The end of the silo: What it means for today's global health worker

Dr. Jorge Luis Gaviria (far right), a plastic surgeon working at Simon Bolivar Hospital in Bogota, Colombia, trains a group of doctors, nurses and technicians from four Latin American countries in burn care for acid attack victims. Photo by: Tanya Tsang

From large corporations and foundations to the newest of startups, global health players focused on development are finding that success lies with shared values, aligned purpose and mutually reinforcing efforts. Meanwhile, NGOs are seeking new skills in their global health workforce and field partners, which require workers to think beyond established relationships.

Here are three ways the end of the silo will likely play out in 2015 for both our local partners, like those of Physicians for Peace, and in our home offices — and what it means for today’s global health worker.

1. The end of the silo: In the field

The number one trend in global health is the end of the sole actor and the embracing of collective impact. Last year, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and InterAction released “The Narrative Project,” encouraging NGOs to collectively refine and execute global health public messaging.

This type of industry coherence will be key in not only how we tell our global health story, but in who tells the story and where the story is told.

In 2013, a multi-specialty medical training trip at Simon Bolivar Hospital in Bogota, Colombia, focused on burn care for acid attack victims. Led by London-based Dr. Mohammad Ali Jawad, the training happened with surgeons in the operating rooms, on the unit floor with nurses and with technicians in post-hospital treatment facilities.

This initial training — and multiple training trips that followed — created greater interdepartmental functioning and weakened departmental silos at Simon Bolivar. Three of the surgeons then took their training experiences outside of the hospital, reaching out to a trade publication and submitting an article on what they had learned. The article was published in the Colombian Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and subsequently posted on social media, further expanding the training’s collective impact.

This type of communication savviness, in use of established and new media platforms, is a new standard skill for global health workers. In order to get the specific training and resources they need, workers will need to share information and build relationships in inspired ways — both on and offline.

2. The end of the silo: Regionally

Sixteen months after their initial training — in November 2014 — a number of the health care workers trained in Colombia took part in a regional burn care workshop in Costa Rica. The Colombian surgeons and therapists shared burn care skills derived from the training missions with colleagues from Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic. They also shared stories of regional resource limitations and ways to overcome them. At the workshop’s conclusion, each country partner provided a presentation on what they had learned and how they planned to implement those lessons back in their own hospitals. The workshop attendees now use a private Facebook page to stay in touch, share information and offer encouragement.

This regional education approach shows the need for global health workers to see themselves as part of an international community and understand the bigger picture of what is possible in global health despite today’s limitations. Instead of simply focusing on training skills, NGOs are seeking global health workers with advocacy skills because those will become the influencers who shatter silos in their hospitals, countries and regions.

3. The end of the silo: At home

Back at home, our own departmental silos will find themselves endangered as more organizations say yes to collective impact and no to business as usual.

Organizations looking to expand their impact will increasingly hire monitoring and evaluation experts — and then quickly ensure that all organizational staff is in sync with what the M&E director is tracking and why. This not only dissuades employees from retreating into tired silos, but also helps put the organization into hyper-focus. Collecting data and measuring results across all participating organizations and partners galvanizes alignment to the purpose and ensures accountability for delivering against agreed-upon objectives.

A word of warning: “Good ideas,” i.e., those ideas that look good but can lead an organization astray, may not always come from outside the organization’s own walls. Legacy projects — those endeavors that once were the lifeblood of an organization — can slowly, over time, become just a “good idea.” Properly implemented M&E data can demonstrate needed course corrections, help determine allocation of resources, assign staff roles and responsibilities, and shape agendas.

How do you see collective impact propelling global health forward in 2015?

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