The Unsung Heroes of Global Health NGOs

A bids opening session for the Procurement Department at Partners In Health/Inshuti Mu Buzima (PIH-IMB) in Rwanda

In the world of global health, everyone likes to see the action on the ground, the photogenic story-worthy stuff that grabs the attention of media and donors. Action! Lives saved! Hospitals built! Poverty overcome! Little attention is given to the “behind the scenes” departments that make all of this possible. It’s important to appreciate those who work tirelessly in supportive roles of global health NGOs: the finance analysts, procurement officers, logistics coordinators, grant managers, office admins, IT managers, HR coordinators, drivers. Without the hard work and dedication of these important people, organizations and institutions would cease to function and service delivery would be impossible.

For the past year, I have been a Global Health Corps fellow working as a procurement officer at Partners In Health/Inshuti Mu Buzima (PIH-IMB) in Rwanda. Over the course of my fellowship year, I have developed a deep appreciation for those who work in supportive departments in the organization such as Finance, Grants, Human Resources, and Operations. I’d like to shine the spotlight on just a few of these wonderful people who I had the chance to interview.


Gilbert Rwigema, Chief Operating Officer (COO)

What do you do as the COO at IMB?

I oversee all the non-clinical programs, as PIH is mainly focused on clinical programs for global health. My portfolio comprises health infrastructure projects, the social and economic development program (POSER), and in operations we have the logistics, transport, IT support, and general administration.

How does your role contribute to the overall goals of the organization?

We have a metaphor here — we refer to ourselves as a car. If the clinical programs are considered the engine for IMB because we are strengthening health systems, the engine is not enough for a car to move. My role supports the engine to move. My role is to make sure that all clinical programs achieve their goals and therefore achieve the organization’s goal which is strengthening the health system in Rwanda by providing operations support, a working environment, transport, and all required materials and IT support. We are bridging the gap between the community and our health facilities by making sure our beneficiaries can access the health services we are providing.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Mine is the part of social and economic capacity building and support to the community. Because to me, it is very important to have heath systems, to have hospitals and doctors and clinicians and medical supply, but if people cannot access them, we are not doing anything. So my role in driving the economic development of poor people in the community is one of my favorite parts of my job. It can create this kind of holistic approach to achieving the goals of the organization.

What drew you to PIH-IMB?

I decided to work for PIH for many reasons. One is the mission itself of PIH, which is providing a preferential option for the poor in healthcare. I’ve been working with international NGOs building the capacity of our communities, but PIH brought in a unique aspect of combining both the health and economic development of the community. That was one of my passions. Second, PIH is a unique organization in a way that it’s linking research and education to try to transform our knowledge into solutions for problems in the community. For example, when we bring a specialist from USA who is treating cancer, an oncologist, it’s very interesting to see this kind of movement where everyone is ready to come and face challenges from the grassroots level.

Another reason is that PIH is promoting social justice. For example, some treatments were before considered a privilege of some group of individuals. This declaration that health is a human right is very interesting. I felt that I could join the movement because of that. Finally, most importantly, PIH is helping me to serve my country, to contribute to the development of my country, to change and save the lives of my people.

What would you like other people to know about working in operations?

First, operations is ready and committed to support them in achieving their goals and their plans. Second, operations is part of the entire system, which means that you need to ensure that communication and information flow within the organization is very efficient to enable us to respond in time. Third, we share the same goal. It’s not just about a clinician administering a drug to a patient, it’s about all of us. The drug must be available through procurement, through storage, through transport, the clinician must reach the hospital through our transport, which is operations. I wish everyone to know that we are one body, maybe different parts, but one body with one mission and our shared beneficiaries are the patients.

Isabelle Sebatigita, Grants Manager

What do you do as a Grants Manager?

I ensure that donor funds are used in compliance with what they require. Each donor has its requirements in terms of procurement, HR, and what they want on the project they’re funding. I make sure it happens. We give value for money and report to the donors to show what we are doing and how we are using their money. I also assist program managers to ensure project implementation is done according to the funds provided without overspending.

How does your role contribute to the overall goals of the organization?

Our contribution is important because our work will ensure a good reputation with donors in the future, which can ensure future grants come in. So I think we play a big part in making sure that the organization is liable and accountable. The impact is that there will be more trust from the donor, and more flexibility sometimes in terms of how we manage their funds, and kind of a security to get new funds in the future.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I like the advisory responsibilities with program managers and the interaction we have in terms of financial versus programmatic tasks. That’s when you feel you really make a contribution, teaching some program managers how to be compliant and how to best implement their programs. There are a lot of advisory issues like how to think strategically about the way forward when a grant is about to end.

What drew you to PIH-IMB?

For me, I see PIH as a way for me to move forward and even enter the grant development processes, and at the same time be part of a bigger team strategizing on how to source funds and how to raise money for the objective of improving peoples’ health. I’ve worked a lot in public health and global health projects like CDC, and so it is an interesting area that I would like to continue working on.

