3 Things I Learned From African Health Experts… That Have Little to Do With Health

Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Liberia’s Minister of Health

Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Liberia’s Minister of Health

I recently had the opportunity to go to Johannesburg, South Africa for the third annual Africa Health Business Symposium, an event organised by one of my clients, Africa Health Business (AHB).

Along with a small team, my role at the symposium was to play the role of a journalist, interviewing many of the expert delegates. From the more than 30 interviews we conducted during the two days, I walked away impressed and inspired, with takeaways that go far beyond the health sector.

Here are a few of my highlights.

1. People are interesting.

Over and over again, I found myself captured by the diversity and creativity of each individual. I was able to get a sense of their motivations, what discourages them, what gets them excited, and what they are most passionate about in their careers. Every person I spoke with was interesting and inspiring. Each of their lives would make a great story.

The process made me wonder how I could incorporate this journalistic curiosity into every area of my life, with every person I interact with. Not viewing every conversation as an interview (that would be an excellent way to get people to start avoiding you), but to enter into our interactions with the perspective that people are interesting, their stories are valuable, and that taking the time to listen will leave us all better off.

2. We can’t make it on our own.

It came up in every interview: There is no way we can achieve universal health coverage if we try to accomplish it in isolation. The public and private sectors each play a vital role in the health sector. Civil society needs to be included in the process. When we collaborate and capitalise on each other’s strengths, we can make real progress.

I don’t know if it’s my introverted nature or a sense of pride (or a bit of both…), but I often try to do things on my own. Rather than bringing people in to create teams of diverse skill-sets and passions, I forge ahead in isolation, often completing things half way because I’ve run out of motivation or don’t know how to take the next step. If we want to make a meaningful impact, we will need help. It may mean looking for a formal group of like-minded people (like the one I joined, which I’ll talk about in a future post), or maybe it’s just a few close friends whose opinions you trust and whose feedback you value.

3. The future is bright.

One of the questions I tried to ask each person I interviewed was, “When you look at the future of the African health sector, what most excites you?” Without fail, their eyes brightened and they had no hesitation with their answer. They all had specific, concrete and varying examples of what gave them hope in the years ahead.

It can be easy, especially in areas like health, to focus on the challenges — there are many. Our world is seriously messed up and it can be overwhelming to think about all we have to overcome. And, although we cannot (and should not) ignore the problems, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally ask ourselves and others, “When you look at the future, what are you most excited about?”.

By: Joelle Mumley