YALI Voices Podcast: Melusi Mngomezulu on the Power of Data and the Value of Volunteering

Melusi Mngomezulu is a big believer in the power of data and volunteering. “[A] data-driven approach is the key to results-based implementation,” he tells YALI Voices. “If we are able to use data … we are most likely to achieve the results that we seek.”

Mngomezulu is the co-founder of the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Association of Swaziland, a group that supports civil society organizations by coming up with systems and processes to help them determine how effective their programs are. “We seek to promote M&E as a profession and also as a vital organizational tool,” Mngomezulu says. He sees monitoring and evaluation “as a means to trying to aid or to strengthen the elusive nature of development.”

Man adding sticker to a boxed good
Melusi Mngomezulu at a #YALIServes event in his community on Mandela Day 2017
Photo courtesy of Melusi Mngomezulu

He first learned about M&E while volunteering for Swaziland’s Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations after graduating from university. For two years, Mngomezulu learned about how to collect data to help civil society organizations implement more effective programs.

Volunteering provided Mngomezulu with important job skills, contacts and professional development opportunities.

“You know, at school we just get to learn about the ideals, but in terms of the actual job, it’s actually on the job — you require on-the-job training,” Mngomezulu says. “You require mentorship, you require some guidance as to what you need to do, so I think it is through volunteerism that our youth can be actually able to tap into the world of employment, and also to contribute towards the growth of an organization and towards development itself.”

Data collection and analysis have other benefits besides monitoring and evaluation. Mngomezulu and his colleagues use data visualizations to help ordinary people understand complex processes. This helps promote transparency and accountability in civil society organizations.

You can hear Mngomezulu talk about the importance of data-driven monitoring and evaluation by listening to the YALI Voices Podcast or reading the transcript below.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE

BUREAU OF INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION PROGRAMS (IIP)

“YALI Voices Podcast: Melusi Mngomezulu”

TRANSCRIPT

MELUSI MNGOMEZULU: My name is Melusi Mngomezulu, and I’m from Swaziland. We are young, we are African and we are leaders. Welcome to the YALI Voices Podcast. Make sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss any of our inspiring stories.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪

VOICE-OVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices Podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices Podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up-to-date on all things YALI.

Melusi joins us today to talk about the work he does and how he found his career path. He is one of the founding members of the Monitoring and Evaluation Association of Swaziland and is currently working as a design, monitoring and evaluation coordinator with World Vision. Melusi is passionate about issues surrounding key populations, youth unemployment and promoting volunteerism. And he believes strongly that data must play a crucial role in how governments, business, and society make decisions that impact us all. Now he’s helping organizations throughout Swaziland do just that.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

MR. MNGOMEZULU: Monitoring and evaluation is basically coming up with processes, systems and structures in place to ensure that you are able to effectively monitor and evaluate programs and projects.

What we do is to support civil society organizations in terms of coming up with monitoring and evaluation systems and processes so that they can be able to actually implement their programs whilst they’re able to also monitor them, and monitor progress, and see how far they are. On top of it, to be able to see if there are any challenges so that they can be addressed before this. It’s basically giving a red light as to implementation is concerned.

We founded an association called the Monitoring and Evaluation Association of Swaziland in 2015, together with my colleagues and some university lecturers from the University of Swaziland. What we’re trying to do is to try to make monitoring and evaluation an organizational tool that is used by civil society organizations, government and any private sector organizations involved in development. We seek to promote M&E as a profession and also as a vital organizational tool. So what we do is we engage government in a bid to use data — to use data to inform programming and decisionmaking.

We also build a capacity of a civil society organization, especially nascent organizations in terms of having a monitoring and evaluation system in place, so that they can not only implement programs effectively, but they can also be able to monitor and evaluate them over time.

It is important for governments and civil society organizations to use data to inform programming and decisionmaking, because quite often you find that the programs that are designed — to begin with, the design you find that it’s not really reflective of the views of the people, in fact of the needs of the people. The data helps us to ensure that whatever programs or projects we come up with are rightly spot on — they can actually address the issues on the ground — but over and above everything, we believe in results-oriented programs. If we are able to use data or existing information in terms of what we want to do, we are most likely to achieve the results that we seek to achieve.

A regular citizen can try to access this data in a lot of ways. What we have been trying to do is, to begin with, to try and make sure that the data is made available by every institution. We have tried to come up with different platforms where people can interact with data. We are living in a world of big data now, where we are trying to make sense of all the data that we generate on a day-to-day basis, whether through our Facebook or through any other platforms that we have. We are trying to make sure that every citizen is able to access this data, but also to tailor-make or package it in such a way that if we — for instance — we were talking about youth and access to sexual reproductive health services, it’s packaged in such a way that it’s going to be clear to them — it’s going to make sense, it’s going to be relevant to them — instead of coming up with bulky reports which, at the end of the day, you find that the end user is not even able to read or understand what it’s all about.

We’re doing a lot of also data visualizations where we try to simplify complex data findings, where maybe there are certain causal effects that have been identified, so that your ordinary citizen can actually access and make meaningful understanding of the data itself.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

MR. MNGOMEZULU: We find that civil society organizations where I come from are still reliant on donor funding, so they still need to do a lot of proposal writing, to do a lot of concept-note writing in a bid to try and find resources. We ensure that there is data available for them to use, for instance data that we generate through routine monitoring for HIV and AIDS programs, where we try to make sure that if an organization is focusing on HIV and AIDS, they are able to actually use that data to actually make their case why they need more HIV-prevention activities, they need more HIV medication activities, so that they can be able to address the problems that we have on the ground.

