Answering the Call
Meet the USAID staff members working on our COVID-19 response across the world
They’re working in Washington, Baku, Bangkok, Frankfurt, and beyond. Some are USAID’s senior leaders, some are long-timers, some are new to the Agency ― and at least one is an intern. They are experts in development programming, humanitarian response, epidemiology, budget planning, civil-military coordination, and more. Whatever the background, there’s one common theme: Each person serving on USAID’s COVID-19 Task Force volunteered to respond.
As USAID plans and implements the most complex response in its history, these hard-working staff have supported the Agency’s priorities amid the pandemic: to protect the safety and health security of USAID’s global workforce, to ensure that USAID can continue its life-saving mission across the world, and to support partner countries in their response to COVID-19.
More than three months since its inception, 180 USAID staff around the world continue to work on the Task Force. Here are just a few people who answered the call.
Avery Avrakotos, Coordination Specialist
As a member of the Task Force Coordination Team, Avery plays a critical role in ensuring the wider development and humanitarian communities have the latest information about USAID’s efforts. The Oswego, N.Y., native began working at USAID as a health science specialist helping defeat malaria; now she’s taking on a new pathogen.
What is your most memorable moment so far? Over the course of my time with the Task Force, I have had the opportunity to participate in several discussions with implementing partners, donors, and individuals working on the response across the [U.S. Government]. Participating in those conversations and seeing the collective energy, commitment, and dedication being devoted to responding to COVID-19 is a source of constant inspiration.
What do you want to accomplish on this response? In many places where USAID works, the threat of COVID-19 is greatly magnified by its secondary impacts, including disruptions in essential health services. I want to support an effective, well-coordinated response to COVID-19 in order to minimize such disruptions and ensure continued access to critical health services like malaria testing and treatment.
Nidhi Bouri, Deputy Executive Director and Chief of Staff
In her career, Nidhi has implemented health programs in Afghanistan, responded to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, helped people fleeing conflict in Iraq, and supported the delivery of critical medical services to survivors of the Nepal earthquake. Now, the native of Rockville, Md., is helping lead and oversee USAID’s global response to COVID-19.
What is your most memorable moment so far? On the first day the Task Force officially stood up, we had an all hands meeting in a conference room ― which was way too small ― in [the Ronald Reagan Building]. It was kind of amazing. We were a room full of people, most of whom didn’t know each other, and all of a sudden we were a team. There wasn’t time for the normal pleasantries we normally have when we join a new team. We all just jumped right into the chaos!
What do you want to accomplish on this response? My job is to be sure that our team has the guidance, resources and support they need to make things happen. That’s what I want to accomplish. They’re the ones doing the magic ― pushing out programs, communicating to our staff, making a plan to make sure it’s safe for our staff to return to work.
Rahima Dosani, Deputy Director for Programs
The scale of USAID’s COVID-19 response is unprecedented, and Rahima ensures the right programming gets to the right country. The Atlanta native can talk the alphabet soup of funding accounts ― GHP, ESF, IDA ― one minute while providing technical reviews for proposed activities the next.
What is your most memorable moment so far? My Programs Team is pretty amazing. They teach me and inspire me and help me grow and I’ve loved getting to chat with them a few times a week.
What motivates you? I’ve always been passionate about outbreaks and pandemic preparedness and response and focused my graduate studies on the most recent Ebola outbreak. No country in the world is prepared for a pandemic, and we’re seeing the effects of that right now with COVID-19. I’m hopeful that we can strengthen the capacity of countries around the world to better prepare for and respond to outbreaks in the future ― which we know are coming.
Sarah Pfund, Safety, Security, and Continuity Team
Since the early days of the outbreak, Sarah worked with colleagues in Washington and across the world to make sure the workforce always had the latest information. With missions on every continent, the native of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., often would address dozens of unique situations each day ― all to ensure USAID staff remained safe while allowing the Agency to continue its life-saving mission.
What is your role on the Task Force? Our part of the Task Force focuses largely on making sure our staff and their families are safe. Most recently this has meant making sure there are protocols and plans in place for staff in Washington to safely return to the workplace. It also has meant developing guidance for our Foreign Service Officers to safely transfer to their onward assignments in 2020. The second half of our mandate is making sure that employees have what they need to continue USAID operations overseas. It’s a tall order, certainly, but this team has worked hard for many months to keep the Agency going.
What motivates you? I’m motivated by my colleagues, many of whom have had parts of their lives upended by this crisis, but continue to remain dedicated to USAID and its mission. This has been a tough few months for everyone, and their energy has without a doubt carried me through.
Madison Poe, Communications Program Assistant
Madison came to Washington with a much different idea of how she would spend her summer. Hired at USAID as a legislative affairs intern, the native of Denison, Texas, volunteered to work with the communications team of the COVID-19 Task Force. The messaging around the response is nuanced and constantly evolving ― and Madison is helping staff worldwide tell USAID’s story.
What is your most memorable moment so far? It isn’t one specific moment, but every time I add a new response activity to our timeline. I am continually amazed at how fast and efficiently USAID staff has pivoted and transformed the programs to respond to COVID-19.
What do you want to accomplish in this response? I want to help support the best global response possible while ensuring USAID staff’s work is accurately communicated and given the recognition it deserves.
Kelly Tucker, Special Assistant
Kelly helps bring order to the chaos as a member of the Task Force’s Response team. With programming in more than 100 countries, the native of Bishop, Ga., helps provide a vital link to make sure the right information is flowing between different parts of the task force.
What is your most memorable moment so far? Working with USAID colleagues from across the Agency ― there is so much energy and enthusiasm. Also, I am pretty sure I have a new personal record for the number of times a calendar can shift in a day. There are a lot of moving parts, my friends!
What motivates you? The path towards a new normal, whatever that ends up being. Things are complicated, but our work continues and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to support it.
Nikki Tyler, Senior Market Access Advisor
Medical oxygen can be the difference between life and death for someone suffering from COVID-19 ― and that’s where Nikki steps in. The native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, is using her background as a senior market access advisor to help countries be equipped with this critical medicine.
What is your role on the Task Force? I’m leading the development of a strategy that guides how USAID could invest in medical oxygen. Even prior to COVID-19, increasing access to medical oxygen has been a steadfast passion of mine given its link to pneumonia, the largest killer of children worldwide. While tragic given the context of COVID-19, the ability to singularly focus on medical oxygen, bringing in not only the vast technical expertise across USAID but also tenets of market shaping, innovative financing, and private sector engagement, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’m grateful for.
What motivates you? We’re all in this together ― let’s prove it.