From Here to Hanoi: Flipping My Frame of Reference

November 29, 2011

I arrived at CGD in March 2006 to take charge of a new and exciting initiative, the HIV/AIDS Monitor, and tomorrow is my last day after six amazing, enjoyable and productive years.  I want to thank all of our global health policy blog readers for indulging me and my posts, with a special thank you to many regular readers who often posted interesting and very useful comments.

I will be moving to Hanoi, Vietnam in a few weeks and I am eager to experience development as it happens in this brave new world where the relationship between donors and partner countries is changing, technology is transforming the way we do things, and the world is more connected - even if struggling financially. In keeping with CGD standards, I can’t sign off with just a plain old goodbye and thank you post, or dwell on the gloom and doom about funding for global health (see here) and development ODA in general (see here and here). Instead, as I step out of the DC policy wonk bubble into the real world, I’d like to share my thoughts about three exciting new opportunities:

  1. Flipping my frame of reference and connecting different worlds
  2. The last time I lived and worked outside of the U.S. was almost 20 years ago, and two major changes have occurred in this time: my frame of reference has evolved into one of a DC donor policy wonk (even if I’ve always tried to keep my developing country perspective front and center!), AND the globalized world is more interdependent and better connected. By being in Vietnam, a country where impressive development progress has occurred over the last 20 years,  I look forward to flipping my frame of reference and learning about Vietnam’s successes and failures in global health and development from a country-level perspective. I also look forward to observing and learning about south-south cooperation for development, a growing phenomenon that isn’t squarely on the radar of global development architects in the DC, London, and Geneva wonk world. As I learn about development from another perspective and in a new era, I hope to bring insights from those lessons into global development debates, especially now that I have had the privilege of getting up close and personal with a range of high-level development stakeholders--donor governments, private foundations, program implementers, and advocates—and understand those worlds better than I did before I came to CGD. 

  3. Learning how new technology and new implementation approaches are transforming development progress
  4. I don’t want to overstate my enthusiasm about new technologies and new implementation approaches as magic bullets that will solve all our problems.  But I am increasingly convinced that donors and country governments play a great role in advancing innovation to save lives by (1) trying newly tested technologies/ideas, and (2) applying them at scale to accelerate development progress like never before. Some recent examples of donor initiated partnerships (see for example, here and here), and country-driven initiatives (see for example, here) are encouraging and I want to learn more about their impact on health outcomes. I will be scouring the landscape in Vietnam and the region to find cost-effective, at-scale applications of new technologies and implementation ideas, so stay tuned.

  5. Finding ways to generate better data in real time
  6. Many of us who work in global health despair about the “dire data deficit” that constrains our work, especially for longstanding challenges like maternal and child mortality. Modelers predict that very few countries will achieve their MDG 4 and 5 targets by calculating estimates of these outcomes, but we don’t really know what the real numbers are. I’ve noted before that we need to improve the quality and coverage of birth and mortality data. With better data, we can learn what has really worked to reduce maternal and child mortality, and then apply that knowledge to allocate resources, design policies and programs, and assess accurate outcomes in real time. With this frustration in mind, I’m hoping to be somewhat of a development entrepreneur: exploring practical ideas to generate desperately needed data, enabling better program management and allowing us to assess value for money in global health.

As I wind down my life at CGD, I realize that one of the things I will miss greatly is being able to “discuss” ideas and thoughts with so many smart readers in cyberspace. This has inspired me to create my own website and blog that will go live in a few weeks.  I hope to “see” many of you there and on Twitter as I ponder the ups and downs of global health and development from the ground, AND connect them to the complex donor world that I have experienced through CGD. In closing, as I’m only just starting Vietnamese 101, I’ll say it in French: “Merci et au revoir!”


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.