[This interview was undertaken in August 2019 by Andrea Baertl and the article written by Cristina Ramos.]
Alvin Mosioma is the executive director at the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA) as well as one of its founders. TJNA is a pan-African organisation established in 2007 and a member of the global Tax Justice Network, seeking to promote socially just, democratic and progressive taxation systems in Africa. In this interview, undertaken for a paper discussing organisational leadership, Alvin discusses the role of being an executive director, and the challenges it poses.
Andrea Baertl: Could you describe Tax Justice Network Africa and what it does?
Alvin Mosioma: As the names says, we are a network, and we work on taxation issues. We focus on ensuring that national tax policies are geared towards generating domestic resources to finance economic development. To do this, we have specific programmatic areas of our work: tax incentives, national resource governance, international tax agenda fair and equitable tax. We do a combination of public mobilisation, awareness-raising, capacity building, research, and advocacy. Those are our approaches: we do research, we engage governments directly, and we have capacity development and public mobilisation on the issues that I have outlined. We work very closely with our member organisations, so we fundraise resources for our members to be able to implement programmes at a national level.
AB: Can you tell me more about the network?
AM: We have a total of 31 member organisations in 16 African countries. We are a regional network, but our members are national organisations. So while we do regional level engagement, our members are largely involved in national level advocacy, they engage their own national governments, they do all national level research and what we do from the secretariat here in Nairobi is to provide support to our members. This support can come, for instance, in the form of training, funding, technical backstopping and supporting their research work. The secretariat has a staff of 20 people.
AB: Can you please describe your main roles and functions as an executive director?
AM: I can mention five key areas that I focus on. One is strategy, which is basically providing the overall strategic direction of where the organisation is going. The second is fundraising, connecting, and ensuring that the organisation has the resources that it needs to operate. The third is communications, which is also linked to the first one, but in terms of canalising the message of who the organisation is, so it is strategic communication. The fourth is human resource. This is not day-to-day human resource management, because we have someone responsible for that, but it is ensuring that you have the right team for your agenda, the strategy of constituting the human resource. And the last part is partnerships, which is ensuring that we establish the necessary partnerships and coalitions for change.
AB: What do each of this imply? For example, in terms of strategic direction, what it is that you do?
AM: We have an organisational strategy that translates into our annual workplan. My role is to ensure that the day-to-day activities of the organisation are aligned with the organisation’s strategy. What that means is that I ensure that on the day-to-day our insights, our communication, our advocacy, our training, are all aligned to what the organisation has agreed on. For instance, if we are conducting a workshop, I must ensure that the workshop is aligned to the organisation’s strategy in that thematic area. In other words, I give directions and advice to the team in a way that ensures that our activities are in sync with the broad organisational strategy.
AB: In terms of fundraising, what are your main functions?
AM: I am the first contact person in fundraising, that means that if there is someone that we want to work with, I would make the initial pitch, explain the priorities and the areas that we work in, and then agree on the broader parameters. Then my colleagues translate those parameters into concrete proposal or projects. In essence, I’m in charge of finding opportunities with funders, deciding what we should prioritise if we want to get those resources, what is the probability of obtaining certain funds, how our priorities align with the funder’s. Based on all of these, I give direction on fundraising to the team.
AB: And what about partnerships?
AM: Establishing partnerships is basically knowing which kind of organisations or institutions we should be working with according to our agenda. I engage with them and I give the team guidance to translate our partnerships into concrete work and projects.
AB: What are the main challenges that you face as the leader of the organisation?
AM: As a leader, running an organisation that operates across different regions means that you are thinly spread. Working in all these different areas requires intense concentration. Fundraising and developing strategic partnership are huge work. In all these different tasks you end up finding yourself thinly spread. For instance, the role implies many engagements, such as speaking engagements, meetings people expect you to attend, calls you need to have etc. That is a challenge I am a ‘Jack of all trades’. I am doing organisation management, I am doing strategy, I am doing board-related issues, I am working with funders, thinking about the next steps of our strategy. I have to engage in all these different tasks as head of the organisation because I am the face of the organisation and that means I am thinly spread.
AB: And which is the biggest organisational challenge that you face?
AM: As an organisation, I think that the biggest challenge we face is that we are a regional organisation working at different levels, but also, we are membership driven. So, there are tough choices you have to make about how involved you are in country-level activities, in regional or global processes which put a lot of pressure on the organisation, in terms of where we should be allocating our resources.
As a regional network you want to be able to address the different constituencies and that can be resource-intense, but then, you are struggling as a small organisation to harness all those resources.
As an institution, we started with the unique position of being the only regional civil society network that is working on tax, but because of this the expectation for us to respond to all tax issues across the continent is bigger than the size of our organisation and the resources we have. Another related challenge is language, because we operate in the continent and we are multilingual – anglophone, francophone, lusophone etc.