VOICE OVER: Melusi believes in volunteering. In fact, it was by volunteering that he was able to develop his skills and find a job.

MR. MNGOMEZULU: I found my way to this kind of work through volunteerism. Immediately I finished undergrad school, I volunteered for the Coordinating Assembly for Non-Governmental Organisations, which is the mother body or the umbrella body of civil society organizations in Swaziland. I graduated in 2013, and from there I volunteered in that organization. That was when I was introduced in monitoring and evaluation, and I took keen interest. I saw it as means to trying to aid or to strengthen the elusive nature of development back home, so I took interest in it and I did a lot of on-the-job training. I attended a lot of workshops and certificate courses and a lot more, which was aimed at maybe giving much more skills to me to be able to understand what it is and what it entails.

I volunteered in that organization for about two years, and from there I came up with vast experience, because I was eventually considered for an officer position, and from there I kept going until today.

Yes, I can say that was my wait period, but it was a great wait period because it gave me an insight to another side of development that I never looked at. We normally look at development as the actual programs themselves; we never look into what actually aids the programs to become what they are, how can we make sure that the programs work and how can we provide checks and balances, and how can we even measure the impact or demonstrate the impact of the development initiatives that we have.

I decided to volunteer for an organization because it’s not easy to get into formal employment, especially soon after graduation, because you’d find that a certain amount of experience is required, and immediately after graduation you normally have that expectation that I’m just going to graduate and get a job. But actually, the reality, you find that that’s not the case. I volunteered because I had seen my friends who had gone before me who had joined the organization through volunteerism and I thought it was something that was worth giving a shot. When I did volunteer, I discovered that there is quite a lot to learn.

You know, at school we just get to learn about the ideals, but in terms of the actual job, it’s actually on the job — you require on-the-job training. You require mentorship, you require some guidance as to what you need to do, so I think it is through volunteerism that our youth can be actually able to tap into the world of employment, and also to contribute towards the growth of an organization and towards development itself.

VOICE-OVER: But how did Melusi get the Coordinating Assembly for Non-Governmental Organisations, or CANGO, to give him a job, even if he was working for free? We also hear more on why data-driven decisions are key to alleviating some of Swaziland’s most challenging problems.

MR. MNGOMEZULU: I used my resume to convince CANGO to actually give me an opportunity to volunteer with them, because it was a big organization and I was just a young graduate from school. Immediately after, even during my studies, I had already started working on data collection through different surveys, so I had the basis of at least understanding issues of data collection, the importance of data quality, and I used that platform to actually ask them to take me in. But over and above everything there was a program that was formed by UNTP Swaziland, which was trying to help fresh graduates to actually volunteer their time in line with the United Nations Volunteer program.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

MR. MNGOMEZULU: Data-driven approach is the key to results-based implementation of our problems, because we use that data to actually know what is currently happening on the ground, and then to devise certain initiatives in line with what the people want, in line with the needs of the people and in line maybe with the resources that we have. For instance, with regards to unemployment, we have seen through different studies that has been undertaken back home that there are a number of factors that are contributing towards unemployment, amongst which, you find that it’s a skills mismatch; you find that what schools are offering or what the educational system is offering is not on par with the job market. Hence, you’d have a lot of people who are graduates or who have finished school, but they cannot get employed.

Also, it has been proven that our private sector is not as vibrant as it’s supposed to be, hence it cannot create enough jobs for the graduate, it cannot create enough jobs for everyone to actively participate in that marketplace. But then also in terms of labor diversification, data has also shown that our labor market is not diversified. It’s only relying on the skills that maybe are there right now. We still need to make sure we do something, or a lot, on vocational training, we do a lot on skills-building other than focusing on white collar jobs, for instance. All these are things that continue to come up through data, and which needs to be also addressed using the same data to make sure that we tailor-make the programs to address those key root causes of the problems.

VOICE-OVER: I asked Melusi how he was able to show the value of his association to potential clients in government and civil society.

MR. MNGOMEZULU: In terms of building values of the Monitoring and Evaluation Association of Swaziland, when we were establishing it we tried to be as participatory as possible, to be as inclusive as possible, to the extent that you find that monitoring and evaluation is more skewed towards health problems. So what we did was we tried to move it out of the health sector to look into agriculture, to look into issues of economic development, to look into issues of livelihoods and resilience, to look into issues of water, sanitation and hygiene, so that we can have an equal representation of all the stakeholders that are supposed to be part of this. That was the first step, but over and above everything, it is through that process of consultation and active participation that we came up with values which are in line with what quality of data entails, which is integrative, which is accuracy, which looking at issues of even participation in terms of ensuring that the targeted people are actually participating in the development of our initiatives.

It’s a process that has been moving very slow, but we are getting there and slowly but surely we are seeing organizations taking monitoring and evaluation, not only because it is required by the donor, but they see the importance of it as an organization, as a tool that they need to use to ensure that their programming is successful.

We also believe in transparency and accountability. We need to put our information out there so that people can question and they can look into it, and ensure that we have the right data in place.

VOICE-OVER: Thank you for tuning into another YALI Voices Podcast and thank you, Melusi, for a great conversation. Be sure to share your thoughts on this podcast and other important topics on the YALI Network Facebook page at facebook.com/yalinetwork.

Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices Podcast.

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Our theme music is “E – Go Happen” by Grace Jerry and is produced by The Presidential Precinct.

The YALI Voices Podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State, and is a part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government. Thanks for listening!

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