Thursday, June 12, 2008
I'm also reflecting on the large set of challenges we have before us at the IRC. I'm just starting to understand some of the subtleties and complexities of international humanitarian work. I read an abstract of an article yesterday which said that some agencies are doing more harm than good as they try to help developing nations with their health needs. I know how hard we work at this, so it's doubly frustrating to read that we may not be as effective as we'd hoped, at least according to some. I look forward to getting back and discussing some of these issues with my colleagues.
Finally, I think about the challenges within the IT department, which are many. Besides the technical and financial issues, there are significant issues of culture, and organizational momentum. Things that we think should work in a typical US-based organization just might not work on a global scale. I think we have to rethink our approach somewhat. The problem is, I'm not sure I fully understand what the new approach should be. Maybe that's for my next 8 hour flight.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Internet connection. More than others can say. Came back to the hotel for dinner, which wasn't particularly appetizing, but we made do. Slept well.
This morning we had a very basic breakfast (thank god for eggs) and bought some provisions for lunch (crackers to go with my peanut butter) and headed back to the office. After some good Peet's French press coffee, we met briefly with the health team to look at their "database". It turned out to be a pretty nice Excel workbook that was out together by a local guy. The most interesting part was that we were able to see how the data is collected in the field, transmitted back to HQ, and entered into a database that we support. The other thing that struck us is that nearly everything is done on paper. It shouldn't be surprising, but it felt very archaic. I feel like if I could put a team in here for 6 months, we could create a set of very efficient systems. Clearly unrealistic, but I'll have to do some thinking about if and how my team can add value here.
At 10am we left for the field. We were embedded with the health team as they do their weekly outreach visits to the satellite camps. We visited a couple of clinics in the main camps, then drove deep into the countryside to a small camp that has no clinic, so the infirmed wait for us to come to them. We arrived to a large group of locals sitting under a tree, anxiously awaiting our arrival. Most of the cases are not severe, so they're seen by a health worker, analyzed, and passed on to the next station where they may get some medication or an immunzation. Everything is tracked in the patient's health booklet, and various logs books kept by the staff (for later data entry into Excel). It's quite primitive, but effective.
We were told about one of the little kids running around. She's about 11, but looks more like 8. She's epileptic' and was abandoned by her parents very early. Our health team have her medication, and she's much better now. She can go to school and play with other kids. Her parents have taken her back, and now that the community has seen this transformation, they're bringing other epileptic kids to the weekly clinic.
We're actually not far from the border with Sudan. This area was not safe a year ago. These people are slowly moving back towards their original lands, but they move slowly to make sure it's safe. The government and the military determine the best location for the next camps, and then people come slowly, essentially testing the waters. When they're comfortable with the security situation, and know there's water and medical care, they come. This process will happen again and again until they end up back in their original lands. This can take many years. Quite a process.
It appears to be a very peaceful place. It's hard to imagine that there was a terrible war here just a few years ago.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
We also had some very interesting talks about the role of IT. They clearly understand the value of being more strategic, and all of them very much want to step up. It's tricky, though, given all they have to do, but it was great to see the passion and enthusiasm. My challenge, now, is to support them, both technically, and "managerially" from a significant distance. It'll be a challenge, but if I can create a sense of community with these folks, we'll be able to accomplish much together.
The timing of all this, coming on my one year anniversary at the IRC, is auspicious. As I look back, I feel like I've made some significant progress in terms of understanding the IRC, and this conference is a major milestone. I feel like all the pieces are in place, and now it's about flawless execution. Not small task, for sure, but the potential is huge. Looking forward to some R&R this weekend, then back to work.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
w of our efforts in Uganda – some very tricky stuff. Then the Finance, Logistics, and Operations directors spoke briefly, and it was as if they had read my presentation. They asked for standardization (check), better overall support (check), improved communications (check), and even support for a custom-build logistics management system (check). The most gratifying part was when they were done, I was about to answer their concerns with an explanation of our plans, but a few of the field guys asked if they could respond. And respond, they did. One person explained that if they had been here a few hours earlier, they would have seen that the goals of this conference matched their concerns exactly. Another one explained our efforts towards standardization, and how that will help with support. It was a truly magical moment – I think we all felt it.
We also got into a brief discussion of “measurement and evaluation” – the very difficult challenge of tracking program effectiveness. The country director explained some of the challenges relating to different donors wanting to track different indicators, then I explained some of the efforts underway in the NGO community to develop a standard for M&E so we can make this difficult process more efficient, and also start to change the conversation with the donors. This gave me an opportunity to make the point that if we can remove some of the burden around managing commodity infrastructure, we can start to help the business with this critical task – that’s what IT is really about. I swear I saw some light bulbs go off in people’s heads. Again, very satisfying.
After this, I went back to my room and fell asleep in about 2 minutes – nearly missed dinner. Can’t wait for more of this tomorrow.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The morning is raining and grey. My room looks over Lake Victoria, but there’s not much to see due to the weather. Hopefully it will clear up at some point because I think I have a nice view. I posted a picture of what I could see.
Off to dinner now...
P.S. I was in the elevator when the power went off - fortunately, only for about a minute. Not fun, though.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
The focused time on the plane also helped me to crystallize some of the goals of the conference. Here's what I came up with:
1. To get to know each other, and to establish strong and long-lasting working relationships
2. To come to a mutual understanding about where IT at the IRC is going, and generally how to get there
3. To update each other on what projects we’re working on, and to gain an understanding of how these projects fit into the larger goals
4. To share specific technical knowledge
5. To have fun!
I think this should set a good tone, and if we come close to these, it'll be a huge success. Now, off to coffee.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
1 week in Entebbe for the 1st Global IT Conference. I'm bringing together all (or nearly all) the field-based IT staff so we can begin to develop working relationships, share best practices, and work together to create a truly global IT operation. I'm incredibly excited about this.
Then, my NY-based team and I will spend the weekend at a hotel at the head of the Nile doing some relaxing.
On Monday, June 9, we'll head up to Kitgum for a brief field visit. Back to Entebbe on Wed to catch our flight back home.
This will be somewhat different from my last trip as the field portion will be only a small component. But, as like last time. I'm sure that this trip will be "perspective-changing" in one way or another.