What would you like other people to know about grants management?

Grants is mostly a finance department area, but what is good to know is that it’s broader and that you learn globally based on the donors that you are working with. It’s easy to adapt wherever you go in the future, because you know about the U.S. government and organization policies. It touches a lot of areas: procurement, finance, audits, HR, and there are various policies from various countries that you learn. It’s really enriching.

Richard Musuhuke, Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

What do you do as the CFO?

When you talk about what the CFO does, you look at it in a very broad sense. Number one, the CFO is a partner, in the sense that you work with different implementing programs to be able to achieve their goals. For example, let us assume that you have to pay compensation for community health workers (CHWs). The CHWs cannot work unless they are compensated. The CFO is supposed to understand what the major goal of the organization is and work as an advisor or facilitator to be able to achieve the larger goal by ensuring that funds are properly managed and the supplies are available. What I actually do is enable the different parts of the organization to deliver services by managing financial operations. For operations to be functional, the supplies must be in place and the finances must be in place.

Secondly, the CFO is a steward of resources of the organization. Other than coordinating the resources, I manage and ensure there is risk control so that resources are not lost and I safeguard the organization from reputational risk.

The other thing is that, from a strategic standpoint, I work together with top leadership to ensure financial sustainability. We plan together and think about the tomorrow of the organization. How are we going to be able to ensure that our work continues into the future? How will we get the funding? Should we expand the fundraising arm? Should we create savings or a reserve to be used in the future? Should we invest in training? Thinking about the sustainability and working together in relation to that future perspective is key.

The other part where the CFO becomes critical is in the area of efficiency. You should be able to ensure that the resources that you have are properly utilized to maximize value for money.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Analysis of financial data is my favorite part of my job, because basically you are able to make decisions based on data. You can’t imagine how important data is to solve real problems, to discover things which you were not aware of. For example, for the organization to finance feeding of staff, you look at the labor, water, electricity — when you put together all these costs, then you can really see how substantial the cost is and the need to create controls around it. So analyzing financial data is very important and very enjoyable to me because I discover information which helps me to make decisions which are really useful for the organization. The other part of my job which I enjoy is decision-making. When I make a decision which ends up answering a real world problem, I feel encouraged and I see results from what I have done.

What drew you to PIH-IMB?

I’ve always desired to assist people who are disadvantaged. I consider it to be God’s work, driven by my faith. It gives me satisfaction to see a poor person or a sick person raise from one level to another. It gives me special joy when I know that I contribute to the success of that person. Through working at PIH, I am giving back to society.

What would you like other people to know about working in finance?

Working in finance is not just about crunching numbers, counting money, and making payments. Finance is a very interesting place to be because it’s where myth turns into reality. It’s where plans change to implementation. If you have a whole big set of budgets full of ideas of what people want to do in a period of 12 months, most of the execution is accomplished through finance. People sometimes look at finance as people who block things from being done. But that’s not what we are at all: we are partners and collaborators. The only difference is that they are running programs and we are managing money. We are not mean with money, we are saying that the resources should be utilized efficiently to enable the organization to achieve its objectives.

Edward Shyaka, Kayonza District Program Director

What do you do as a District Program Director?

I am in charge of the district-level operations, management of staff, management of different program interventions, and general oversight. I am also in charge of partnership at the district level, as a bridge between the government and Partners In Health.

How does your role contribute to the overall goals of the organization?

I think it is in alignment with the mission and vision — overseeing the implementation of interventions in the district ensure that programming is achieving our goals. As the overseers, we rely on the strategic objectives to guide us in our day to day and annual plans.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is working on the Program on Social and Economic Rights (POSER), because after a few years we can see a smiling face of a young child who previously had no hope for better education. When I visit them at school after they do the program, I see them looking healthy and happy. In addition to that is the support we provide in housing. We can meet a family of seven living under plastic sheeting or living in all types of horrible conditions. Then when we visit them and construct a house for them, there is a very contradicting picture of where they were before and where they are now. That really puts a smile on my face and gives me a lot of motivation for my job.

Why did you choose to work at PIH-IMB?

Previously I was working with another NGO, and my ambition was to see how I can work with an organization that focuses on the health of vulnerable people. So when I saw a job advert I was really very interested to come and see how lives can be transformed through health-based interventions.

How long have you been working at PIH-IMB and what has motivated you to stay?

I’ve been at PIH for five years. One thing that has really motivated me to stay is the goals and objectives that we have that have not been achieved, especially in terms of improving the healthcare delivery standards of Rwinkwavu Hospital. I feel I still have a part to play and if I left, something would still be asking me, “Why did I leave the hospital in such a shape?” So that has kept me going — every annual plan I make sure there is something I advocate for that is helpful in raising Rwinkwavu Hospital’s healthcare standards.

Note: Interviews have been edited for brevity.


Chelsea Yalen is a 2016–2017 Global Health Corps fellow at Partners In Health/Inshuti Mu Buzima (PIH-IMB) in Rwanda.

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