How Knowledge Sharing Improves Programming: Lessons from the Sahel

FSN Network
7 min readJul 27, 2023

By: Sita Conklin; Advisor, Youth Livelihoods; Save the Children

Lisez ce blog en français ici.

This blog was submitted by Save the Children as part of the ‘Nourishing Inclusion: Committing to Gender and Youth in the Food Crisis’ series, which showcases implementers’ examples of committing to inclusion not just in words, but in action. This post highlights Commitment 5: Incorporate lessons learned from previous projects to avoid repeating mistakes; and Commitment 7: Reinforce collaboration among programs and move beyond sectoral siloes in approaches. Learn more about the series here.

Let’s face it, collaboration often takes a back seat. While we know it is crucial, in the midst of implementing, reporting, and monitoring our activities, it is challenging to carve out time to share with and learn from other programs. However, sharing lessons learned and promising practices with those working on similar activities, and having space for collective problem solving, helps us to unlock stronger implementation and better outcomes.

Save the Children demonstrated the importance of collaborative learning through the Sahel Youth Learning and Reflection Workshop hosted in Niamey, Niger in March 2023. During this week-long workshop, implementers from three Resilience Food Security Activities (RFSAs) in the Sahel Region- Albarka in Mali, Victory Against Malnutrition Plus (ViMPlus) in Burkina Faso, and Wadata in Niger- came together to share insights, identify successful approaches and tools, and pave the way for transformative next steps.

A graphic illustration of Committing to Inclusion in the Food Crisis, as a wheel. In the center of the wheel is “Committing to Inclusion in the Food Crisis”. Clockwise from the top: Improve data collection; regular data analysis and reflection; implement transformative programming; incorporative programming; incorporate lessons learned; standalone budgets for gender and youth; no sectoral siloes; engage the private sector; support safe migration; meaningful engagement to promote agency.
Image Courtesy of the Gender and Youth Award (GAYA)

A Marketplace of Ideas to Fuel Cross-Learning

At the heart of the workshop, each RFSA team shared snapshots of their impactful work with young people. All three activities use social behavior change approaches to target 10–29 year-olds for participation in leadership, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and livelihood programming. Specifically, these teams used this platform to reflect on the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Framework and showcase how their efforts align with each of the four domains. This collective sharing revealed remarkable commonalities and set the stage for collaborative learning.

The teams not only discussed what they were doing, but how they were doing it. During the workshop, Save the Children hosted a tool marketplace, where teams could share their most effective tools and promising practices. It was a dynamic knowledge exchange, where participants rotated between tables, sparking deeper learning and allowing teams to identify ways to immediately incorporate new tools and approaches to their activities. In fact, just one month later, teams reported using knowledge they acquired from their colleagues to enhance their activities.

Group photo from workshop
Photo Credit: Almahadi Ag Akeratane, Head of Office, Gao, Tassaght

Identifying Commonalities in Youth Programming

Through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, the teams identified common approaches to youth programming as a foundation for sharing successes and problem solving around challenges. For example, all three RFSAs use some form of youth groups to implement activities and create safe spaces for young people to thrive.

  • ViMPlus uses a PYD club model to engage adolescents to discuss life skills, entrepreneurship, and community action. In the club, participants discuss a range of topics and engage in projects to support their communities. For example, girls and boys discussed menstrual hygiene and worked to create reusable menstrual pads that those who menstruate can use in their communities to reduce stigma and school absenteeism. ViMPlus has put in place 160 clubs, reaching more than 2,500 adolescents directly, with the Ministry of Youth developing new clubs outside of the direct project activities due to their success. The Albarka team is now implementing the PYD club model based on learning about it at the workshop and the Wadata team is applying learning from the menstrual hygiene groups into their initiatives.
  • Wadata formed Matasa Masu Fusha “Youth with Initiative” (MMF) youth groups to promote social and economic engagement. So far, Wadata has more than 8,000 young women and men engaged in their MMF social and economic groups. These groups are active in championing community development projects, income generating activities, and youth development (e.g., youth entrepreneurial capabilities, youth becoming service providers, youth taking on leadership roles in community dialogues, and improved healthy habits). The Albarka team is looking to implement a similar initiative based on this success.
  • Albarka is currently piloting a youth-led community project approach with 58 youth groups. These youth groups work together to develop enterprises with either an economic or social focus to promote social cohesion and economic development. For example, one group worked on fattening livestock to increase and diversify income; and another worked on market gardening to increase and diversify income as well as diversify nutrition security.
Team discussing and brainstorming during workshop
Photo Credit: Almahadi Ag Akeratane, Head of Office, Gao, Tassaght

In addition to the youth groups, the teams have identified other successful approaches for youth inclusion, even in challenging environments.

