The following is a guest blog, authored by Alessandra Radicati, MCI’s social sector project administrator. This account is based on Alessandra’s travels to the Millennium City of Kumasi, Ghana, to attend the Kumasi Stakeholder Workshop, which brought together city agencies, community organizations and business leaders to decide on a comprehensive strategy for Kumasi to attain the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
My lasting impression of Kumasi, Ghana, is one of incredible warmth; traveling there with the MCI team for the Kumasi Stakeholder Workshop, which was held October 11-13, I was happy to discover that the much talked-about “Ghanaian friendliness” was a generalization that proved to be true. I was also inspired by the number of Kumasi residents I met who face whatever obstacles they encounter – whether minor inconveniences or major developmental challenges – with grace and a true can-do attitude.
For example, on the day prior to the workshop, October 10th, I had the opportunity to accompany MCI’s Director Susan Blaustein to a meeting with representatives from Kumasi’s education sector, including teachers and administrators participating in MCI’s School2School program, as well as specialists on girls’ development and early childhood education. Because the meeting was originally scheduled for 10am, we were quite surprised to come out of our rooms that morning to find that some of the teachers were already in the hotel lobby an hour beforehand, waiting for us. We learned that this was because Kumasi traffic – which would emerge as a theme in the Stakeholder Workshop itself – is notoriously bad, especially on Monday mornings. This, of course, is a minor challenge for Kumasi residents, but we were extremely grateful that those meeting us had left their homes as early as 6am to be sure that they could attend the meeting. The meeting itself was extremely fruitful, providing everyone with the chance to match names and email addresses to faces as we discussed concrete needs and next steps for the array of programs represented in the room.
The following day, the MCI team awoke to another surprise, this one much more serious in nature: news had arrived that the previous day’s heavy rains had caused flooding in the market, and it was not yet known if people had been killed. Given the gravity of the situation, the Mayor would not be able to attend the Stakeholder Workshop meeting that morning. The attendance of another important guest was also impacted by the rains – the Israeli Ambassador, Mme. Sharon Bar-Li, scheduled to arrive by plane that morning from Accra, was now said to have to land at an air strip two and a half hours away, meaning she would not arrive before midday. A number of the Kumasi stakeholders – representatives from local businesses, organizations and city agencies – had already arrived, yet no one complained. Everyone was highly flexible, deviating from the schedule to engage in a town-hall style meeting to express their views of what was missing from their city and what could be improved. The discussion ranged from infrastructure concerns to issues faced by small businesses to the concentration of economic and political power in Accra. As the town hall meeting wound down, dancers and drummers from a local cultural center performed in traditional Ashante fashion, building anticipation for the arrival of our guests of honor, the Mayor, Mme. Bar-Li and the Regional Minister, as well as a representative of the Asantahene, the traditional rulers of Kumasi.
When the guests finally arrived, the workshop proceeded as planned with opening remarks from all of the guests of honor and presentations from the MCI team. MCI Social Sector Research Manager, Moumie Maoulidi, presented the group with the findings of the MDG-based needs assessments in health, water/sanitation, education and gender, also explaining the methodology used in each of these reports. Following this, MCI Senior Investment Advisors, Joerg Simon and Karin Millett, gave their own presentation on investment opportunities and strategies for the city of Kumasi. Both of these sessions built in ample time for questions and discussion; Kumasi residents asked about how MCI gathered data and how the idea of “poverty” was measured and employed in the studies. They also posed questions about MCI’s role as technical advisor, and how this would impact the city’s plan going forward. The investment presentation also led to excellent questions and discussions about possibilities for advocacy and raising awareness of Kumasi’s economic potential, as well as the use of land and the role of traditional leaders of the community, some of whom were present at the workshop.
On the second day, the KMA Technical Committee, set up to review MCI’s findings and design the final development strategy, gave its own presentation on priority areas for both the social and investment sectors, outlining a series of interventions that could help the city realize its goals in each area. Following this, we had the opportunity to break into small groups focused on different sectors: health, education, water/sanitation, gender and investment. Each group was tasked with determining the priority interventions within each sector, discussing how to ensure their implementation and addressing financing. Because the groups had been randomly assigned, this exercise provided an opportunity for healthcare practitioners to mix with businesspeople, for teachers to speak with urban planners, etc. I joined the health group, which was a perfect example of this dynamic. Several male representatives of Ghana Health Services spoke with great eloquence and urgency about the challenges of maintaining maternal health in the city, while also pointing out more general issues such as the lack of trained staff and the need for facilities to allow doctors and nurses to sleep at the hospitals. A local businessman in our group added his own expertise by suggesting ways for the city to create more revenue for Kumasi. Each group then presented its summary during a plenary session in which the rest of the stakeholders were able to ask questions and express support or disagreement with the priorities that were advanced. Though some lively exchanges ensued, there was overwhelming support for the presentation given by the KMA.
As with any good trip, I left Kumasi feeling that there was so much more to do– every comment and observation made during the workshop only made me more curious about day-to-day life in the city, and spoke of the sheer volume of issues that need to be addressed. But the discussions also displayed the dedication of Kumasi residents to bettering their city, and pointed to the determination of this community to improve their circumstances and find real and lasting solutions to their problems. I came away from my time in Kumasi with the distinct impression that those of us at MCI had come away with just as much as we had contributed over the preceding days.