“I think for me the favourite part of the AEN is its people.”

by Nasreen Jessani

Dr Jessani cannot remember exactly when she joined the Africa Evidence Network (AEN), but does remember her reasons for becoming a member and reckons “I decided to join because I work a lot in the field of Evidence Informed Decision Making (EIDM) for almost the last 15-18 years from various angles” The various angles she talks about includes; the researcher`s angle, the research funder, that of government, local and global perspective as well. In a previous life, she used to work for an organisation that funded research and noted that as a global funder “we were very keen to know what the impact of research is having on policies and practices. So there was always a lot of interest in using evidence to inform decision making”.

The AEN; having emerged more recently in her space grabbed her interest because its focus was much more on the continent than her past global endeavours. As an African by birth, Dr Jessani feels a “great allegiance” to this continent and wants to see its policies be more evidence informed. The other reason the AEN appealed to her is that, though most of her background in terms of EIDM has been in health, what she found really refreshing about the AEN was the fact that it is multi-sectoral. She says “(the AEN’s) focus is really on the EIDM aspect first with sectors coming second, whereas I’ve always approached EIDM second with health being the main component and EIDM embedded it in the entry point. The AEN turns that around to say that EIDM is the most important aspect”

Having worked in the space with different governments, countries, departments and others, Dr Jessani mentions that though a lot of learning has taken place in her tenure as a member of the network, much more learning had since happened since she joined the leadership of ACE in her recent role of AEN strategic head. She does however feel that the main change in EIDM currently is the movement and interest in embedding EIDM in not only in the work of researchers but that of government as well. She believes that what is most gratifying about working with being a part of the AEN and its membership is just being able to learn from colleagues across the continent, on the different ways of enhancing evidence informed decision making.

The Evidence Conferences stand out to her as one of AEN’s flagship activities. She asserts “I have met some fantastic people at these conferences that have led to great opportunities. Meeting Prof. Taryn Young at one of these conferences led to a collaborative partnership and faculty role at Stellenbosch University and meeting Prof. Ruth Stewart (Director of ACE) at another conferences led to a fruitful discussion that led to another important role within ACE. So for me to go from being just a member to being an integral part of the team means an exciting evolution in terms of my role in the AEN.”

On a personal level she has been able to build new relationships, she attributes the network to a widening of her horizons, a widening of her networks to include people she otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet were it not for the AEN. On a professional level she mentions the AEN inner circle, and having met and become an ad-hoc advisor to the AEN chair and eventually getting hired as the AEN head of strategy.

Nasreen Jessani, researcher focused on health policy and systems research
~ Nasreen Jessani, researcher focused on health policy and systems research