Monday, July 23, 2007

A little backdrop...

Monrovia, Liberia lies 6 degrees north of the equator, making it officially the closest to the Southern Hemisphere I've been to date. I leave on Thursday for 9 days to observe the work I will be doing over the next year as the Supply Chain Analyst for the Clinton Foundation. I have no doubt that the expeirence will present challenges of an overwhelming variety. I'm hoping this blog is a fun way to share those moments and, perhaps, entice one or two of you to plan a trip to West Africa. But, before diving striaght into the details of life on the ground, I wanted to share just a few of the reasons that I'm thrilled about this opportunity.

Cum Grano Salis: All of the following is from an exterior perspective; I fully expect to eat more than a couple words throughout the next year.

I knew next to nothing about the country as of a month ago. My knowledge was limited, more or less, to the coverage of Charles Taylor's extradition to the Hague. However, over the past few weeks I've been absolutely captivated by stories of the progress being made and unique challenges facing the newly elected government.

Liberia's recent history is nothing short of heartbreaking (for more info, Wiki Liberia). In late 1989, the authoritarian Samuel Doe was ousted from the presidency and killed by followers of Yormie Johnson and members of the Gio tribe; from that point forward Liberia has been rought with civil strife. Warring factions competed over the capital until 1997 when Charles Taylor, backed by Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, was elected President. Civil war intensfied in '99 and lasted more than five years, during which time more than 200,000 people were killed and the country's infrastructure devastated. Monrovia fell in 2003, shortly before Charles Taylor was exiled to Nigeria. UNMIL (the UN Mission in Liberia) assumed a supervisory position over an interim government led by Gyude Bryant. Liberia's transitional government was enrolled in a unique anti-corruption campaign (GEMAP) and successfully held elections in 2005. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected in November 2005. The first popularly elected female head of state in Africa, Johnson is a Harvard-trained economist and former Citibank and World Bank employee. This "Iron Lady" has established herself as a force for reform in West Africa; check this site for a preview of a documentary on Johnson out in October.

While Johnson's administration has led impressive reconciliation and reconstruction efforts, Liberia still has a great way to go before returning its infrastructure and public services to their pre-war, operational levels. In a few statistics: Liberia has the highest unemployment level in the world (85%), 75% of the population is without means for sanitation, 40% are without water, 230,000 children have been orphaned, half a million do not attend school, preventable diseases such as Malaria and Measles are the leading causes of death, and more than 6% of the population is known to be HIV positive( for more info, check the UNICEF country page). The good news is the current administration is committed to reforms and many of the international efforts have been well received. In speaking with friends at the Bank, USAID, and other international orgs. I gathered that Liberia's government is among the most progressive in the region. Furthermore, those working with the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS (CHAI) program in Monrovia report that, while there are daily challenges and setbacks, the Ministry of Health has made great progress over the past year in establishing a more accurate and efficient way to assess health needs and deliver treatments to facilities in the regions. The challenge they face is an increasing need for someone to focus exclusively on supply chain issues, freeing up others to concentrate on programmatic and clinical challenges. Given the chance to do so, I think this as a truly unique opportunity.

The Clinton Foundation

At present, the Clinton Foundation is hoping to bring a fresh, private sector approach to international development. More specifically, the Clinton Foundation is targeting young professionals with management consulting backgrounds and a passion for development to staff its various initiatives around the world. The idea is to employ talent on the ground for extended periods of time such that they can act as extensions of local partners - embedded in the challenges that local implementers manage and invested in the success of each project. This is in contrast to many development efforts wherein the turnover is high and the actors serve as "consultants." The concept is hardly novel - what is unique, however, is the resources Clinton can garner and the reception CHAI has experienced thus far. The primary initiatives of the Clinton Foundation include: the Global Initiative, the Climate Initiative, Healthier Generation, The Clinton Hunter Development Initiative, and the Economic Opportunity Initiative, and (where I'm headed on Thursday) the HIV/AIDS Initiative. I see myself happily engaged with each of these initiatives, currently employed with the final intitiave, and working towards involvement with GI, HG, or EOI in the long run.

The Clinton HIV and AIDS Initiative (CHAI) is focused specifically on availing lower cost HIV/AIDS treatments around the world and partnering with local government to establish large scale treatment and prevention plans. Liberia is one of nine partner countries in Africa, with a relatively new (2 years) and quickly developing program. Though I'm maintaining sobered expectations about what I will see on the ground, I also believe that the Clinton Foundation may just facilitate the kind of institutional reforms that have a sustainable effect in post conflict regions. Most of you reading this blog have heard me babble about my long-run interests in rule of law initiatives. My hope is that, in this job, I will not only observe key elements of institutional reform in post-conflict areas but also be a part of a uniquely effective team. And what role, exactly, I'm I playing in this team...

The Job

I've been offered a position as the Supply Chain Analyst. While I expect this role may evolve and develop as I go, my primary responsibility is to provide the Liberian Ministry of Health with "best practices in the procurement of products related to antiretroviral treatment (ARVs), including medicine and diagnostics, with the ultimate objective of ensuring the scale up and effective management of high quality ARV treatment for patients."

I can hear most of you right now: "Amanda, what are you doing. What in the world do you know about supply chains?" Well, luckily for me, in my past position I had access to a wealth of business resources and a number of quite random assignments. On more than one occasion I've wandered onto the Supply Chain Executive Board site to read the latest info and, nerdily enough, was pretty fascinated by what I found. One of my premier interests in the work at CEB was observing how companies were responding to the growing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) pressures. While the bulk of the CSR burden often falls to the Communications or Marketing C-Suite, there is also a growing trend to "green" or "lean" (both are positive steps) the supply chain to demonstrate more environmental, social, and fiscal responsibility. As such, I've been actively reading supply chain material.

In Liberia, however, the focus will hardly be on "environmentally friendly" procurement methods. As I understand it, the chief challenge is to create a tool that local facilities in Liberia can use to more accurately forecast the ARV tests and treatments they will need the following year. There are a number of contributing factors: communication barriers, transportation failures, and equipment mismanagement to name a few. I will work daily with four parties: Liberia's Supply Chain Manager, the National AIDS Control Program (NACP), the National Drug Service (NDS), and UNDP (the primary ARV recipient). As for the daily activity ... well... we'll just have to wait and see...

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