Let’s work the way you work

After graduating from Georgia Tech, you feel so full of potential, and so ready to go out to make a huge and memorable impact on world as soon as possible.  And all of these feelings are extremely valid because being equipped with an incredible education and powerful critical thinking skills while simultaneously being surrounded by inspiring change-making peers ultimately challenges you to be the best version of yourself possible. For me, this collegiate environment activated the ‘achieving’ part of my personality; thus, planning and efficiency have become integral parts of my existence a  result of being bred in a culture of ‘doers’. At Georgia Tech, we are taught to see problems and creatively work to devise ground breaking solutions. This task-oriented, incredibly efficient STEM mentality, coupled with lifelong teachings from both of my parents with military backgrounds, has made me value the concept of working smarter rather than working harder.


With the coming of age of my generation, Gen Y, the western business world is bracing itself for massive changes as millennials advocate for increased flexibility, transparency, and independence in the work place in an effort to create an environment that stimulates valuable output for each individualized person. Most of my work experience throughout my collegiate career mimicked much of these values as I freelanced, made my own hours or worked remotely on task oriented projects where I could largely work when and how I needed in order to produce the most meaningful content. Additionally, as a blossoming social entrepreneur and creative humanitarian activist, I have begun to translate the work ethic that I learned from Georgia Tech into my professional life, on my own terms and in my own way-which usually means working in the most efficient way possible while simultaneously challenging conventional institutions and strategies in the name of progress and innovation.


However, ‘efficiency’ has different meanings and different rankings on lists of priorities to different people from different places who work in different sectors of society.  Moving to Zambia and deeply immersing myself in a non-profit, non-American, and traditional corporate work place has definitely been a culture shock for me. I joined the Society of Family Health (SFH) immediately after an intensely inspiring Global Health Corps training, so I was prepared to make immediate impact within my first 90 days and to hit the ground running. However, I have quickly learned that in order to make meaningful impact, you have to gain people’s trust and show respect to the culture of the organization before trying to push the needle of change. SFH is an incredible organization that I am blessed to be a part of, and in my first few months here, I have grown to learn the value of taking a step back and slow down my constant quest for forward progress to simply listen and observe. And it has been a big and important professional development adjustment.
 I initially spent several days feeling frustrated with myself. I felt like a burden or that my ideas were not being embraced or that I was not achieving the aggressive goals that I had set for myself all of which made the “achieving” part of my personality feel neglected. This neglect often manifested as a form of candor that can be perceived as aggressive in many non-western countries and in many non-profit settings. I have recently realized how selfish that mentality has been. As much as this experience is about developing myself as a professional, I am still an outsider to this organization and its culture; thus, in order to be embraced as a valuable member of the team, I have to listen and translate the principles of  my empathic design work into the work place. Rather than allowing myself to feel like a burden, I have actively begun asking questions and seeking ways to get ‘doable’ tasks assigned to me. Rather than feeling offended when my ideas are not embraced, I now recognize that I approach problems with a western perspective that is not always correct or applicable in every context, despite how awesome or efficient the idea may be to me. And rather than giving myself lofty, high reaching goals, the “achieving” part of my personality has found satisfaction in setting feasible and attainable goals each week in order to ensure the continuity of my contributions to the team. Advocacy is essential in social impact work, but it has to be smart in order for it to be effective. It is important to discern when to advocate for yourself and your ideas and when you should sit back and work with what you are given in an effort to learn and build trust. Trust is essential and is the only way to get things accomplished within a team.


I am the sum of my life story’s parts including military-based efficiency, STEM teachings, and an entrepreneurial work ethic; however, in order to effectively work as a member of a team in this global space, I have to understand how to approach problems with an open mind and learn when I need to advocate for myself or my ideas versus when I need to respectfully sit back and say “Let’s work the way you work”.

