By Hailegebriel Endeshaw (Communications Officer with NIPN/EPHI)
All professionals who have been engaged in various careers need to upgrade their capacities regularly. This is generally known as professional development. Processes like upgrading, refreshing, training, and familiarizing oneself with new developments are given special emphasis in professional development. Professional development is of paramount importance in continuing one’s career growth and stepping up efforts to achieve one’s goals.
An individual can develop his/her profession through education, training, workshops, conferences, etc. If the given training or professional development endeavors are needed to be fruitful, many things can be considered as inputs. The most important one is the professional himself or herself, who takes the training or professional development course. A professional or an expert who stays long without having the regular updating of his/her profession is like a sword that has not been whetted.
The National Information Platform for Nutrition (NIPN) promotes evidence-based decision-making for nutrition and supports the implementation of the National Food and Nutrition Policy in Ethiopia.
NIPN is hosted by the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), but works under the national nutrition governance system and collaborates with many multi-sectoral nutrition stakeholders and partners of the National Food and Nutrition Policy and the National Food and Nutrition Strategy.
The task taken by NIPN needs serious effort and diligence. Taking this into consideration, NIPN has been engaged in the professional development or skill upgrading of partners and stakeholders. That’s why it has kept on providing regular trainings on building professional capacities.
Tsehay Kelemework is an instructor at Bahirdar University in the Amhara Region. She is one of the professionals who regularly attends the training and other career development programs of NIPN. She said she has taken trainings on Partnership Management, and Data Visualization.
Tsehay said that the training she received has helped her a lot in the activities she is carrying out along with her partners. “It has capacitated me to work with national and international institutions. For instance, I have become efficient at working with IFPRI,” Tsehay said.
Tsehay also said that the training being given by NIPN has given her the capacity to produce joint proposals with colleagues and win projects. “We have built our capacity to formulate joint grant proposals along with international (European and African) universities,” she said, adding that “particularly, the training on Partnership Management has enabled me to augment my confidence.”
Tsehay said that the training being given by NIPN is very helpful. But she suggests that, as all experts in almost similar fields trained together, it is good if the concerned body creates a platform that enables all to come together regularly for professional upgrading or refreshment. “This would make our training very fruitful. Let the capacity building and the issue of working together continue in an intensified manner,” she said.
Tsehay proposed that NIPN could provide more training on Leadership and Research Management.
Masresha Minuye is working for the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research as the Food Quality and Nutrition Research National Program Coordinator. He is one of the participants who regularly received training given by NIPN. Masresha recalled that he received various trainings like Data Analysis Using STATA, Data Visualization Using Power BI. Masresha said that the training he has taken has helped him a lot in his daily work. It enabled him to use the collected research data in transparent and meaningful ways, according to him. “I have learned that the data should be delivered in a manner that is transparent to readers and easily applicable by policy makers. I have learned that we should put research data in a website data repository,” Masresha said.
Regarding the change the training has brought to his work, Masresha said that he has developed a better understanding of utilizing data. “The training enabled me how I should use the research data in a much more convenient manner in my daily coordination responsibilities,” he said.
Masresha said that the trainings being given by NIPN regularly are very important and timely. “The topics picked for the training are very appropriate and timely.” He further said that NIPN should coordinate national food and nutrition related works in a better way and put the research works in a repository… Masresha has a view that it would be good if NIPN could think of giving training on “The Evaluation and Development Program”.
Abraham Aregai is working for the Tigray Health Research Institute. He is among the experts who regularly receive training given by NIPN. Abraham said that he has taken training on Scientific Reading and Writing, Introduction to Analysis Using STATA, Introduction to GIS, and Power-BI for Visualization.
Speaking of the benefit he got from the various trainings supplied by NIPN, Abraham said that the training helped him to write and analyze data from secondary data sources properly. “The training helped me to see the changes in the environment regarding the same disease. I have also shared with my colleagues the major points of the training I received here,” Abraham said.
Abraham is of the opinion that if more training on different topics is given, it will be much more helpful. He proposed training under the following topics: Grant Writing, STATA, GIS at an advanced level, Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
He said that it would be good if NIPN thought of involving more regional institutes during such important training, as it helps to boost their effectiveness and quality.
Coordinator of NIPN-Ethiopia, Aregash Samuel (Dr.), said that different capacity-building trainings have been provided to nutrition researchers, media houses, and partners, including the NIPN and EPHI teams. She said that the training focused on developing skills to increase the capacity of NIPN’s team to better serve the needs of nutrition researchers. The training also focuses on using media to communicate health and health-related scientific evidence.
Speaking of the outcome, the NIPN-Ethiopia Coordinator said that following the training given on various occasions, NIPN’s teams have been able to use the new skills and knowledge gained from the training to make great strides in research, media relations, and partnership activities. “Our nutrition researchers have acquired new skills to analyze national nutrition data, generate evidence, and use an internationally designed tool called LiST (Lives Saved Tool). Our media team has used their improved communication skills to write newsletters and update the NIPN social media and website on the progress of our research,” she said.
Aregash said that in analyzing the existing data and evidence to respond to the policy questions, the capacity of researchers needs to be built. That’s why NIPN has been engaged in providing various capacity building trainings. NIPN 2.0 has planned to provide nine trainings during the project period. It is to be recalled that more than six trainings were provided during NIPN 1.0.
