Turning learning into practice to build effective partnerships in Zambia

Breakthrough Cancer Trust (BCT)  works to create awareness about early detection of breast and cervical cancers amongst women in Zambia, and provides support and resources to patients and survivors.

BCT is based in Lusaka, the country’s capital, which hosts its sole oncology hospital. Alongside working with remote communities to debunk myths around cancer, the organisation also acts as a safe haven for those coming to Lusaka for check-ups or treatment.

BCT is run almost entirely by volunteers: survivors, caregivers, patients’ family members, and well wishers. Demetria Lubinga, the current chairperson, is a survivor and a volunteer herself, her day job being in customer service.

BCT was founded in 2001, relying on the goodwill of friends of the original founders to fund its activities. These personal connections were all that underpinned the early sustenance of the organisation, as there was no paperwork, no memoranda of understanding (MOUs), no time-bound commitments. When, sadly, some of the early founders passed away, relying on those personal networks became at times more difficult and the lack of clarity around the reliability of resources meant that funding streams could dry out from one day to the other.

When Demetria noticed the Master course on “Effective partnership management in addressing the challenges of cancer” in connection with the 2016 World Cancer Congress in Paris, she decided to apply and, thanks also to a travel grant, was able to take part.

Over 20 hours of online learning and a face-to-face workshop in Paris, the Master course provided Demetria with a framework and process of how to manage partnerships more effectively. She learned about different types and drivers of partnerships, the different blocks of a partnership framework and collaboration agreement templates. Thanks to the learning and exchanges with other participants, she acquired the confidence to assess BCT’s relationship with its partners and discern those that could be developed into longer term collaborations and those that were linked to one-off activities.

She is now working towards ensuring that MOUs with clear reciprocal expectations are in place with all new supporters so that BCT can better manage its resources and plan its activities, and conversations have started with all historical partners to put agreements in place.

The greater confidence acquired in dealing with partnerships and collaboration had an impact beyond raising funds. Equipped with the tools the course provided, Demetria mapped out a collaboration plan that enabled medical volunteers to join BCT in its outreach activities to remote communities. This meant that screening could now also take place alongside raising awareness as part of BCT's outreach programme.

Demetria’s attendance at the Congress, which followed the Master course, also had positive ramifications back in her country. While in Paris, she connected with a representative of the Zambian Ministry of Health (MoH), who took up the position of National Coordinator for Cancer Services in Zambia shortly after. They have since developed a fruitful working collaboration and BCT can now leverage a direct link within the MoH, enabling them to better serve patients in navigating the health system.

“The Master course was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and horizons, and provided insights that were 100% relevant to what we are currently doing in our organisation, enabling us to take our community support to the next level. I am also using what I have learned in my day job in customer service!”, Demetria admitted.

Looking ahead, she hopes to pool enough resources for BCT to build a centre in Lusaka to host patients coming for treatment from outside the city; a conducive place to stay while undergoing outpatient adjuvant treatment. “If any organisation is interested in helping us with this goal and in supporting cancer patients in Zambia, BCT is open for partnerships”, she concluded confidently.

The Master course on “Effective partnership management in addressing the challenges of cancer” was delivered by The Partnering Initiative, with support from Bupa.

UICC is currently working with its members and partners to establish its offer of Master courses in conjunction with the 2018 World Cancer Congress in Kuala Lumpur.


Interested in getting more out of your partnerships? Check out Better Together: Unleashing the power of the Private Sector against Non Communicable Diseases a partnering guidebook developed specifically with the NCD sector in mind.

Last update: 
Tuesday 17 March 2020