The Virtual Strategic Planning Program assists a Nicaraguan organization in mapping out a successful future
Managua, Nicaragua. Profamilia operates through 16 clinics to provide family planning and reproductive health services to many of the most under-served regions of Nicaragua. It is the second-largest supplier of family planning services in the country after the Ministry of Health. In addition, the organization offers family planning, reproductive health, and other social services for youth, the elderly, and families as a whole. The organization is an affiliate institution of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation. In 2004, the funding stream they had long received ended, forcing the organization to pay more attention to sustainability factors, such as scaling back some of its social programs while building upon its income-generating services. With Profamilia’s hard work and dedication, and some technical support funded by USAID, Profamilia maintained its critical operations and has grown from 56% self-sustainability in 2003 to 95% in the first quarter of 2006. The question remained, how would the organization move into the future? Would they continue to struggle or would they plan for success and growth?
A New Approach to Strategic Planning
To address this question, Profamilia participated in the Virtual Strategic Planning Program (VSPP). The VSPP was developed by the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Sustainability (LMS) Program of Management Sciences for Health. The program blends virtual learning with individual and face-to-face team work over a period of 13 weeks, enabling a broad range of staff to have the ability to participate without significantly impacting their core responsibilities.
LMS launched the VSPP for the first time in Latin America with 10 teams from five countries from April until August 2006. The program enables teams to analyze their current situation, clarify their organizational vision, define strategic objectives, and develop strategies to achieve their organizational vision. They determine the mechanisms necessary to meet their objectives and implement new strategies, as well as how to link the strategic plan to their operational plan. By the end of the program, each team completes a three-year strategic plan and develops a plan for implementing it and linking it to their operational plan. Additionally, participants strengthen their ability to plan and to think strategically, equipping them with the skills needed to monitor the progress of their plans and make adjustments as necessary. "Our strategic plan enabled us to find out who we are, analyze the situation around us, and map out where we are going," explained José Ramón Ubau, the director of one of Profamilia’s clinic. "It has given us an institutional spirit and vision."
"The VSPP got us all aligned, involved the entire organization, and has prepared us on a path to achieve what we have set out to do," Mr. Ubau continued. "Our plan is now fully integrated with our budget and operating plan."
Developing a Strategic Plan
Profamilia, for the first time in its history, was able to bring together staff from their main office (admin staff as they refer to them), members of the board including the chair-person, and staff from their various clinics. "Everyone in the organization took part in the planning—developing the vision, mission, and setting our goals," Ms. Marcia Aguilar, the president of the board, explains. "Before, the board was sometimes out of touch with some of the needs and directions of the organization. For the first time in all my years on the board, I feel that we are all walking the same path."
Profamilia now has a five-year strategic plan directly linked with its operational plan. A revised vision and mission have further aligned the organization along its shared values. Each clinic of Profamilia is also developing individual strategic plans under the same process, with each being designed in support of the organizational plan. Profamilia’s strategic plan has also instigated action within the organization: the integrated operational plan required a significant upgrade to their information system.
Presenting their plans to the IPPF, Profamilia received funding to procure this system along with the technical assistance necessary to implement it. "What was really impressive is how quickly Profamilia presented their plan and now we’re already in process of installing this system that will better link the clinics with the main office," explained the consultant from IPPF leading the information system implementation. "Other times you’ll have a consultant come and write up a plan and it might even be a good one, but once they leave the plan just goes up on a shelf, collecting dust."
Other staff have clearly laid out plans for projects they had been mulling for years but were never able to start. Activities started as a result of Profamilia’s strategic plan include establishing or strengthening pharmacy services in all Profamilia clinics, providing more consultations along with selling family planning products, and exploring ways of expanding the organization throughout the country and possibly to the rest of Central America.
Failing to Plan Is Like Planning to Fail
A strategic plan is an essential element of success for any organization in any field. It is a systematic process through which an organization sets priorities and long-term goals. However, a strategic plan is useless at best if it just sits on a shelf once completed and the organization goes back to business as usual. MSH recognizes not only the value of strategic planning but the need to put it to action. By linking the strategic plan with its operational plan, Profamilia has already moved toward positioning itself for success.