Two of the Water and Sanitation Managers are my old friends and I have just met the other two.  Lucas supervises the WatSan Program for all of Nuru Kenya (which continues to include more communities as we scale), Eliza manages the division called Isibania (named after the town) where Nuru began our work, and Elias and Rosa came from two neighboring divisions called Kehancha and Mabera where Nuru has begun working.

The two new managers are shadowing Lucas and Eliza; they are unpaid, on probation and will be hired after six months if they seem like promising leaders (I have a feeling they will be hired!).

Lucas has grown a lot since I saw him last about a year ago- he’s now managing a staff of nine (the three managers and six field officers) and a hectic weekly schedule, including monitoring existing WatSan projects, overseeing new construction projects and facilitating training events. He’s a quick learner, is eager to gain leadership and computer skills, and earnestly tries to keep up with his long list of responsibilities.

When I first met Eliza, she was one of Nuru’s volunteer WatSan Representatives who immediately surfaced as a strong leader and was among the first to be selected as a paid Field Officers. She has now worked her way up to WatSan Manager. I was surprised to learn recently that Eliza never made it to secondary school (she’s incredibly smart and articulate). Her family lacked the funds to send her to secondary school, but because she so desperately wanted to learn, she decided on her own to repeat primary school. She is a very hard worker (as Lucas says: “She works hard, even as a man!”), naturally commands respect, and is desperate to grow in her leadership and English skills.

Lucas and Eliza are both natural leaders with many talents and skills, but as Nuru continues to grow and scale to neighboring communities, a greater level of responsibility is required of them.  Because the key to sustainability is developing capable local leaders, a third of my job is to mentor and manage these folks. But with so little time and so much to cover I wondered where to start. My strategy – activate and train.

The first thing I did was to get our staff to work. I assigned team projects, like developing an operational plan for our community latrine, which is currently under construction. I provided a task list, community survey forms and a template report for to fill out. The idea is that we’ll start out providing a lot of guidance to set them up to succeed in their project. Then, in the future, they’ll receive less detailed task lists and will be expected to develop survey questions and concise reports on their own. Then, during leadership training sessions, we’ll be able to draw real life examples from their experience completing tasks, meeting deadlines and working in teams during future leadership/management lessons.

The first leadership training topic was “Your Job”. We spent two three-hour sessions discussing the expectations (which include being proactive, being a servant leader, being on time and keeping a humble attitude) and responsibilities (which include conducting trainings, overseeing WatSan projects and managing their Field Officers) of Nuru managers.  We also walked through Nuru’s performance evaluation form (used for all domestic and international staff), which their manager will use to evaluate them twice a year. This whole process was quite new for the managers, as giving constructive feedback is something that is not often practiced in their culture.  Talk about being on a learning curve…

I’ve already witnessed returns on the hours and energy I’ve invested into the WatSan managers. They’re taking more ownership, making better decisions and brainstorming creative solutions to challenges we’re facing in our program.  We’ve had a few good laughs too. A role play where I played the manager running a meeting and Lucas played an annoying and oblivious person who walks into the meeting (this actually happens very frequently since we often hold our meetings outdoors) and ignores polite requests to leave. The laughs came when after raising my voice didn’t work, I had to physically remove Lucas (playing the annoying interrupter) from the meeting (which also happens from time to time and needs to happen more).

We’ll continue this leadership journey through a mix of planned leadership/management lessons and more spontaneous chats, like the one Eliza and I had about active listening after Lucas’s motorbike broke down and we had to walk 30 minutes to a meeting together. I’m having a great time pouring into these leaders, providing them with opportunities to learn and fail, and watching them grow into their own leadership style.