Poor countries need management capacity

By Josh Ruxin

Only a few years ago, the most important issue in aid to Africa was generating supply.

Today, the most important issue may very well be how to manage the supply available.

Enormous new funding sources, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, now provide billions of dollars to aid organizations to Africa, enabling them to provide better help to those in need.

The increase in funding, however, offers a new challenge to many of these organizations: Gow do they most efficiently distribute newly available resources?

The answer may lie in the operational skills that only professional business managers can provide.

Business managers bring immense administrative, information-technology, telecommunications, management and accounting expertise, skills that ultimately mean the difference between success and failure in connecting medical aid with those who need it.

Business experts can help to build capacity in everything from electronic patient-record management to activity-based costing of key interventions, which are just as vital as electricity and water in the treatment of patients.

In Rwanda, applying business models and cultivating strong management skills has exponentially improved the delivery of aid.

Last year, in the Mayange sector, the local health center was serving five to 10 patients a day.

Working with several partners, we put together a business plan aimed at delivering high quality health services in less than a year.

Today, the health center sees more than 100 patients a day and administers the donated drugs and insecticide-treated bed nets that were not previously distributed due to a lack of capacity.

The involvement of major multinationals in Africa is laudable, but in addition to donating more money and drugs, these corporations should consider providing their most valuable assets — their human capital — to build management capacity in poor countries.

Not only will employees will gain new insights from the experience, but crucial assistance will be provided to some of the world’s neediest people. Businesses looking to invest or expand in emerging markets such as Rwanda will gain valuable local knowledge and contacts that could end up paying big dividends to the companies in the future.

With the size of the health-care crisis in Africa, who would have thought that a background in business could be even more desirable than a medical degree when it comes to delivering aid to those who need it most urgently?

Josh Ruxin, assistant clinical professor of public health at the Mailman School of Public Health and Earth Institute at Columbia University, is director of the Access Project in Rwanda.

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