Leadership and learning

May 23, 2017

I will in my blog travel back in time. The year is 2004 and the location is Lilongwe, Malawi. I have just arrived in Malawi as a relatively young man, to become the new long term advisor to the National Audit Office of Malawi. I am extremely excited, naively optimistic and overly self-confident. The first months pass quickly, and things appear to be going well. Ambitious project plans are developed, and I am warmly welcomed by colleagues.  The future looks bright, and, if anything, my ego increases further.

Then reality hits back – suddenly progress halts. Decision-making drags out, plans are not being implemented and the quick results I am expecting are not forthcoming. Frustration grows, and I don’t understand why good intentions are not transferred into tangible results. I seek advise from the Deputy Director General, Sam Gomani. I soon realize that Mr. Gomani`s insights are invaluable. He is a well-respected and distinguished civil servant, has worked for the NAO for a long time, he understands the organization and the political environment and is a humble and mild-mannered leader with a great sense of justice. He patiently spends time with me almost daily, explains, advises me and supports me and the team. Together we start dealing with the challenges, and we redesign the project document to better reflect the needs in the SAI. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the project was a great success, at least we achieve results in some key areas. While I am hopeful that our efforts made at least a small contribution to developing the SAI and the staff, I am in no doubt that the individual who learnt the most was I. Both in terms of professional and personal development. It was a life changing experience that developed me both professionally and personally, and which made me determined to continue working with SAI capacity development.

So why I am telling this story? Because I think there are a number of lessons learned that also are applicable to other SAI capacity development initiatives:

  • As an outsider, it is incredibly challenging to understand the “pressures” surrounding the SAI both in the political- economy environment, but also the internal SAI pressures and politics. It took me several years to grasp a basic understanding of this, and then it was soon time to leave.
  • Enthusiasm and good intentions is well and good, but add little value if not coupled with good institutional knowledge.
  • It is crucial to establish mutual trust and confidence with management for successful project implementation
  • The support needs to be rooted in the needs of the SAI and have the ownership of staff. If not efforts will not be sustainable and will be met by resistance. An approach where the SAIs are in the driving seat in terms of assessing their needs, where the support reflects the strategic priorities of the SAI and where plans are flexible and can be altered to meet needs are necessary.
  • And finally, SAI capacity development support is not a “one sided” affair. There is also huge learning opportunities for both organizations and individuals who are working with the delivery of capacity development support.

So this one is for you, Mr. Gomani – thank you for being my mentor and for all your support.

Einar J. Gørrissen

Director General , INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI)