Q&A with ASELPH Fellow Siphiwe Mndaweni

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Dr Siphiwe Mndaweni is the General Manager for Strategic Health Programmes at the KwaZulu Natal Department of Health. 

As one of the two class captains of the first cohort of the Albertina Sisulu Executive Leadership Programme in Health, we had Q&A session with her to understand what the programme has meant for her as a health professional.

ASELPH– What motivated you to apply for the ASELPH Fellowship?

Dr Siphiwe Mndaweni – Having worked in all nine provinces in South Africa and in neighbouring countries, I have always had a desire to contribute towards improvements in public health.  ASELPH appealed to me because it was different from the usual leadership and management courses – it was a collaborative effort with several institutions, including the Department of Health.  ASELPH would therefore allow me to integrate my experience into the learning environment and ultimately allow me to make a difference in the lives of the people we serve.

ASELPH – A major goal of ASELPH is to be a catalyst for South Africa’s healthcare transformation.  How do you see your personal role in that transformation and how has the programme equipped you to be a leader in this effort?

Dr Mndaweni – As ASELPH Fellows we find ourselves in a very interesting but very challenging environment.  South Africa is currently piloting the National Health Insurance (NHI) and most of us are in a learning phase in terms of how this should unfold.  ASELPH has equipped us to understand NHI and to enable us to provide direction on what needs to happen – this on the basis of improvements and integration within the South African health system.  In terms of overall transformation, ASELPH has given us the leadership and management tools to work with our colleagues in understanding why we are moving in the direction we are taking.  The key to transformation is finding solutions and providing better leadership.  Through ASELPH we have the skills, we have the capacity and we have the motivation.  As long as we work as a team and have direction, we will be able to achieve what the country aims to achieve.

ASELPH – ASELPH is designed to be an experiential programme with meaningful practical application.  Can you share a concrete example of one specific learning experience that inspired and motivated you to think in a “new” way?

Dr Mndaweni – The case studies used in the programme encourage interactive learning and allowed me to appreciate the divergent views and ideas of my colleagues.  However, the key learning experience for me was related to the financial management module.  As medical professionals we are not exposed to financial management and, as such, have very little insight into this key operational area.  Gaining greater insight into financial concepts in a practical manner has allowed me to understand cost analysis and allowed me to relate these improvements in my own environment for greater effectiveness and efficiency as it relates to expenditure and losses.

ASELPH – Could you describe some of the competencies you have gained on ASELPH?

Dr Mndaweni – During my last assignment I analysed issues and challenges around the HIV/AIDS and TB programme in KwaZulu Natal.  ASELPH had provided me with the ability to analyse and interpret data.  This allowed me to dig deeper into the data and find the root cause of the problems.  I realised that in order to resolve the issues there is much more that one has to look at.  This analysis made me realise what was key to designing a strategy of how we were going to tackle the problem and assist the districts to improve on their HIV/AIDS and TB service delivery.

ASELPH – Can you share what you believe to be the spirit of fellowship within ASELPH?

Dr Mndaweni – One thing I find humbling is the spirit of comradeship within the ASELPH Fellows.  All the participants understand the responsibility that lies on their shoulders, understand that they are accountable to the country in terms of the health care system and understand that, as ASELPH Fellows, they are going to set the pace of what needs to be done.  Within this context we communicate with each other, discuss work situations and interact on operational and strategic issues outside the ASELPH environment.  We have also started discussing ways and means of how we are going to maintain contact and make sure what we have learnt in ASELPH is carried forward.

ASELPH – Capacity building is a big part of South Africa’s health care transformation.  How do you think your participation in the ASELPH programme will enable you to make progress in this area?

Dr Mndaweni – I have been involved in capacity building for the past seven years.  ASELPH has assisted in my understanding of the importance of measuring the impact of that capacity building.  It is not enough that we transfer skills and impart knowledge – these skills and knowledge must be put into practice.  The trick in capacity building is that there is a fine line in people understanding and adopting a concept.

ASELPH – South Africa’s health care transformation will be dependent on managing partnerships and collaborations.  As an ASELPH participant, what is your experience in relation to partnerships and collaborations?

Dr Mndaweni – Collaborations and partnerships are very, very critical in the work we do.  In the health sector we have a number of developmental partners that support what we do – either directly or indirectly.  Each and every partner has some contribution to make – the question is how do we harness that contribution in support of health care transformation?  As an ASELPH Fellow I now understand that we need a strategy – supported by on-going communication – on how we should partner and collaborate to achieve transformation of the South African health care system.  Once you are interactive with the partners and there is mutual appreciation, you give them space to do their supporting work while making sure you guide them in terms of departmental priorities.