Making Sense of the Boggle Box

Last week, during my coaching session, I took a peek at how I was tracking against my expectations and objectives for PULSE. What I found wasn’t what I expected.  

Somehow, between packing my expectations and objectives neatly in my bag when I left Melbourne and opening them again a few weeks later in Nairobi, life had given them a shuffle. Like the letters in a boggle box, nothing in my once neatly ordered list of anticipations and expectations seemed to make sense now. Everything was still there…but things had been jumbled up and were now in very different positions of importance and priority. The profound life lessons that were once at the top of the list seemed to have dropped down and the anticipated new skills I thought I would learn are things I already knew, but needed to relearn.

As I try to make sense of the boggle box I realise I am not really where I thought I would be. Technically, yes I am exactly where I thought I would be. In Nairobi, on assignment – and loving it! The Flying Doctors continue to provide endless insight and intrigue – but what I am giving and getting from the experience is totally different to what I had prepared for.

My host organisation, AMREF Flying Doctors, has an interesting twist. Unlike most of the host organisations for PULSE, they are not an NGO. They are an independent not-for-profit commercial business owned by humanitarian NGO, Amref Health Africa.

Had I been sitting at this desk 10-20 years ago, I would have been very much in the grassroots of development and public health. The flying doctors was the heartbeat of AMREF (now known as Amref Health Africa), sending doctors out to regional communities to deliver much needed health care and surgical skills. Things changed a few years ago when funds, unrestricted funds in particular, started to dry up. Amref Health Africa needed to find new and sustainable avenues for funding. The flying doctors became a ‘spin-off’ commercial business selling air ambulance insurance and evacuation services, with all profits transferred as unrestricted funds to their parent NGO.

Spinning off a commercial entity from an NGO is a fascinating approach to sourcing sustainable funding. The Kenya Red Cross adopted this model in 2007, opening up a hotel chain called BOMA. All profits received through the hospitality business support the organisation’s humanitarian efforts. BRAC (formerly known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) also set up a spin-off company as far back at 1977 providing printing services for other NGOs and commercial industries in order to provide unrestricted funds back to its philanthropic business.

I guess you could say, what started as the heartbeat of everything we know to be Amref – providing health services to disadvantaged and marginalised communities – is now more like the major artery that allows the organisation in its evolved form to keep pumping.

Looking at my boggle box it’s clear I need to recalibrate my list of expectations and ambitions.

Sure, I’m not where I thought I would be but then again, life takes you to unexpected places… if you let it! For me right now it’s here, working in the ‘commercial’ side of development, supporting sustainable funding steams and finding practical ways to keep the wheels turning for everyone.

*Boggle is a word game, I think invented in the 80s. It comprises of a 3×3 or 4×4 grid with a lid and alphabet dice. Players shake the grid, jumble up the letters and then have to make words with the formations that fall back in the grid.


  1. I liked that you searched similar businesses and models, this will help you a lot.
    We agreed before that the more you get out of your comfort zone and experience new things the more u learn , sometimes we try to control what we learn, other times simply u cant. The good thing that in both u ll learn 😁

  2. Very well summarized Alicia. In the end, we are better for our experiences, however unexpected they may be. 🙂

  3. What a great summary. I bet our ADP training came in handy. Your thought process is a great example for all of us on our Pulse assignments:)

  4. Thanks for the update Alicia. Love thed artery analogy 🙂 I’m looking forward to hearing some stories about the people you meet along the way.

  5. Great to hear your thoughts on how your expectations and objectives have been shaken up – a reminder for me that life is unexpected and we can’t fully anticipate what will happen, what this will mean for us, or the opportunities this will provide. It seems you are getting quite an insight into the commercial arm of the development sector, which probably over time will become increasingly more important and necessary to achieve the new sustainable development goals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s