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VMMC

This week, Lute and I had the privilege of attending the launch of Society for Family Health’s Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision Campaign (VMMC) with the rest of the Communications team. It was Tuesday, and we had just concluded a long VMMC meeting at the office when Lute and I received an email informing us that we were invited to attend the launch the next day! One of our co-workers agreed to pick us up at 6:30am near Kepa to take us to the launch in the Matero Compound. Of course we were sporting our VMMC tshirts and were excited to represent SFH at the event; however, it was SO COLD. Jeans and jackets were a must in terms of wardrobe that day!

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When we arrived, much of the decorations had been set up so we were responsible for distributing awareness information and setting up the pop-up banners in order to complete the branding for the event.

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Around 8:30am, the event began with a marching band to bring awareness of VMMC to the community. The event proceeded with a series of speakers including doctors and government representatives in addition to a slew of press. There was traditional African dancing and drumming and even a skit was performed that showcased some of the common myths and fears that barred men from moving forward with the surgery.

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The overall goal of the event was to break the stigma surrounding such a sensitive topic by calling for the cultural acceptance of VMMC because of how much the procedure has been proven to significantly improve community health. In fact, VMMC procedures reduce the spread of heterosexual HIV by about 60%, which is huge! Despite the weather and perhaps awkwardness that some people felt, overall the event was a success. And I even got to play the drums with some cute new little friends! I am excited for future launches that we will participate in at the Society for Family Health!

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Society for Family Health

Work is officially in session!

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Lute has come to pick me up for two days now to take me to work since she’s an awesome co-fellow 🙂 The first day we caught a ride from a Society for Family Health driver and the second day we took a cab. Once we arrive at work, it is beautiful inclusive of a large, open floor plan space intended to physically embody the creative juices that are flowing to innovativley promote sexy topics like female condoms, male circumcision, and HIV prevention. IMG_2941IMG_2933

We will both be in the communications department at the Society for Family Health; Lute will be a communications strategist and I will be a design strategist, and together we bring a lot of personality and new perspectives to SFH! And the current GHC Fellows at SFH are incredible! They took us out to lunch at Deli (our new favorite hot spot and of course I found meat to eat!) and really have helped us get acclimated to SFH and life here in general.  Brittany is actually staying and working on another project at SFH and will be working with the communications team for the next year. WE ARE SO EXCITED that she’s staying 🙂

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I’m also excited about the opportunity to do what I love in the field that I love and for the amount of impact to which it could lead. I have been told that I will be the first official designer on the SFH staff and will be working on a host of cool projects ranging from websites to video editing to graphics to media to photography to campaign planning. Design is a hot commodity these days! And it is so incredible to be warmly welcomed into the SFH community, which is the Zambian branch the internationally renowned and incredible PSI, or Populations Services International. PSI-English-Logo-COLOR-200x124

So basically, Population Services International is a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit global health organization with programs targeting malariachild survivalHIV and reproductive health. Working in partnership within the public and private sectors, and harnessing the power of the markets, PSI provides life-saving products, clinical services and behavior change communications that empower the world’s most vulnerable populations to lead healthier lives.

AKA this is an incredible organization that I am joining and it is exciting. But simultaneously terrifying. I love being the first designer in organizations that gets to set the precedent and define the boundaries of the job; at the same time, I do worry about the influx of work that I am about to be slammed with. Design work is needed in almost every SFH department and on every project, so I know that I am going to have to be diligent with my time management skills. I might even have the chance to travel for some promotional campaign work which would be incredible! I just know myself and am weary of my ability to stick to a really strict schedule for an extended period of time. So I guess it is time to grow up and just do it. I know that once we get our schedules down, our computers in sync, our emails made, our commutes determined and our lunches made for each day, we will hit the ground running and it will, no doubt, be exhilarating! Here’s to the start of another adventure within a series of inception-like larger adventures here in Zambia! IMG_2925

I cannot wait for my journey at the Society for Family where we are marketing for good health because I believe that design has the power to change the world for the better.