December 17, 2019

By Ellen Corby: Professional Intern with the IGHN

On Tuesday the 3rd of December, the 4th Annual ESTHER Ireland Partnership Forum took place in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin. A variety of guests and speakers attended this exciting event; ESTHER Ireland Partners, ESTHER Europe representatives, health personnel engaged in health links with low- and middle-income countries, (LMICs) and others interested in learning more about health partnerships. Speakers were invited to give talks or practical workshops on a broad range of topics, from fundraising applications to quality of care both professional and voluntary across partnership organisations.

After a welcome from IGHN’s Nadine Ferris France, Philip Crowley, National Director of the Quality Improvement Team for the HSE delivered the opening address. ESTHER Alliance’s European Secretariat is as of late 2019 based in Ireland, and Mr. Crowley pointed out the value-base and mutual respect that ESTHER provides for those engaged in humanitarian work. He emphasised the importance of “creating time to understand your place globally” and of solidarity informing all work done within these partnerships.

Following his opening remarks, Philip Crowley and his colleagues Lorraine Murphy and David Weakliam conducted a workshop on Ways of Improving Healthcare in a Partnership setting. Groups of attendees were first asked to discuss the definition of quality improvement, concluding overall that quality improvement must empower and enable communities: “Quality assurance is not applying technical solutions to technical problems – it is much more than that”. The speakers introduced their framework based upon the creation of person-centric quality care that continuously improves, emphasising standardisation and equity, and using available resources to attain the best possible outcomes.

David Weakliam introduced the later morning sessions, speaking about ESTHER affiliates’ shared purpose in building up institutional partnerships, and introduced Hugh O’Reilly, Director of Business Development at The Wheel, a National Representative Body emphasising sustainable funding for health-focused organisations. Mr. O’Reilly gave an informative and useful presentation on Fundraising for Partnership Activities, downloadable here, referencing the reluctance with which applying for funding and funding applications is often met. He encouraged full engagement and thinking outside of the box when seeking funding opportunities: “There’s more out there then you might realise”. Mr. O’Reilly took his audience through an overview of potential funding sources: Gifts; Grants; Contracts; Open Market; and discussed Fundingpoint, a subscription service listing 330 funders. He also spoke about the fundraising guidelines for Charity Regulators and stressed the importance of transparency in order to maintain public trust in organisations. He concluded by encouraging attendees to “stop apologising for what you’re doing” and to continue to request funding, as funds as rarely generated through remaining silent.

Sive Bresnihan of Comhlámh next conducted a short workshop about Working cross-culturally, in which she conveyed that “Culture is happening all the time”, rather than being a static concept. Stereotypes and cultural codes dictate behaviour and communication in all settings, and Culture can be broken down into two delineations: Ethno-centric, in which one’s own culture is central, and Ethno-relative, in which one’s own culture is experienced in the context of others. Understanding of these subtle codes can lead to more productive working relationships between those of diverse cultural backgrounds., and through practical exercises, she conveyed how working through a foreign language or culture can alter the ways in which colleagues interact.

In his afternoon address, Luciano Ruggia of ESTHER Switzerland outlined the lessons that were learned to date from ESTHER Switzerland’s experience. He stated that, while appropriate funding for partnerships can be the making of excellent projects, this funding must be sustainable and achievable. Mr. Ruggia noted that ESTHER’s mission statement can often differ to those applying for its funding, and so this must be considered during the selection process. ESTHER Switzerland how worked with projects in LMICs often, and Mr. Ruggia emphasised that while “you can do a lot of things right…this does not mean that what you do is 100% right”. He stated that often, neglecting those most at risk is where the most harm is done, especially those who are not registered or visible in country-wide statistics. He encouraged the formation of new effective partnerships groups, saying “We should strive for equity… this is a never-ending process.”

Mark Cumming, Executive Director of Comhlámh and Matt Robinson of the HSE next had a discussion chaired by David Weakliam on Standards of Good Practice for Personal Engagement in Health Partnerships. Mr. Cumming framed global volunteer workers as guests and learners rather than helpers, encouraging the use of continuous conscious reflection on experiences to ensure high quality volunteer work. He presented the Volunteer Charter, showing the 3 main stages of volunteer work: Before departure, while the worker is away, and when they return home. He stressed the crucial aspects of this work: familiarisation with and respect for role and local customs, adaptability and a focus on personal safety, and the channelling of experiences and knowledge into Irish society upon return.
In response, Mr. Robinson spoke about helping volunteers to effectively work through partnerships, highlighting that “each of us is an individual… how do we engage as individuals in a partnership?” Motivation, suitability, and nature of volunteers is vital, and activities of volunteer work should be mutually beneficial, but not be used to replace current systems in a country.

Audience members were then invited to speak briefly on their own experiences and hopes for their own future partnerships, which included guests with vast experiences working in countries such as Malawi and Liberia, and with the Ghana-Limerick Co-Op.

Bringing the event to a close, the Winner of the IGHN Unsung Hero Award was announced. Dermot O’Flynn, Director of Professional Development and Corporate Training at the RCSI Institute of Leadership was presented his award for his inspiring work.
View his acceptance speech here. 



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