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British Council in Ethiopia: redefining the role

Peter Brown is Director General of the British Council in Ethiopia and Regional Strategic Lead Child Protection. Prior to taking the Director position in September 2016, Peter led the British council in Uganda, Venezuela, Rio de Janeiro and Mozambique for over 11 years. He also worked as deputy director in British Council Nigeria from 2002-2005. Peter holds MA in Business Administration from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland and other diplomas in English language teaching and translation. The Council has been a fixture of many activities in Ethiopia and around the world. Hence, the director reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the work of the council in Ethiopia, on the need to support mental health initiatives, how it curbs on corruption in aid-giving and why the work of the British Council is still vital to Ethiopia. Excerpts:

The Reporter: The British Council describes itself as an organization that is “on the ground in six continents and over 100 countries, bringing international opportunity to life, everyday”. What are some of the areas that the council is involved in Ethiopia as well as in the region?

Peter Brown: Our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was established in 1942. Since that time, we have been engaged with generations of young people through a range of educational and cultural programs. We work with our partners, both Ethiopian and from the UK, to showcase excellence, innovation and creativity. We work for the benefit of individuals and for the mutual benefit of the UK and Ethiopia. We have a dedicated team of 45 professionals, working in the areas such as the English language, the arts, and education and society. In the arts, we are seeking to establish new partnerships between Ethiopian, UK and East African artists and creative entrepreneurs, helping them to collaborate and create together.

Through the EU-funded partnership program “Creative Futures”, we are working with the Goethe-Institute and other partners to help build the capacity of the creative sector in Ethiopia. In English, our teaching centre delivers English language and skills training to individuals and institutions from both the public and the private sectors. Our “Language for Resilience” program aims to respond to Ethiopian initiatives to offer improved education opportunities to the sizeable refugee communities the country hosts. In education and society, we support Ethiopian initiatives to develop best practices in education systems and global citizenship, and we encourage strategic partnerships between the UK and Ethiopia in higher education, innovation and reform.

The council co-hosted and supported a gathering of community leaders earlier this week and discussed on issues such as access to services, education, prison reform, mental health issues and addictions. Share with me some of the highlights?

It was fantastic to hear government and civil society leaders talking together about how key government policies could be if implemented in a better way, or improved - especially for some of the harder to reach people in this country. This is what CSSP has worked to achieve over the last six years with its support for civil society innovation and productive relationships with the local government. We're especially encouraged to hear about government plans to revive the 2012 Mental Health Policy and we're hopeful that the experience of CSSP CSO partners in Dire Dawa and Tigray will feed into this process. And the prospect of government regulations on 'khat' use is also promising, especially as it builds on initiatives by CSSP CSO partners in Harar, Addis Ababa and Assosa to decrease the uptake of 'khat' use as well as improve services to those who have developed addiction. For the marginalized communities that are falling through the gaps of government services, it was impressive to hear government representatives reflecting on the progress made in Hadiya zone to see how these lessons can be applied in other regions.

 

Tell me about the Civil Society Support Program (CSSP) and why the British Council finds it a worthy initiative to support?

The multi-donor-funded Civil Society Support Program (CSSP) is designed to build the capacity of Ethiopian civil society to collaborate with government actors in support of national development priorities such as access to education, health and other services. Since 2011, the program has worked with over 600 partners reaching over three million people. It focuses on previously neglected issues such as innocent children incarcerated in prison with their mothers, the education and protection of women and girls and overlooked issues such as ‘khat’ addiction and mental health. Our involvement reflects the importance of Ethiopia to the UK, our commitment is to stronger bonds built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect in both countries which we believe will ultimately lead to increased prosperity and security.

CSSP has built the mechanism to distribute grants to various actors in the sector to support and empower equality and gender parity within Ethiopia. How does the British Council ensure that there is no corruption; and that it has lasting impact on the ground, not just a lofty goal?

CSSP has prioritized harder to reach the civil society from the outset and has supported this by putting in place an international standard of financial management capacity development. Finance mentors have worked alongside hundreds of CSOs to maximize the value of grants received by them and to mitigate the risks of corruption and poor management. A combination of mentoring and monitoring by staff from our five regional business units has helped CSOs to maintain a focus on the priorities of the poorest people and to work as effectively as possible within the legal framework for charities and societies.

One of the signature programs of CSSP is SASA and I understand it’s a program which is emulated in many places, as far away as Kansas, in the United States and Uganda. Tell me about the program?

SASA is CSSP’s gender focused program that has four phases – Start, Awareness, Support and Action. The SASA approach was developed by Ugandan organization Raising Voices, which aims to prevent HIV and violence against women and girls. SASA is also a Kiswahili word that means ‘now’ – ‘now is the time to prevent violence against women and its connection to HIV/AIDS’. In 2014/2015 CSSP successfully implemented the ‘Start’ phase of the SASA program involving three Women’s Associations in the Addis Ababa, Oromia and Tigray regions of Ethiopia. In each of these regions, over 100 people were trained and organized into community activist groups, implementation teams were formed, and action plans were developed. The second and third phases are now also complete and it is hoped that beyond CSSP1 there will be support for completing the final phase.

The United Kingdom seems to be transitioning from aid giving, advocate for the English language and culture to trade in the continent. Why do you think the work of the British Council is still needed?

Using the cultural resources of the UK, the British Council creates friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. This enhances the security, prosperity and influence of the UK and, in so doing, helps make the world a better, safer place. We combine strategic alignment to the UK’s long-term foreign policy priorities with the long-standing principle of operational independence in our work. This is important for our impact in building trust. Mutuality is an underlying principle of all our work – it should benefit those we work with as well and we support a genuinely new partnership between Africa and the UK providing positive pathways for young people and improving skills, employability and life chances.  The political, social and economic uncertainties that exist in today’s world provide an imperative for our work and a great opportunity for the British Council to build bridges around the world.