Member Profile: Frank Beadle de Palomo, mothers2mothers

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May 04, 2016

Member Profile: Frank Beadle de Palomo, mothers2mothers

m2m’s Mentor Mothers provide essential health education and support to women on how they can protect their babies from HIV infection.

By Elizabeth Walsh

Director, Communications and Marketing InsideNGO

Starting with this issue of The Insider, we’re launching a new member profile series on our blog that features InsideNGO members talking about the work they do and how they manage the operational challenges within their organizations. In this post, we highlight mothers2mothers President and CEO Frank Beadle de Palomo. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, mothers2mothers (m2m) is global NGO that unlocks the potential of mothers and their families through scalable, high-impact interventions—because healthy generations start with mothers.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your current job responsibilities.

A. Since 2001, m2m has been leading global efforts to end pediatric AIDS and create healthy families and communities. We train, employ, and empower Mentor Mothers, who are HIV-positive mothers, as frontline healthcare workers to work in critically understaffed health centers and within communities. Our scalable, Peer Mentor Approach has proven to reduce mother-to-child transmission rates and achieve better health outcomes, while also creating significant savings through averted HIV treatment costs.

In my position, I oversee operations that currently span seven countries in sub-Sahara Africa (Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia), and employ 1,800 staff, including more than 1,600 HIV-positive women as Mentor Mothers and Site Coordinators. To give you an idea of the scale of our program, in 2014, one in four HIV-positive women who delivered their babies in countries supported by m2m received education and support from a Mentor Mother.

I am currently leading a major three-year strategic initiative that builds on the organization’s core competencies and learnings over the past 15 years to better serve our target beneficiaries and achieve our goal of an HIV-free generation. While m2m remains committed to eliminating pediatric AIDS and will only stop our efforts when no child is infected with HIV, we are now taking a more generational approach to health. Through our new early childhood development, pediatric, and adolescent programs, our goal is to make sure that HIV-exposed children have the opportunity to thrive and reach reproductive age with the skills and knowledge necessary to protect the next generation from HIV. It is only by preventing HIV from being passed on from one generation to the next that the HIV pandemic will finally come to an end.

What are some of the biggest operational challenges/issues you see in your organization on a regular basis?

Developing systems, policies, and procedures that are relevant and scalable at both country level and head office is critical. We have to ensure that any financial, HR, or IT systems that we create can be implemented not only at head office, but also across our diverse country portfolios.

Governance and compliance is also a major focus for m2m. With seven country programs across sub-Saharan Africa, we deal with complicated in-country rules and regulations varying greatly between countries. We must develop systems of checks and balances to ensure we have oversight of country governance and compliance, but at the same time utilize country staff knowledge to ensure we are operating effectively.

Staff recruitment and development is another challenge faced not only by m2m, but also across our sector. NGO recruitment is mostly project based. As such, we are consistently faced with start dates and end dates of projects while at the same time attempting to build sustainable multi-year country platforms. In addition, we work closely with large international NGOs and contractors, which in some cases are able to offer higher salaries and more generous benefits packages. As more of our operational countries develop and diversify, private sector opportunities are increasing, thus creating conditions where maintaining competiveness through recruitment, retention, and compensation is critical.

What strategies/tactics do you use to respond to these challenges/issues?

As m2m has continued to grow, we have recognized the importance of developing and investing in an operations department to address our diverse programming platform and operational challenges. We hired a Chief Operating Officer and distinct operational units such as IT, Grants and Compliance, and International Operations were established. This has enabled m2m to more efficiently manage challenges and create accountability by departments and units to address issues and causes.

In addition, m2m has gone through a robust process of re-tooling and developing an organization-wide work planning process. The work plan focuses the organization across clear departmental and unit goals, objectives, and activities. These work plans allow senior management to reinforce accountability of department and unit leaders and creates a platform to integrate and tie work plan achievements to performance contracts. The process has fostered an environment of more internal collaboration and information sharing.

Finally, m2m goes through a yearly process of identifying organizational priorities separate from work planning that are deemed critical and urgent for the effectiveness and sustained high impact of the organization. Through this process we identify 10 priority areas deemed to be critical for our success. We hold quarterly review meetings to ensure progress, and we review challenges for implementation. Examples of operational areas recently addressed include: resource planning, employee engagement strategies, remuneration and benefits, client relationship management systems, and knowledge management tools.

Let’s talk about governance. How do you and your leadership team build a culture of compliance within m2m—both with your own organizational policies as well as with donor funding regulations?

m2m’s compliance communication and approach begins with leadership. Our senior management team and board of directors fully supports and engages with the organization’s governance and compliance efforts. We have invested in a unit focused on governance and compliance and have a zero tolerance policy on any type of misappropriation, whether at head office or at country level. Senior management leads with the ethos that we do not ignore governance or compliance issues, but rather embrace transparency, accountability, and learning. We have defined policies, which help support our zero tolerance approach. Staff at both head office and country level are expected to robustly implement our anti-fraud policy; fraud and compliance messages are reinforced through staff and annual meetings, and an anonymous whistle blower platform is available to report incidents of fraud, misappropriation, and/or other misconduct.

How do you foster professional growth and development among your staff?

Positioning and developing mothers2mothers as a learning organization is one of our major priorities to attract, hire, and retain expert and experienced staff, and ensure the continued effectiveness of our program as we apply Peer Mentor Approaches to new programmatic areas. To this end, we encourage and support the professional growth and development of our entire staff by requiring everyone to identify their own learning goals in their yearly performance contracts, and develop plans to accomplish them. In addition, each department must identify ways in which they as a department will learn and grow as part of their annual work plans. As part of our strategic focus on talent recruitment and retention, we have also created a Learning and Development role within HR to coordinate internal processes and also to infuse planning and thinking with best practices and innovative thinking from the outside.

What do you perceive as the value of your InsideNGO membership for your organization?

As an NGO based in Africa, having access to InsideNGO’s platform and network of experts and peer-to-peer exchanges is critical to the ongoing health and development of the organization. From the Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. to more regional and local meetings and trainings/workshops—for example, the recent South Regional Meeting, for which InsideNGO tapped our HR Director Gillian Mthandi for the Advisory Committee and to which we sent staff for training and development—we value our membership. For the organization, being able to match internal capacity needs (i.e., training, skills building, best practices) to InsideNGO services relieves anxiety and also ensures that our staff are connecting to some of the best practitioners in the development sector. For me, I would love for InsideNGO to build a network of Africa-based CEOs/Executive Directors in Development, and create opportunities for us to share our learnings, our needs, and key trends.

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