As a part of PIMCO’s global pro-bono program, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to volunteer with PYXERA Global and USAID as a Global Health
Corporate Champion (GHCC) in their Global Health Fellows program. The
assignment was a one-month immersion service program in Accra, Ghana, that focused on health systems strengthening to address key public health issues in
underserved communities. On a sub-team of three, I worked to leverage my business expertise to improve the effectiveness of a local organization, “The
Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health.”
The experience of this global pro-bono assignment was impactful far beyond expectations, providing value not only to the local client but also significant
personal and professional growth. In the below text, I will attempt to put this meaningful experience into words, sharing the project background, findings,
deliverables and impact – both to the client and me personally.
Ghana was recently reclassified from low-income to lower-middle-income by the World Bank, meaning
that many funding agencies are starting to reduce or withdraw financial support. Historically, Ghana healthcare non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have
had access to funding grants that supported business functions, but this reclassification is prompting NGOs to reevaluate business plans to move toward
financial independence. This change has significant implications for the people of Ghana, as healthcare NGOs provide services across all 10 regions in
Ghana, especially to the underserved populations that do not even have access to healthcare facilities or services. NGOs are skilled at reaching
hard-to-reach communities. They provide education and healthcare services, focusing on issues such as malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, sanitation, HIV, child
and maternal health. As one member of the Coalition put it, “Where the four-wheel drive stops, we take over.”
I worked on a team of three to develop a communication strategy for “The Ghana
Coalition of NGOs in Health.” The Coalition, with over 250 active members, is an umbrella organization that coordinates the feedback and activities of
registered healthcare NGOs in Ghana and focuses on evidence-based advocacy, empowerment of members and innovative programing to improve healthcare.
When I initially read the scope of work and background about the organization, I thought that the Coalition’s mission statement, “A nation free of disease
and ill health,” was far too ambitious. The more time I spent interviewing stakeholders and participating in member NGO events, however, the more I
realized that the Coalition was making real progress toward improving healthcare across all categories. In 2010 and 2014 they ran programs that increased
immunization coverage and educated mothers about child health. In 2011, they improved access to sexual reproductive health services by educating the
community and lobbying parliament to increase the health budget. In 2015 they raised awareness of the Ebola virus, educating the public via mass media and
training member NGOs to build local capacity. The Coalition did not need a new mission statement, or even a new business plan; they simply needed to
organize their accomplishments so that they could showcase existing value.
While we found strong examples of organizational strength and heard multiple success stories, we found that a consistent message about the Coalition’s
mission and achievements was not easily communicated, even by internal stakeholders. We identified a critical need for the Coalition to more clearly define
and articulate its value proposition, targeting different stakeholders with relevant content for each audience. After a systematic review of the
Coalition’s structure and policies, and interviews with critical stakeholders, a series of recommendations were developed, centered on three themes -
managing consistent and coordinated communication, harnessing the power of the network, and acting as a unified voice of the community.
At the end of one month, we were able to deliver a strategic communication plan, complete with process maps, data management tools and a detailed
implementation plan that covered target milestones for the next year and a half. Working closely with the Coalition staff, we were able to train key
stakeholders, addressing questions to improve the likelihood of adoption in the long-term.
In conjunction with the five process maps we developed, we created a membership database in excel so that the team could start to consolidate all
membership information. Previously, all lists had been managed at the regional level, which resulted in 10 different lists that were unwieldy to manage.
This new membership list will streamline communication with members, improving engagement and knowledge-sharing among Coalition members.
The Coalition speaks in the media approximately five times per month, and each time a media request comes in, the Coalition staff must rush to find new
data and craft an official message. Message consistency is one of the areas I am keenly aware of given my role in Marketing, so I was excited to share the
idea of a message house with the Coalition. The message house is a tool that houses all official points of view, which can be updated with new data or
repurposed for future media appearances to ensure message consistency. The message house also improves efficiency, because there is no longer a need to
reinvent the message if it has been previously covered. If used, this basic tool will enhance the Coalition’s position as the unified voice of the
Working to build a strategic communication and marketing plan for the Coalition of NGOs in Health confirmed without doubt my passion for Marketing. I had
so much fun developing a brand new marketing strategy for this organization – making recommendations and sharing tools that I know work; it was thrilling
to train the Coalition employees on how to think about their brand and utilize these tools in the future.
I was fascinated by the ads that were placed around the city – and impressed by how much I saw those products actually used in daily life (I drank Nescafe
every day and all fried food was cooked in Frytol, both which were heavily advertised). I remember wincing at a bank’s billboard, “Invest today, tomorrow
will be happier than today” – thinking it was an impressive ad idea but mildly horrified about the promissory nature of the statement.
Working with professionals from other companies fostered an open dialogue of business practices – both how to apply our perspectives to our current project
and how to apply lessons from this trip back home. At times I found it difficult to move forward with our project because I was unable to get the answers I
wanted – the relational culture of Ghana is something I grew to love, but initially I found it frustrating to hear “for example” as the answer to a yes-no
question. I learned that most often, not getting a clear answer means that I need to think about and ask the question differently – not only did this
stretch my patience and cultural competence, but it also uncovered new ways of thinking about the situation. From this experience, I learned to be more
open-minded and curious to ask the deeper questions that get to the root of client needs.
What impressed me most about the NGO space in Ghana is the passion of the people working for these organizations, and how their kindness and dedication
radiated throughout their work and personal relationships. Since coming home, I have made a point to connect more with people on a personal level – it’s so
easy to get into the daily routine of transactional emails and calls, but work feels so much more fulfilling when you make an effort to know the person
behind the work. Learning about people is essential to growth – to obtain new perspectives and ideas. At a high-performing company like PIMCO there is a
good chance a personal conversation could spark the next creative idea. I hope to bring back some of the warmth from Ghana into all of my business going
My view of the world was significantly widened by the experience of volunteering in a developing country. As I transition back to life in the U.S., I have
had quite a bit of reverse-culture shock. I find myself doing daily activities and feeling overwhelmed with gratefulness – there are so many advantages I
have had that the world doesn’t even start to think about – their focus is where their next meal will come from or how to make an income of a couple
dollars that day. Yes, even the poorest of people in Ghana had smiles on their faces and showed kindness and hospitality, but after walking through the
shanty towns, smelling the open drains, the smoking fish, I know I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what their lives must be like.
This trip inspired me to more actively seek to understand the areas that need aid, even if it is uncomfortable to learn about. While the struggles in Ghana
are certainly not the same as the ones back home, the passion I saw from the people leading these NGOs in Ghana was contagious. This pro bono experience
makes me want to contribute in similar ways to NGOs back home; there is so much need all around the world, I believe it is important for me to share my
skills with organizations in need, so that others can be lifted-up to succeed as well.