Patron -  Joanna Lumley, OBE

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PENHA Strategy Retreat for Better Future

By Bereket Tsegay & Jennifer Eddis

It was great event as it helped the PENHA staff and its supporter to look  back to review its activities and also look forward to improve the livelihhods of African pastoral communities. 

We - the London staff of the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA)’s and its supporters and advisors - visited Birchwood lodge for PENHA’s strategic planning retreat in order to develop a five year working strategy plan. The venue was chosen by Kees Maxey, PENHA Project Officer for Somaliland and Uganda, and it served as an ideal venue to support our objective which required a high degree of concentration and deliberation.

Birchwood is a very quiet area where we were able to motivate and stimulate our mind to think of ideas freely from our hectic lives of urban centres. The lodge is located near to Malvern, Winchester. In Birchwood we were able to think freely – free from any intentional and unintentional life jams and the noisy atmosphere that emanates from high traffic, bars, restaurants, etc that we are used to. At Birchwood we were able to experience melodic birds’ songs instead. The lodge is located at the heart of green vegetation (forests and fields) where all the area around the manor grounds are filled with various types of trees and flowers. We felt as if Birchwood and its surroundings were untouched from pollution, and we enjoyed a real adventure of nature.

Behind Birchwood House there is a vegetable garden encircled by various types of trees. The communal garden is being managed by the Cooperative (Co-op) which was founded during 1970s. At this time of year, it is full of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, corn, salad leaves, beans carrots, and berries. It is run and governed by the members of the Co-op who are committed to spend some of their time to maintain the field and water the vegetables. Sue Wilkie, one of the members of the Cooperative, told us that it can be hard work to keep it alive at its most fruitful. We asked her also what they do with all the produce, and she said mainly it is used for consumption by the cooperative member but that if there is excess they also offer it to the wider community members so it can be enjoyed. Sharing what you have. In general, we were all amazed by the initiative and commitment of the Co-op and its members, which is being run from a Manor house and its grounds that is more than a century old.

In the lodge in which we stayed in, the bedrooms are meant for three or four people where you share two bunk beds in a room – small rooms but fair enough for short stays. The kitchen is well equipped and has got an attached dining room that was suited for our number. We also followed the Co-op members’ lifestyle of making and sharing communal meals for the entire group. The chores were based on rotas, where someone prepared breakfast and others lunch and supper.

The retreat was supported by those attending going in their own time and paying for their own travel to Birchwood. The venue, which was in what is called “Anybodies Barn” in the grounds of Birchwood House, is rented out for week days and weekends for schools and charities. However it was made available at no cost to PENHA. 

PENHA is an African founded and led non-governmental organisation which has been working to improve the livestock and non-livestock livelihoods of African pastoral and agro-pastoral communities in the Horn of Africa since it was founded more than two decades ago, 1989. Based in London, it works through its regional offices in the Horn including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Sudan and Uganda. PENHA as one of the first African organisations to deal with the issues surrounding African pastoralists, and as such has been able to contribute towards the proliferation of many other national and local organisations. Thus, this strategic retreat was designed to help review PENHA’s vision of its future role in continuing to engage in issues of pastoralism and the environment in Africa, with the aim to bring a genuine impact in reducing communities’ poverty level through empowerment. (If you are interested to see more about PENHA follow the link: www.penhanetwork.org). 

At Birchwood, we were a group of 12 people with different nationalities, educational and professional backgrounds – including university lecturers, policy designers, project managers, media and public relations experts, fundraisers, consultants, etc – the list is long, let me stop here. It was Thursday afternoon August 8th that the first group arrived at the Birchwood House, the rest followed during the evening and the following morning. Some arrived by vehicle and others by train, coming from, London, Brentwood and Birmingham.

The two days – Friday and Saturday - were entirely devoted for the designing of PENHA five year strategy. Thus, presentations and discussions followed one after another to learn from the experiences of other organisation’s and filling in the gaps PENHA has in its work, as were identified during the regional meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2011) and PENHA strategy review session at the IIED (2012), London. The Birchwood session constitutes the third PENHA five year strategy (2014 to 2018) meeting which aimed to take further the process of developing the plan towards its final stage.

Highlighting the importance of the session, Zubair Qureshi, PENHA’s Board Chair asked critical questions which helped us to envisage PENHA in five years time and beyond. This meeting demanded that we understand the vexing issues currently facing pastoral communities in the Horn of Africa, and the challenges in addressing them using forward thinking and a proactive projection towards the future. As it is discussed by ME Porter in his ‘what is strategy?’ article published on Harvard Business Review magazine, the meeting was about making PENHA more dynamic and able to actively respond to various changes and challenges, while exploiting the competitive advantaged it has over other stakeholders.

By the end of the two days, the participants had agreed to continue the strategy review process by nominating a Working Group (WG) which is composed of people from both London as well as Horn of Africa regional offices. The WG will have the responsibility to draw up a comprehensive draft strategy document. The final strategy is expected to be ratified by the PENHA Board members in December 2013.

We learnt a lot from our participation in the process of reflecting upon PENHA’s successes and challenges; looking at the potential risks and mitigation mechanisms; and looking towards PENHA’s future. After all, the Birchwood Co-op and all the strategy retreat participants devoted their precious time and generously offered professional expertise/skills towards PENHA’s worthy cause of supporting pastoral communities in the Horn of Africa. We were all united in our commitment to supporting the best future for the communities with which PENHA works.