Lessons from the policy advocacy capacity strengthening for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocates in Liberia and Sierra Leone

September 12, 2023

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the crucial role that civil society plays in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights and holding duty-bearers accountable to the citizenry. To ensure the effectiveness of these organizations, it is essential to invest in capacity strengthening initiatives that address their unique needs in advocacy.

In April 2022 to February 2023, APHRC implemented a policy advocacy and communications capacity strengthening project in Monrovia, Liberia and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The project, funded by Guttmacher Institute was designed to deliver policy advocacy knowledge, tools, and skills into the hands of CSOs and SRHR advocates to enable them to effectively and strategically engage with policymakers. The capacity strengthening was critical in shaping the advocacy engagement of CSOs in both countries considering that they are at the stage where they are advocating for reproductive health bills; the Public health Act for Liberia and Safe Motherhood & Reproductive Health in Sierra Leone. The training was delivered through a blended mix of virtual and in-person.

Below are some of the lessons that emerged from the delivery of the policy advocacy and communications training;

Understanding and appreciating the partners’ needs: 

Before embarking on the capacity-strengthening initiative, APHRC conducted a needs assessment to ascertain the needs and gaps of the CSOs in both countries. Through the process, the training team was able to develop bespoke and customized training that catered for the needs of the participants. From the needs assessment, six policy advocacy areas were identified that included evidence use in policymaking, effective and strategic policy engagement, developing advocacy strategies, developing a policy brief, engaging with the media, movement and champions building.

Using comprehensive training approaches:

With a blend of both virtual and physical, APHRC used interactive and engaging activities that kept participants actively involved in the learning process. The training team used experiential learning such as role plays, group assignments and sharing of real experiences among the participants in both countries. The approaches helped to make the sessions engaging and allowed for participants to easily express themselves. In addition, with the mentioned approaches, trainers were able to break down complex information for the participants.

The power of face-to-face engagements:

While virtual sessions have become increasingly popular, face-to-face engagements proved to be the most productive for this project. It provided an opportunity for the trainers to read the mood of the participants and pick non-verbal cues that helped make the sessions productive. With the virtual sessions, participants were often distracted which hindered their ability to fully engage and absorb the training content. Therefore, it is crucial to budget for face-to-face engagements whenever possible. However, if physical meetings are not feasible due to logistical constraints or unforeseen circumstances, a combination of both face-to-face and virtual sessions could be considered.

Listening and Feedback:

Engaging with CSOs should not be a one-way street. It is essential to provide a platform for feedback after every training session or engagement. This allows participants to share their thoughts, express what they found most valuable, and provide suggestions for improvement. By actively listening to the participants’ feedback, we were able to gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of the training sessions and make necessary adjustments for future capacity-strengthening initiatives. To this regard, APHRC ensured to carry out a post evaluation exercise after each training session where participants provided feedback on what went well, what could be improved, as well as the areas they would need more capacity strengthening on. The feedback significantly contributed to enhancing APHRC’s capacity strengthening strategies in the two countries in terms of approaches and ensured that CSOs were content with the training modules and how the sessions were administered to them.

The importance of a community of practice for SRHR advocates:

As we started conducting policy advocacy sessions in both countries, we built an SRHR movement through WhatsApp.  The community of practice has brought together about 85 SRHR advocates from Liberia and Sierra who frequently share opportunities for engagement on reproductive health matters, updates on their respective health bills and challenges they encounter while implementing their work. The platform has also enabled SRHR advocates from both countries to identify areas of synergy and borrow lessons from each other in terms of how to strategically engage decision-makers and other stakeholders such as religious and traditional leaders on sexual and reproductive health issues. APHRC continues to support these CSOs by sharing relevant information that could build on their advocacy work and continue to conduct capacity-strengthening training with the support of similar projects at the Center.

Project close-out meeting and the next steps:

A successful capacity-strengthening project goes beyond just providing training; it should also focus on looking back to celebrate the small wins and ensuring the sustainability of the skills and knowledge gained. In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, APHRC held a close-out meeting where jointly with the partners shared lessons learned, best practices and challenges experienced during implementation. The close-out meeting provided an opportunity for APHRC and the partners brainstorm ideas on potential areas of synergy for SRHR advocates in both countries. It was clear that CSOs would need ongoing support and mentorship to effectively apply what they have learned in their advocacy work. APHRC recognized this need and established mechanisms for continued support, such as follow-up sessions, and networking opportunities.

As we reflect on this project, it is evident that capacity strengthening is an ongoing process that requires continuous evaluation and adaptation. Drawing from the above-mentioned lessons, we can further enhance capacity strengthening efforts for SRHR advocates and in the long run, improve the health outcomes of women and girls, and vulnerable populations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.


By Doris Omao and Jane V. Mangwana