February 02

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Making the humanitarian fibre resonate

IMG_0098Thanks to GSK Global Pulse Volunteer program, I could discover and grow a new piece of myself.

The journey started with the application process. An idea that was buried deep inside to me pushed me to make the step and apply. It triggered quite a lot of very interesting discussions in the family and finally I got a “home assignment” at the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent) in Geneva.

You don’t need to travel far to jump into a different world!

Despite the fact that I could not travel as planned to the Central African Republic (CAR), and even though I was returning home every day, my journey at the IFRC has been a real experience of a new environment and a chance to discover new aspects of life.

I ended up in the “Health and Complex Settings” (HCS) team, which is part of the Health and Care department.

What did it mean to me:

  1. I was not in an IT department (i.e. I was on the so called “business” side)
  2. I was in the team working for the most challenging countries

First, not being in an IT department changed my usual view about “rules of the game”:

  • It was a great opportunity to dive deep into the requirements and understand the challenges before thinking about any solution
  • It was a new point of view to set the priorities on the project
  • It was a wonderful opportunity to work with and learn a lot from a recognized team of experts in immunization, epidemiology, etc…

Second, the HCS team is in charge of supporting the National Societies and Movement efforts to ensure access to health and strength resilience for the most vulnerable and marginalised populations living in complex settings. The overall aim is to proactively and pragmatically cover the last mile first and reach the socially distanced. (More details are available on my post on Pulse Blog).

As a member of the “Immunization work stream” team, I have been working on the Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI) project for CAR (also called PEV).

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest countries with the worst health indicators in the world. CAR ranks 187th of 188 countries included in the 2015 Human Development Index (United Nations Development Program). CAR also ranks 133rd of 133 countries in the 2015 Social Progress Index.

In mid-2016 2.3 million people—45% of the country’s population—were in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 420, 000 people have been displaced within the country due to violence and just under 467,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries.

The conflict has devastated the Ministry of Health’s expanded programme on immunization (EPI), including major setbacks to physical infrastructure and human resources: only 41% of health facilities offer routine immunization, and 47% of health facilities lost cold chain equipment in the crisis.

The objective of the project is to increase the coverage of services for the immunization of 0-5 years old children, which has been dramatically impacted by the conflicts and extreme risks in the country.

Targeting one of the most fragile and complex population gives the project an additional dimension:

  • You strongly wish and expect that anything you do will have an immediate positive impact on children’s life
  • You also quickly understand that you cannot resolve everything alone and need to build a network of accountable people
  • You sometimes feel sad and powerless with the reality on the ground, especially when you realize that this situation is resulting from human behaviours
  • but you also feel very proud to contribute to improve the situation, saving lives and changing minds

With that in mind, you can imagine that finding the best, the cheapest, the simplest, the strongest, the fastest and most sustainable ideas and solutions became my obsession.

It is also about understanding the power of the technology but keeping in mind it remains a tool, and human behaviours and engagement remain the critical pieces.

I’ve no words to tell my admiration and respect to the team and all volunteers around the world when travelling in high risks areas, driven by the humanitarian objectives.

As a brief overview of what has been done, we implemented an integrated solution for the Ministry of Health, to collect information about immunization services from the 800+ Health Facilities, and run reports to help to improve these services. From a technical perspective, this required:

  • to build forms, using the “Magpi – RAMP” technology (you can find more details Here) enabling to decentralize data collection using mobile phones
  • to develop analytical and statistical reports (using low cost tools like Stata)
  • to configure a collaboration platform (based on Google Suite) to enable the distribution of information from/to the government, the districts and the health facilities, considering the very poor internet connections.

Deployment is planned for February 2018. It should quickly improve the data quality and accuracy, hence ease data analysis. It should also reduce the feedback reporting cycle from weeks to a couple of hours, hence giving the opportunity to better address the stock issues, as well as better organize and prioritize the immunization services activities in the health facilities.

Now it’s time to return at GSK office

Will I be a brand-new man? Probably not.

Am I a different one than before Pulse? Certainly YES.

I feel like “coloured” by the multiple experiences I had during the Pulse journey.

Part of my key learnings and personal changes, I can anticipate:

– A better perception of priorities from a customer perspective

– A better reflexion on “How to do better with less means” when building strategies and designing solutions

I could also realize how critical the communication is, within the team and outside, to be consistent and up-to-date.

I also had the opportunity to unhide the “shadow IT” solutions in place in the team, share it with the IT team so that they better understand the real needs from business side, and address them via official solutions in the near future.

Last but not least, it has been a direct opportunity for me to step out from the role I have at GSK for 10+ years (i.e. Document Management platforms and applications), and to realize I can do other things.

I now feel ready to take IT responsibilities and leverage my technical and soft skills in other domains.

As a conclusion, I really want to surf on this new energy wave and share it with the GSK community upon my return. I also realize that continuing to invest myself into humanitarian activities has become a must.

Simon