NIPN has not implemented any assessment methods so far regarding the evaluation of the trainings being given. But after every training, it has been collecting views and comments from trainees. Apart from that, “we hear informally that researchers have benefited from the training,” Dr. Aregash said.
NIPN-Ethiopia has provided training on various subjects since 2020. In 2020, a training was given to researchers drawn from different organizations under the theme, “the best ways to provide evidence and interact with policy and decision makers”, according to Aregash.
The other training was also given to program officers drawn from sectoral offices in 2021 on Project Planning, implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation. Dr. Aregash said that so far, three trainings have been given to private and public media staff and PR officers from multi-sectoral offices on “Access to Health Research Information” in October 2021.
Trainings given in 2023 include, among others, Data Visualization: Introduction to Creating Dashboards using Power BI for EPHI staff; Writing Potentially Fundable Proposals; Partnership Management; Basic STATA training; Systematic review and Meta-analysis; Data Visualization: Introduction to Creating Dashboards using Power BI for MER SC. (NIPN)
By Tekle Tesfalidet
As the saying goes, investing in education always yields the best dividends. It is widely recognized that investing in education is one of the most valuable investments an organization or a country can make, given its long-term benefits that far outweigh the initial costs. Although investing in education or training demands significant time, effort, and financial resources, the knowledge and skills acquired through education can lead to greater opportunities for individuals, sponsoring organizations, and the country at large.
In line with this perspective, as mentioned in our previous issue, NIPN Ethiopia has awarded PhD scholarships to five employees from EPHI and one from the Ministry of Agriculture/Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). These recipients are currently pursuing their studies at prestigious universities, including Oklahoma State University (OSU), Addis Ababa University (AAU), Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and University College Cork (UCC).
In our previous issue, we explored the stories of two scholarship winners participating in a dual degree program offered by OSU and AAU. Now, we shift our focus to two scholarship recipients from EPHI and the Ministry of Agriculture/EIAR. They are currently studying at Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and University College Cork (UCC). Temesgen Awoke, from EPHI, is pursuing his education at UCC, while Ruth Mijena, from the MOA/EIAR, is studying at WUR. Both of them have served as researchers in their respective organizations.
This piece will focus on their areas of research, the significant impact the scholarships have had on their professional trajectories, and their commitment to their organization and country.
Rightly, they are both highly appreciative of the scholarship grant. Temesgen says, “Receiving this scholarship is essential for my financial stability and is a crucial component of my academic pursuits, complemented by additional institutional support.” Ruth, on her part, remarks, “I am grateful that the scholarship is helping me to pay for tuition fees and living allowances during the course of the PhD.”
When elaborating on the impact that the scholarship will have on the recipients, Dr. Aregash Samuel, Senior Researcher at EPHI and NIPIN Ethiopia Coordinator, said, 'As PhD students, they are going to generate data-based evidence, and all of them are studying nutrition-related issues.” Adding further, she said, “Yes, their research findings will contribute to the science and fill the existing evidence gap in nutrition."
Speaking about his specific research topic for his PhD studies, Temesgen emphasizes that his research focuses on the food system of Ethiopia, particularly the food practices and their impact on diet quality and nutrient intake. He explains, "Through this study, my aim is to provide new empirical evidence on aspects of the food system and diet that have not been thoroughly explored before."
Ruth, on her part, said that the topic of her PhD study is “Circular food systems for a healthy diet and planet: The Ethiopian case.”She hoped that her study on circular food would have a significant impact on public health by examining whether the current food system contributes to a healthy diet or not. If not, she pointed out, "I aim to explore whether we can achieve a healthy diet and a sustainable environment by modeling and transitioning to a circular food system. Additionally, I will compare the current and future scenarios and propose pathways for policy development."
Regarding the challenges she encountered during her PhD program, Ruth highlighted the various obstacles she faced, particularly as a woman and a parent. She acknowledged that she constantly needed to find a balance between the demands of her study and her family responsibilities. The fact that her husband is taking most of the family responsibility and her daughter’s support is helping her to focus on her study. She emphasized that pursuing a PhD was a decision made by the entire family, considering it as a shared mission. Ruth expressed her optimism, stating, "I hope that we will successfully overcome these challenges when I graduate."
In Temesgen's case, one of the challenges he encountered was that the scholarship solely covered the tuition fee, “leaving no provision for research expenses.”
As young and dedicated public health researchers, Ruth and Temesgen have already established themselves as valuable assets within their respective organizations, which is why they were awarded the scholarship grant. Now, with the prestigious scholarship they have been granted, Ruth and Temesgen are even more determined to serve diligently, fully acknowledging and appreciating the significant investment made in their education and professional development.
When asked about his commitment to serving his organization after graduation, Temesgen stated, “I would serve my Institute according to the commitment I signed.”In response to the same question, Ruth expressed her dedication by saying, "To the fullest extent." She further emphasized, "As I mentioned earlier, the terms and conditions of the contract should not restrict a researcher who has the desire to serve his country to the fullest extent."
In conclusion, EPHI and NIPN Ethiopia's unwavering dedication to training and nurturing capable individuals to effectively promote nutrition and tackle the various factors contributing to malnutrition is evident. The provision of scholarships to the six individuals is a testament to their ongoing efforts. However, expanding these efforts by actively pursuing more scholarship opportunities for aspiring researchers, both domestically and internationally, is essential to inspiring and supporting future scholars in the field. While such initiatives pose challenges in terms of time, resources, and temporary personnel loss, the resulting benefits are highly rewarding.