Dispatches from Kigali: Dancing, Art and Masking Tape

Dispatches from Kigali: Dancing, Art and Masking Tape

I’m 4 weeks into my job and some things really jump out.

My GSK PULSE colleague and I were invited to a small GSK sales meeting in Kigali. What I learned was:

  • Sales people are sales people.  These folks made us feel welcome instantly. The delightful accents and blend of languages was a bonus. It was easy to link reps to those I knew back home. I even gave out some prizes.
  • Africans from Rwanda dance. At least four times during the 2 hour event we got up and moved gently but rhythmically to refresh ourselves, celebrate or set the tone for the next agenda item. This makes sense. Dancing energizes and, like banjo playing, you can’t do it and be sad.

Within days of arriving in Kigali we met the Minister of Health (like the Surgeon General) who briefed us on our project. This is a stretch job and the Minister sets the tone. Rwanda is in a hurry to develop. Get going! She sets high expectations, speaks at least three languages well, has a dry wit and is a strong leader. This urgency also helps explain the many talented Bachelor’s and Master’s level professionals with serious responsibilities who are learning on the job, and fast!

Usually you need to go to an art museum to see a Madonna. Sometimes you don’t.

Madonna w Child

We steer clear of political discussions during PULSE assignments but we can’t escape the political history and context we work in. My project team consists of 2 PULSE volunteers plus 4 local academic or NGO types. A couple of weeks ago our team met with two high-ranking stakeholders in a small university office. The meeting began with smiles, handshakes and one stakeholder asking if this was a “coup d’état.”

In the year before leaving for Kigali, I dialed in to perhaps 10 “Live Meetings” where GSK executives tried to share business-critical information while coping with the mysteries of echo, non-visible slides and unmuted multi-taskers. In Kigali I have discovered another level of terror – the language. I have a terrific colleague who uses the same pronunciation for first and fifth. This really matters when we meet stakeholders at the Ministry of Health, our 7 story skyscraper.

When I trained to be a laboratory scientist I did lots of pilot experiments and used lots of masking tape just to find out how I could do the experiments. Set-backs were expected but the fix and the clean up usually showed a workable approach. You can really louse-up this useful process by playing it safe to avoid set-backs. This PULSE assignment is like being in the lab again. This is new territory so my best option is to try lots of things and just make sure I have my secret weapon.

Masking Tape



  1. Great post Jim. I feel like I’m there with you. I am glad you am enjoying your Pulse experience and being the change. Keep blogging. I love the photos:)

  2. Hi JR!

    Sounds like you’re having an experience of a life time! Can’t wait to hear more! Having a lovely time with your wife 🙂

  3. Thanks Jim. Loved the slides, particularly the Madonna comment. Be safe. We’re all thinking about you.


  4. Love hearing of your experiences, Jim! Wish we could all dance more in our daily lives……stay well, my friend!

  5. Joe and I think of you often. Thanks so much for doing this. I have to think these international collaborations make for a better world. Annalynn

  6. Jim,
    You should think about a second calling writing. Really enjoyed reading about your adventure. Take Care.

  7. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for sharing. I think we need to implement “dance breaks” during all face to face and virtual meetings at GSK!
    Looking forward to your next post!

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