Driving forward Malawi’s professional driver training

Malawi’s road traffic fatality rate is high – currently standing at around 35 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 2.9 in the UK*. After success across other countries in Africa, Transaid expanded its professional driver training initiatives into the country to tackle the problem, signing up Silvio Sorrentino from the National Express Group graduate network to coordinate it.

Silvio, Operations Manager, who currently lives in Morocco and works for ALSA (part of the National Express Group), spent three months in Malawi as Project Officer.  The programme includes offering driver trainers from public and private sectors UK-standard training and the tools to pass on this tuition to their own students. We spoke to Silvio as the placement was coming to an end about his time as a professional volunteer, the achievements, and challenges.

You are finishing the secondment with Transaid – how are you feeling?

Right now, I have different feelings at the same time. I know I am going to miss Malawi, but I am already missing my wife, dogs and friends. From the beginning, I knew this was just a three month break in my normal life, and so I expected this to come to an end. I have to accept that life goes on and that future opportunities will rise.

What’s your background? 

I was born in Naples, Italy, but I have spent most of my life in Spain. I have a degree in Economic Sciences that I studied for in Spain and France. I also have a Master’s degree in Logistics and Transportation and next year I will start an MBA in the UK. Since 2012, I have been working in Morocco with National Express in operations and project management related areas.

How did the secondment come about?

I had this opportunity thanks to the NX Network graduate scheme launched by National Express in 2015. This scheme includes around 25 young managers from different businesses in the UK, Spain, and the US. At our first event in December 2015, Sam Clark (Transaid’s Programmes Support Manager) made a brilliant presentation about Transaid and offered us this opportunity. It was the first time National Express has sent a manager for on a temporary placement to work with Transaid, and I am really proud to have been chosen.

What did it involve?

As Transaid was expanding its road safety initiatives into Malawi, it involved different activities, but basically making sure the four training of trainers inputs were taught in the best possible way. I was in charge of making all the necessary arrangements for the training – looking for a vehicle, a classroom, the materials, food and refreshments, etc. I was also representing Transaid with local stakeholders, both presenting our project to them and carrying out research about the road safety environment in Malawi. Interviewing the donors, government officials, transport companies, professional association and others, is key in order to identify the main problems and the possible solutions.

What did you learn while on the placement?

I have learnt many things and I am sure that, with time, I will be able to realise how big the impact of this experience is, both in a personal and professional way. So far, I have improved my communication skills, adapting the tone and the content to my position here. Working for the private sector means I am used to having a hierarchical relationship with my colleagues. That approach would not work here. I became more patient, positive and open-minded.

What have been your biggest achievements?

Fortunately we were able to develop relationships both in the public and private sector, I think our success in Malawi will be based on our ability to get the attention from key people in different organisations. Being able to raise stakeholders’ awareness and get their commitment to our programme is a must.

How will the work make a difference?

We will be able to make a difference in the future by bringing our expertise to the country. In any case, we have to understand that the difference will be made by our local partners and especially the Ministry of Transport and Malawi’s Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS). If we are able to continue to support them, we will be able to make a sustainable difference.

What has been the best moment of the secondment?

There has been many good moments during this three months, especially when I witnessed how the participants enjoyed the training, how they realized the importance of the knowledge they were acquiring and were able to interact with each other, sharing experiences and perceptions about the issue. Actually, I remember a moment during our last input in Blantyre when the participants were making their presentations on the final day. I was in another room but could hear how they encouraged each other, laughed and applauded. This is a happy memory.

What surprised you most?

It was my first time in Sub-Saharan Africa and it surprised me a lot that the infrastructure was pretty good and that there were many shopping centres in the capital. I could even find a movie theatre in Blantyre and there is no cinema in the city where I live in Morocco. I was also surprised how friendly the local people were and how multicultural the population is in the main cities, where you can find communities of Western expatriates, Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian people.

How can organisations and individuals get involved?

Individuals can get involved in many ways: sharing information about Transaid on the internet or other channels, influencing Western donors to make greater efforts in Road Safety, funding Transaid is also an option, or participating in one of the cycling events they organise (which I will certainly do in the future). Organisations can both fund the charity and share its employees’ knowledge in specific projects. I think it is great for Transaid to have access to the Transport and Logistics know-how, making Transaid a great and different partner for governments in developing countries. Finally, individuals inside the organisation can cooperate and promote the organisation’s involvement, and the organisation can encourage employees’ participation.

What does the future involve?

A lot of work, making the right analysis of this three month experience, proposing a new strategy to the DRTSS and trying to work in a sustainable, cost-effective strategy to tackle road crashes in Malawi. We have to make sure that all the different stakeholders are involved and have the same goals to maximise our future efforts.

*According to the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015.

Photo: Silvio Sorrentino (right) with Philip Reynolds, a trainer at National Express, during the certificate presentation ceremony.