UGHE Alumni Spotlight: Titus K. Koikoi
Titus K. Koikoi is a program director for global health nonprofit Population Services International, in his home country of Liberia. In 2016-17, he was one of 25 health care leaders to complete the inaugural Executive Education course through the Global Health Delivery Leadership Program (GHDLP), at the University of Global Health Equity in northern Rwanda. The GHDLP was designed to equip trainees with management and leadership skills, and explore a range of replicable innovations in global health delivery. After an intensive two-week session on campus, participants completed a six-month project implementation period, with guidance and support from a mentor.
Can you describe where you grew up? What were your aspirations when you were younger?
I grew up in a small town of about 3,000 people, called Fissebu, in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Both of my parents were teachers, so we lived in staff quarters on the campus of the Zorzor Rural Teachers Training Institute (ZRTTI), where my father had been working, primarily training other teachers. We had electricity and pipe-borne water in our homes on the ZRTTI campus, and I could clearly see the disparity between marginally poor people and those who could afford basic social services. The campus is located about a mile away from the town. Fissebu is still there today, and is pretty rural. People live in huts and mud houses, with a few concrete houses. There are a few hand-pumps for water, plus a lot of hand-dug wells. Most of the town’s residents use a small creek for washing clothes and bathing. Most people use the forest for defecation. The town has one clinic and two senior secondary schools, and a computer training institute was recently opened about two miles from the heart of town. The basic means of survival for people in Fissebu is subsistence farming.
Can you give a brief overview of your professional background?
I’ve worked in global health programs and project management for more than eight years. My work has usually focused on grant management; health systems strengthening; capacity building; service delivery; data management and usage; community engagement and advocacy; government and civil society coordination; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). I’ve managed budgets of up to US$9.5 million, and currently work as program director for Population Services International (PSI) in Liberia, where we implement the USAID-funded Partnership for Advancing Community-based Services (PACS), and a Global Fund HIV project focusing on key populations. I have a master’s degree in public health and have worked as a public health professional for more than 10 years.
What inspired you to apply to the GHDLP?
GHDLP’s program curriculum was very interesting. I could clearly see how participating in the program would allow me to apply my program management skills to real-life situations and learning. I saw that the program was modeled to bring together experts from diverse backgrounds and expertise, to discuss challenges and find ways to make implementation/service delivery better and more efficient. UGHE’s interest in rethinking health service delivery, so that the ultimate goal is quality service delivery to the beneficiaries, stood out for me. I was fascinated by such a unique training model.
Can you describe your experience at the intensive, on-campus portion of the GHDLP course?
My time at the GHDLP program was rewarding. I had a mix of both rural and urban experiences. I expanded my professional network and used the opportunity to discuss practical solutions around the many global health challenges we’re currently facing. I learned about innovative ways in which lessons from program implementation can enhance learning in the classroom.
What was the most valuable thing you learned at UGHE? What was your favorite class?
UGHE has begun a movement that seeks to encourage everyone involved with global health delivery to begin rethinking health care and looking into more efficient delivery models. This was the most valuable thing for me. I also enjoyed the case studies. While the case studies touched on very pivotal global health issues and highlighted smart solutions in some cases, they were also an eye-opener to demonstrate that some of the problems in global health have been there forever, and because we continue to do business as usual, those problems are still there. There is more than sufficient evidence to justify the need to innovate, rethink and be more efficient.
Please explain what types of mentorship you received.
My team from Liberia developed a breakthrough project, and after the training in Kigali, we received mentorship in implementation, follow-up, mobilizing resources, writing reports and presenting the project. A team of experts from UGHE’s core faculty provided the mentorship remotely.
Can you give an example of a time you used something you learned at UGHE in your workplace at PSI?
I was able to immediately set up an efficient feedback system on my return to work at PSI. Feedback can mean different things to different people. Most often, we feel feedback should only be negative, or should only flow from supervisors to their staff. I learned a different way of providing feedback while at UGHE, and I was able to utilize this learning appropriately. Feedback can be both negative and positive; feedback should flow from supervisors to their staff, and vice versa. This is one way to build a more transparent workplace and maintain a highly motivated and confident workforce.
How has PSI benefited from your participation in the GHDLP program?
I returned from the GHDLP training course in December 2016, re-energized and with a lot of great new ideas. I’ve been able to transfer new skills and techniques to other managers, and I’ve shared various learning tools and materials with other colleagues for their professional growth. Overall, the GHDLP experience helped me contribute more and better to the awesome work PSI does in Liberia. I’m happy to have had the opportunity.
What inspires you to work in global health?
I’m passionate about service to mankind. I get inspired every day knowing that the decisions I make, the actions I take, and the networks that I build, support and join, all go toward ensuring that a child somewhere receives timely vaccinations, a sex worker is tested for HIV, someone living with HIV is enrolled in care and treatment, someone in a village is treated for malaria, children learn in safe and healthy environments, people in villages have access to safe and clean water, and more.
What are the biggest rewards of working in global health? What are the biggest challenges?
I wake up every day remembering that service to humanity is the proudest engagement ever, and that health is an integral component of a more just, safe and better society. I feel humbled that my work in global health gives me an opportunity to plan and manage service delivery for my fellow Liberians, and by extension, the world’s population in general. I feel challenged on a daily basis to give back to society, and to be a critical voice that advocates for access to health by all. I feel challenged and encouraged to contribute to local and global health care policies that ultimately affect health care and service delivery at the very peripheral level, and for the common person.
There are manpower challenges in global health, and that is one reason why there’s a need for training more global health leaders. As a result of this challenge, I’ve seen little or no impact come out of huge health care investments over time. My home country is an example. It will take a great deal of innovation and rethinking, using models like the one developed by UGHE, to change the current paradigm. There are also huge disparities in terms of wealth distribution and access to care, and poorer people continue to feel the pinch of expensive health care across the globe, while the rich can afford to pay for foreign health care services. This must end now!
What do you hope to achieve through your career in global health? Why is this work important?
My hope is to see a more robust, efficient and resilient health care delivery system not only in Liberia, but also in countries where health service delivery to people in need is still a huge challenge. I hope my work always allows me to add my voice and hands to efforts that ensure under-served and under-privileged populations have frequent access to health care services. This remains one of the most critical things to supporting global security, fostering economic growth and maintaining political stability.
What advice would you give to young global health professionals?
UGHE is an ideal platform for improving the skills and expertise of young global health professionals. Take up a course as soon as possible! While we all strive to prioritize efforts in global health and make the world a better place, we must now begin to innovate and rethink health care delivery. We cannot continue to do business as usual and expect different results. UGHE has practical solutions through the programs they’ve designed. I would recommend all young global health leaders and professionals apply to UGHE today.
Read more from Koikoi in a 2017 interview with UGHE, here.