July 24

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Let’s get down to business!!

Okay, let’s get down to business. In this post, I will talk about the PULSE volunteer partnership and my work with the African Medical Research Foundation (Amref). Let’s start from the beginning, the PULSE volunteer partnership is a flagship program started by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in the year 2009. Through the program, highly motivated skilled employees are seconded to an NGO full-time for a period of either 3 or 6 months. PULSE volunteers use their professional skills to solve healthcare challenges at home and abroad and to create a positive sustainable change for the non-profit partners and the communities they serve. So far, through the PULSE program, 567 employees have been placed with 103 non-profits across 62 countries globally.

As a part of my PULSE assignment, I am volunteering with Amref health Africa in Tanzania. Amref is an international NGO headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and has presence globally across Europe, Africa and the Americas. Amref was started in the year 1956 by three doctors to provide critical medical assistance to remote communities in East Africa. The “flying doctors” as it was known as has branched out as a separate arm of Amref and since then, the organization has diversified into focusing on the following strategic health priorities:

• Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH)
• Fighting diseases such as HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
• Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
• Clinical and Diagnostic Services
• Cross cutting areas such as research and advocacy and capacity building

Over the next couple of weeks, I will take you through the projects and the work being done on them. For now, a brief of my involvement with Amref and again, let’s start from the beginning. NGOs, just like any organization carries out its work through projects. For the projects to be successfully implemented, monitored, evaluated and sustained, funds are required. How do NGOs acquire funds? It’s through fundraising activities, donor contributions and grants being awarded to them. When I say donors I mean individual contributors, institutions like United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF), Human Development Innovation fund (HDIF), Ministries of health, corporate entities like GSK, foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, so on and so forth.

Now, how do donors decide the recipients of their funds amongst the pool of NGOs across the world vying for the same? It’s through the proposals and business plans submitted to them. Proposals and business plans or project plans give a detailed and robust picture of the NGOs idea, their implementation strategy, competence, sustainability and its impact on communities. This is where I come into the picture. In a nutshell (a part of the nut really, since I handle other tasks as well), I collaborate with different teams to put together proposals and business plans which is submitted to a donor for funding. Sounds simple enough right? Well, it’s not. Funding is in thousands and even millions of dollars per project which is a complication in itself, not to mention competition from other NGOs, changes in donor’s priorities, changes in global health priorities, resource constraints and exhaustion of funds before project completion. But the most critical challenge I find is the constant need to innovate. Innovation in terms of having an idea which is novel and unique yet practical and sustainable once implemented. This however, is also something I find most exciting about working in a developmental organization.

What I find most endearing about Amref’s work is that they work with the communities and the governments and not against them to bring about change. They educate and empower the communities by presenting them with options, listening to their suggestions and finding solutions with the leaders of the community rather than just telling them what to do. What this does is, make the community self-reliant so that even after Amref leaves, they are well-equipped to sustain themselves.
As mentioned earlier, I will delve into the details of some of the projects in my coming posts. For now, I leave you with a quote from one of Amref’s founders, which to me summarizes what the organization is working towards:

“If we find a solution to Africa’s health problems, all other problems will shrivel to insignificance” –Sir Michael Wood (Quote from ‘No turning back’).

Amref country office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Amref’s country office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Amref's vision and mission statement

Amref’s vision and mission statement