Maurine Murenga : If they don’t give you a seat at the table – Demand the space and pull up a chair!

Maurine Murenga, W4GF Advisory Group member and Founder and Director of Lean On Me Foundation shares her experience from Kenya – Engaging in the funding request development through to implementation.

Maurine – tell us how you were engaged in developing the Kenyan funding request?

I was not formally selected to be part of Kenya’s writing team, but I negotiated my way into the writing team (developing the funding request) even though I had no financial support to do so. When I reviewed the draft funding request I could see it required substantial work to strengthen the aspects around adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). Almost all programmes did not respond to their needs, were mostly focused on boys and did not include high impact interventions – things like soccer.

I mobilised and supported four (4) young women and brought them to some of the meetings; mentoring them to access and understand the documents and articulate their key concerns with the funding request to influence the drafting process. Our effort to influence the process was unsuccessful, our contributions were ignored and the funding request was sent for CCM approval.

Lean on Me quickly reached out to the CCM civil society representatives and requested them not to approve the funding request as it was. We asked for more time so that we could hold consultations with AGYW and strengthen the adolescents and youth module.   This request was not well received by the CCM members and refusal by the civil society representatives to sign off on the funding request created tension within the CCM. I got phone calls from some of the CCM members accusing me of holding up a national process and telling me that any further delays would prevent access for life saving commodities! Eventually the CCM chair gave us two days to write the module on adolescents and youth which and we were to focus on AGYW. Kenya Red Cross supported a one-day meeting to gather AGYW, Ministry of Health (NASCOP) (leadership of the writing team) and a costing team. We received input from the young women, wrote the narrative and costed the interventions. We met CCM deadline and made the submissions, which was approved by the CCM.

They said that AGYW were not previously engaged as they do not have capacity but the young people that we worked with knew more about their own vulnerability and what they needed to reduce new HIV infections than the folks in that room.

Why did you end up requesting Technical Assistance from the Global Fund Community Rights Gender Department?

Once we succeeded with the funding request, we knew we had to safeguard those inputs through to the grant making process. This is when I contacted the Community Rights Gender (CRG) Department at the Global Fund Secretariat (GFS) for Technical Assistance (TA). Thanks to the GFS this was done fast, and Anne Gathumbi was identified as the consultant to support this process. The first consultation with AGYW took place alongside the grant making process. AGYW representatives from around the country had the opportunity to meet and fine tune the narrative and to expand on activities that respond to their needs and rights. They also had the opportunity to understand how the Global Fund works and their opportunity for engagement. After the meeting, 6 of them were selected to engage in the grant making process. Their engagement was supported with resources from the CRG TA and this was successful and most of their inputs were incorporated.

After the grant making process and submissions, we engaged the Principle Recipient (PR) to have discussions on how best to implement the recommended AGYW components and achieve greater impact. We knew some of the programs needed to be implemented by organisations of AGYW most of who did not have the institutional capacity to become sub-recipients. We had to negotiate the possibility of having sub-sub recipients. The Civil Society PR (Kenya Red Cross) made provisions for this request which was approved by the CCM. Organisations of AGYW will be able to implement interventions that will have greatest impact on reducing new HIV infections among their peers as well as have their institutions strengthened to perform better, embedded in the philosophy of community systems strengthening.

What was important or surprising to you?

I want to highlight two challenges:

  • We had a challenge around PEPFAR DREAMS programmes which was used as a reason not to include some of the requested interventions but the AGYW pushed back on this as most DREAMS programmes did not necessarily reach the most vulnerable AGYW in the hard to reach areas, and both PEPFAR and the Global Fund were missing AGYW living with HIV because their programmes are focused on prevention. Our arguments are valid given the escalation in new infections amongst AGYW in those areas and we have a wider population of AGWY living with HIV than ever before. They too need to be at the centre of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. We decided to focus the GF grant on non-DREAMS counties in order to reduce duplication of services.
  • The other challenge was to initially access the age 15 – 24 girls on week days as many of these girls and young women are in school. Most of them have not taken leadership of organisations due to the long hours they need to stay in school. We also needed parents/guardian consent to engage with those below 18 years. This makes consultation a little more challenging, but we did it.

I want to highlight the following for other activists:

  • Our success was based on providing evidence-based interventions to support the requests from AGYW. You have to know your facts and provide the evidence.
  • CONSULTATION and MORE CONSULTATION! Once we involved AGYW we were able to identify the right programmes. We then reached out to wider groups of AGYW who identified the same programmes as key, so this affirmed that we had actually chosen the right programmes
  • Sadly, there is not enough support for communities from technical partners! It was painful to hear UNAIDS say that AGYW have no capacity as they have so much. When we started out it was clear that very few AGYW had the skills required to engage. With minimal support this has changed. The adolescent girls and young women that we worked with have so much to contribute and they know what works!
  • Lean on Me wrote a letter to the CCM highlighting this lack of support and then demanded a seat for AGYW on the CCM. With support from some of the CCM representatives, The CCM agreed to a ‘Adolescent and Youth’ seat. After that we gave support to a few girls to apply and one was selected as a CCM representative and the other as the alternate.

To end I want to say … community engagement is a drug. It is the blockbuster drug of the century and it is malpractice not to use it.

Photo credit:GFAN


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