  • Train youth to lead market assessments and provide small cash grants for micro-businesses. The ViMPlus team trained 84 youth, 50% of whom were young women, to lead market assessments. These participants successfully identified key areas for income generation in livestock, agriculture, and petty trade. Following this market assessment, the ViMPlus team then provided nearly 100 adolescents small cash grants, around $80, to start small income generating activities. Based off positive reception, this pilot is currently under evaluation for scale-up. Based on this information, Albarka is now working to train youth to lead market assessments in Mali.
  • Implement activities with young people in conflict zones to promote a faster pathway to sustainability. In insecure and difficult to reach communities, Albarka engages youth within those communities as extension trainers for life and entrepreneurships skills development, as well as literacy training. Particularly in Northern Mali and Burkina Faso, activities with youth continue despite the constraints imposed by insecurity and radical armed groups. The teams identify local service providers, local resource persons, and local youth mentors based on their ability to navigate the context and their integration with the communities, which contributes to sustainable impact. In addition, because the private sector is hardly present in these areas, projects are relying on matching young people with local entrepreneurs for mentorship and apprenticeships.
Team stands around a flip chart to strategize
Photo Credit: Almahadi Ag Akeratane, Head of Office, Gao, Tassaght

Collaborative Learning to Action: Paving the Path for Transformation

By the end of the workshop, the three teams leveraged the knowledge sharing from the workshop to identify actionable steps to improve their activities.

  1. Shift thinking from youth as participants to youth as leaders and owners of initiatives to improve food security and resilience in their communities. In all three RFSAs, young people are primary stakeholders and work across all thematic areas. They contribute deeply to the activities and this mindset shift better aligns with the reality of their contribution and frames engagement toward more sustainable change. Wadata is evaluating the MMF groups later this year to assess how well this approach helped achieve this mindset shift and what could be improved in the future.
  2. Harmonize indicators across activities and better measure the impact of youth. Across all three teams, there was only one common indicator around access to productive resources. Additionally, the indicators for each team focused on outputs, rather than outcomes. Through reflection and analysis on data, the teams identified a need to better harmonize indicators across RFSAs for more conducive cross-activity sharing and learning. Furthermore, the RFSA teams identified a need to better measure the contributions of youth through outcome-level indicators. This could include engaging young people in the monitoring and evaluation process. The teams identified the Positive Youth Development Measurement Toolkit as a strong resource to more intentionally measure youth contributions to food security and resilience. Already, Albarka is using indicators from the toolkit and Wadata is using the toolkit to help frame the evaluation of the MMF groups later this year.
  3. Explore the role of digital platforms and how to leverage them in positive ways. The RFSA teams identified that, even in very rural areas, young people are well connected to social media platforms both to seek information and to promote business products. The teams recognized both the current challenge and opportunity of digital literacy.
  4. Continue bringing staff together to amplify impact and promote cross-country technical excellence through a culture of mentorship and peer-to-peer problem solving. It is clear, even just one month since our workshop, that staff are communicating more with each other across borders and supporting each other as they integrate new approaches they learned at the workshop into their projects. In person knowledge sharing opportunities helps to strengthen support networks for heightened collaborative learning. Thus, the teams agreed to create a community of practice that will meet quarterly moving forward and Save the Children hopes to make this an annual youth learning event, with even more stakeholders.
Team of four people smiling and posing in front of their flip charts
Photo Credit: Almahadi Ag Akeratane, Head of Office, Gao, Tassaght

Breaking Down Barriers for Improved Impact

The three RFSAs came together as separate projects and staff from many different countries, contexts, and even organizations, with Save the Children leading Albarka and Wadata, and ACDI/VOCA leading ViMPlus. However, the teams left the week together with a sense of cohesion and unity, as one team that can support each other going forward. The value of sharing challenges, finding common solutions, and sharing promising practices that can enrich other programs cannot be quantified easily. However, these teams demonstrated how collaborative learning is a catalyst for transformative change, sparking innovation, creating a support network, and nourishing inclusion within the Sahel.

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