World: Strengthening Leadership for Health Emergency Response


With more than 100 emergencies every year, the African Region is taking the lead in training core personnel to respond safely and effectively to today’s complex crises.

The region hosted a six-day workshop in Dakar, Senegal, for 20 response experts who are enrolled in a 12-month learning programme focused on leadership in health emergencies. The training is part of WHO’s new learning approach to create a workforce of excellence to help protect 1 billion people from emergencies by 2023.

While nearly half of the participants work in the African Region, the training also brought together core staff from the other 5 WHO regions and Geneva headquarters. It was organized under the leadership of Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Assistant Director-General, Emergency Response, and Dr Michael Yao, Incident Manager of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, together with the Learning and Capacity Development Unit of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

“Our staff and external experts we deploy in emergencies are all extremely qualified and experienced. However, it’s not only about technical expertise,” said Dr Fall. “We need to train them to gain leadership skills so that they can manage the ever-changing teams they are leading, to work effectively with national authorities, other agencies and partners.”

“We need to help our best technical experts to become stronger leaders to manage the complexity of today’s emergencies and protect the most vulnerable,” said Dr Yao.

In addition to the leadership trainees, the workshop included 15 staff participating in a separate operations training track focused on programme management, logistics and planning. After 4 days of classroom, exercises to strengthen critical skills for working in emergencies – including emotional intelligence, problem-solving, negotiation and teamwork – the training concluded with an intense 40-hour simulation exercise that combined both tracks into emergency response teams.

“I’ve been practicing leadership, but this training opened my eyes to the different types of leadership and the need to adjust at times to situations. I will have to take into account emotional intelligence to put it together,” said Mohamadou Bachir Mbodj, workshop participant and Health Cluster Coordinator, Mali. “I really enlarged my friendship network. Definitely, this is very important for me. I believe that we will meet again, work again… It’s also a way to learn from others.”

“The training should form a critical part of the ongoing development of any staff working in the health emergency department with leadership responsibility. It focused on the often-overlooked soft capacities, which are extremely critical,” said Nicole Wynter, workshop participant and Advisor, Programme Management and Administration, Health Emergencies Programme, PAHO. “Many of the trainings tend to focus on the functional or technical competencies, but this one focused on soft capacities to not only facilitate your function as a leader but also as a team player.”

The workshop marked the end of the second phase of the year-long leadership learning programme. Before travelling to Dakar, participants completed an intermediate-level online course on WHO’s Incident Management System, a Myers-Briggs personality assessment, pre-course readings, a written assignment and an introductory live briefing. The final phase of the programme will include additional learning opportunities, including online briefings, coaching and practice deployments.

Conducted from 6-11 April 2019, the workshop was made possible thanks to financial support from the Russian Federation and the United States of America (OFDA).

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