including what works well and what to avoid. In a resource-limited setting, learning from others helps our partners be as efficient and effective as possible. The same is true for our organization as a whole.
  • Not only is learning and building skills a core program strategy, capacity building is a core value of our organization. To strengthen communities and community health systems, we must always be open and eager to strengthen ourselves.
  • We are committed to the professional development of our entire team; we want each team member to set goals and to continuously grow and improve. Learning opportunities enable our staff to acquire new skills and to succeed in their positions now and in the future.

  What advice would we give to other teams trying to implement a culture of learning in their organizations?

  • Involve everyone in the organization, from the Director to the junior staff. Everyone has to be committed to learning, and everyone has to have opportunities to learn
  • Document your goals for learning; develop a protocol for when and how it’s going to happen, and then track whether it did or not.
  • Make learning a regular routine. Try not to just gather everyone in a giant meeting room once a year for a two-hour seminar. Build learning opportunities into your regular activities and supervision so that it becomes a common part of your work. Your team will understand how learning is related to and benefits your organization, your beneficiaries, and them.
  • Allow for choice. Give opportunities for each employee to decide what subjects or skills are the most interesting or helpful for them, either within or in addition to your core values and goals as an organization. Choice allows individuals to take ownership of the process and gives a feeling of opportunity, rather than obligation, both of which will increase morale.

Mali Health greatly values the opportunity to learn from other organizations, programs and contexts. In our current strategic plan, we renewed our commitment to learning, not only as a means for strengthening our programs, but as a professional development opportunity for our staff. We encourage all organizations to openly and actively share and seek the knowledge and experience gained from our respective work – the communities we serve and our entire sector would benefit from less competition and more collaboration.