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December 13, 2016

Rising stars: public health informatics and the Young African Leadership Initiative

Godfrey Nyombi, 2014 YALI fellow

Godfrey Nyombi interned with PHII in 2014 as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), a highly competitive program that places young African professionals with American organizations that can help them cultivate their leadership skills. In this blog, Godfrey describes his experience with the program.


My name is Godfrey Nyombi, and I’m from the United Republic of Tanzania. I joined PHII in August 2014 for eight weeks and enjoyed a great experience with the city of Atlanta as a YALI intern. With a background in health informatics, I can't think of a better placement for my internship than with PHII, who I count as a partner and collaborator in improving access and use of health information, and for improving Tanzanian management of human resources for health.

My goal with health informatics has always been to ensure that developing countries’ public health systems have best-fit informatics solutions that assist in improving health outcomes. This being my main fellowship goal, I worked with PHII and particularly the Requirements Lab to learn from their enormous experience in the field, specifically in Africa. The lab introduced me to their prominent Collaborative Requirements Development Methodology (CRDM), putting me on a short list of African experts oriented to the methodology. Throughout my internship, application of the methodology was my primary goal, from human resources to hospital information systems and tests of the application in my local context.

Godfrey Nyombi with the staff of PHII.

I recall when Juneka Rembert of the Requirements Lab took me from paper sketches to the white board when showing me Business Process Models (BPM) and illustrated how CRDM can be practically applied in all business processes. PHII had done projects in Uganda and Mozambique on human resources for health allocation and designed the allocation tool through CRDM. I was tasked to review the recent Mozambique report to see how best to implement the same project in Tanzania through BPM. Then, I assisted in mapping Tanzanian human resources allocation systems, which gave me contextual understanding of those processes and allowed me to identify areas that need interventions. No one has ever mapped the Tanzanian human resources for health processes in this way before, so this was a great adventure.

Fortunately, in 2015, PHII was tasked with implementing a project in strengthening allocation of human resources for health in Tanzania with the Ministry of Health. I had the opportunity to be part of their first mission to Tanzania to lend my local HR and informatics expertise to the task at hand. Now, PHII is working with USAID in Tanzania in the same spirit of collaboration for improving HRH management in the country. This makes me proud, as what I wished for my country is now a reality, and I hope it’s going to strengthen HR management. I used the business process model with the Ministry of Health to develop guidelines and implementation principles for Tanzania hospital management information systems. I shared these guidelines with my previous workplace, as they have been struggling to give life to the system that they were asked to adopt, regardless of doing businesses process analysis as I envisioned.

“YALI has given me more than just contacts...YALI also helps us as young leaders in learning to see a great potential to use shared experience, skills and techniques to improve the wellbeing of our societies through innovative thinking, partnerships and approaches.”

Apart from this experience with the Requirements Lab, I took part in the process of redefining informatics by PHII’s Informatics Academy, worked with Dave Ross to review technical documents (such as the drafted WHO HRH information system toolkit) and managed to participate in the Atlanta Symposium for Public Health. Five fellows from five different African countries were placed in Atlanta with me. The Mayor’s Office of International Affairs coordinated a YALI Speakers Series every Friday to visit each of the organizations hosting us. I enjoyed my visit to Coca-Cola and a special tour of Atlanta organized by Invest in Atlanta; my colleagues enjoyed visiting the Task Force for Global Health and learning about it for the first time. I also took a tour of the historic King memorial, and my last great moment was sponsored by Sarah Gilbert (director of the Informatics Academy) at the Georgia Aquarium a few hours before I left for Tanzania.

I believe in the power of working together and creating long-lasting professional relationships. As we grow professionally, the world becomes so much smaller, and we find ourselves sitting under the same roof and at the same round table as those with similar objectives and pushing in the same direction alongside people we are connected to around the world. This is why I believe effective collaboration stands to be the main pillar of success beyond public health. YALI has given me more than just contacts; it has created for me a network of relationships with progressive and mutual benefits. I believe my placement has made a great contribution to TFGH/PHII and their approach to collaborating with African countries to improve health processes. YALI also helps young leaders in learning to see a great potential to use shared experience, skills and techniques to improve the wellbeing of our societies through innovative thinking, partnerships and approaches.

As President Obama said when he met with Mandela Washington fellows in July 2014:

“Progress sometimes can be slow, and it can be frustrating.  And sometimes, you take two steps forward, and then you take one step back.  But the great thing about being young is you are not bound by the past, and you can shape the future. And if all of you work hard and work together, and remain confident in your possibilities, and aren’t deterred when you suffer a setback, but you get back up, and you dust yourself off, and you go back at it.”

Yes, we can shape the future if we work hard together. I call that collaboration.