From the CEO

  • Strengthening health systems: What the Ebola outbreak is teaching us

    I am deeply concerned for the wellbeing of people in West Africa confronting the rapid spread of the Ebola virus. We wish to pay our respect to the courageous health workers battling the disease, and who have paid a disproportionate price for their heroism, as well as to the faith-based organizations that have remained on the front lines. We are now faced with a crisis of historic proportions that threatens not just the health of tens of thousands of people, but the economic and social stability of the region. On behalf of FHI 360, I want to express our deepest sympathy for all those affected by this scourge and our solidarity with our staff, counterparts, and colleagues in the affected countries.

    This crisis will undoubtedly have broad consequences not only for West Africa, but for the wider world. If World Health Organization (WHO) officials are correct, the epidemic will take thousands more lives and we can expect an even deeper toll on already overwhelmed health systems. This is a crisis that requires the collective efforts of the international community.

    The Ebola virus outbreak has exposed the fragility of health systems in poor countries—and shown how vulnerable nations are when basic social systems are unable to respond to critical needs. The world is now witnessing the terrible consequences of the failure to equip health systems, connect patients to direct medical care in rural areas, educate medical staff and the general population to risk factors and prevention methods, provide laboratory testing, and track disease surveillance data to monitor the spread of the virus.

    By working to support WHO’s six building blocks of health systems, we can improve availability, use, and quality of health services delivered through both public and private facilities. We need to continue to develop and apply workable strategies to improve the quality of care and the performance of health systems, particularly in resource-constrained environments.

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  • A call to prioritize gender in development

    The most effective 21st century international development organizations will be those that ask — and come up with workable answers to — the right questions about gender. The right answers are ones that boldly empower women and girls, engage men and boys as partners and don’t shy away from approaches that disrupt business as usual. The organizations that get gender right will be the ones that truly transform lives.

    On June 16, 2014, more than 200 gender experts, funders, policymakers and development organizations will convene for the inaugural Gender 360 Summit in Washington, DC, to explore approaches for empowering women and girls and prioritize gender equality in our work. It is an opportunity for the international development community to examine the roadblocks, reflect on what we are doing well and where we are failing, and push ourselves to do better.

    What have we learned about gender inequalities in different social, cultural and geographic settings? Beyond investing resources, what role can funders and their implementing partners play in elevating the importance of integrating gender considerations into all their work? What are the indicators of success and how do we measure them? These are just a few of the questions that need actionable responses.

    Gender is not just about women and girls. Understanding gender means understanding the differences, in particular the economic, social, political and cultural attributes, constraints and opportunities that are associated with being female and male, and in some places, a third (or other) gender. It also means understanding how the social and economic forces unleashed by modernization (and abetted by development programs) affect women, men, boys and girls and the interactive relationship among them.

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    A new vision for more effective development

    For a “development guy” who started doing grassroots community development work in rural Swaziland with the Peace Corps and who has moved back and forth between the public sector and NGOs, leading an organization as accomplished as FHI 360 — and one filled with people whose experience, commitment and know-how offer so much — is the opportunity of a lifetime.

    I step into my new role as Chief Executive Officer with a simple vision: to use the incredible resources in FHI 360 to improve lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. To achieve this vision, we must be innovative, find new ways of tackling old problems, be rigorous in our approaches, and be responsive to a changing landscape where development challenges grow more sophisticated and demanding each year. We must be cost-effective and use our expertise and experience to add value to the work being done by communities, partner organizations, civil society and national governments.

    It is exhilarating and humbling to take the reins of an organization that is already at the forefront of development thinking and practice. Our emphasis on integrated, multidisciplinary solutions is in line with the growing consensus that single-sector programs often are not getting the job done and that lasting solutions need to be more comprehensive. The evidence — and our instincts — lead us in this direction.

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    Is there a future for international NGOs in the 21st century?

    We live in a very different world today than when most INGOs were established. Profound demographic, economic and technological changes have reshaped our world. And as the world settles into the second decade of the 21st century, the economic recession in the United States and Europe, the winding down of major relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, new sources of development funding from mega-foundations and private remittances, and new donor nations such as Brazil, China and India are forcing development actors to reassess business models and modes of operating that have changed little in 40 years.

    Many NGOs understand the threat to the status quo and see the need to change but don’t know how to remain true to their mission while maintaining the vitality and financial health of their organization. As change comes barreling down the tracks like an on-coming train, many NGOs stand paralyzed like a deer caught in the headlights. This subject is receiving additional attention with the recent publication of a report by the nonprofit consulting firm, FSG. The report, titled Ahead of the Curve, Insights for the International NGO of the Future, was sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

    FSG’s task was complicated by the diversity of the study group. Although the report studied INGOs with at least $30 million in annual revenue, the organizations ranged from single-sector program implementers, to groups more focused on advocacy, to giants like World Vision with tens of thousands of employees and over a billion dollars in annual revenue. While FSG does a good job of describing many of the disruptions brought on by progress and globalization, different organizations will experience them differently depending on their mission and size. It would have been helpful to have tried to tease out some of these differences instead of simply arriving at a set of conclusions where one size clearly does not fit all.

    Compounding this problem are some of the examples FSG used to draw general conclusions that, for those who are familiar with them, are not easily generalizable. For example, the fact that Habitat for Humanity successfully used an advocacy model to expand its impact is not a good basis for concluding that the future for INGOs is to become advocacy organizations, as the report does. I was also frustrated that the report didn’t use plain language to explain its points and recommendations. I found the report laden with jargon and vague language, perhaps because it just is not clear what the future holds. FSG’s crystal ball is just as murky as everyone else’s.

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