CEO Corner: How can we avoid the irrelevance trap?

Earlier this week, I attended InterAction’s annual Forum in Washington, D.C. along with 1,000 other folks.  Interaction was created in 1984 and is the largest coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on the world’s poor and most vulnerable people. It has more than 185 member organizations working in every developing country. This organization has established standards that a member must meet and which require self-certification biennially. MedShare is proud to be a member of Interaction, and we work diligently to remain in compliance with their sector-wide standards. 

During the Forum, there was a lot of valuable discussion around building local, in-country ownership and “resilience” (with a good bit of debate about whether or not we even agree on what resilience means and if it is a good or bad thing!) as well as the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals. These are very important discussions for MedShare to engage in as we continue work on the strategic plan that will guide our work over the next five years.

One specific topic of interest for me is around how we (the NGO sector) can “push” the Gift-in-Kind (GIK) model towards having greater impact. As Carol Wylie from MedShare-partner World Vision said during one session: “GIK in and of itself is irrelevant.  It’s the systems around GIK that make an impact.”

I really do believe that she’s absolutely correct and yet, sadly – this is not a widely held view. Many very well-intentioned people continue to believe that just providing some stuff – any stuff – is helpful to those in developing countries. Of course, we have all heard the extreme, laugh-so-you-don’t cry examples of this type of GIK (which happens so often that it has its own acronym, SWEDOW….Stuff We Don’t Want). At the InterAction Forum, I heard the story of full cargo container of Red Bull, potato chips and expired pharmaceuticals arriving in Haiti post-earthquake….not exactly high value, high impact or even appropriate donations.

So – how does MedShare avoid this “irrelevance” trap?  How do we match our outstanding ability to provide high-quality Gift-in-Kind (medical consumable supplies and equipment) with system-strengthening activities?

Well, we will certainly continue our rigorous adherence to a “push” vs. “pull” model so that our recipients order exactly what they need from our on-line inventory.  But – how can we go even further?  How can we better leverage our high-quality supply chain expertise to support other in-country health care strengthening efforts?  Should we focus more on specific health challenges (such as hypertension or infection control)?  Should we extend our great, but small biomedical engineering training and technical services program?  Should we partner more closely with organizations that provide in-country nurse empowerment and training programs? These are topics of great discussion across the MedShare team and we welcome your creative ideas and input.  We are proud of the impact we have had over the past 14 years… but we know we can do better on behalf of the doctors and nurses and patients we strive to support every day.

Let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear from you!

In Service,