The last thing I want to mention is perhaps the most important to me. While working for USAID/Tanzania, I got routine messages about a new systems development activity. The system, called COPRS 2, was to be used for program management. It would track PEPFAR’s progress in achieving program goals. That meant it was exactly the type of system I had been working on for my entire systems career.
I found I couldn’t read these messages without getting a little jealous of the guy who signed them as the systems lead. How, I wondered, did Mark Landry land a job like that? I felt very fortunate to have gotten a great position in the Global AIDS program at USAID. But I kept thinking about how much more I could do if I were in my native systems domain.
Shortly before the end of my tour in Tanzania, my good friend and split-time boss, Tracy Carson, called. She said she remembered me mentioning that I had a systems development background. She said that management was losing confidence in the systems team they had in place. They wondered if I was interested in helping them define a way forward.
I immediately accepted her offer. Then I outlined what I thought needed to be done. A few weeks later they asked me if I’d be interested in doing the work. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.
I thought we needed a system with all the attributes proposed for the new global COPRS2. Our local system needed more granularity, down to the specific health facility. But other than that, the requirements were basically the same. My schedule had me going back to Washington for my current work, so I built in a meeting with the COPRS team as well. Mark, the team lead, was amenable to the idea of building these systems in concert. He took it a step further and made his systems development contract available to us.
When I got back to Tanzania, I thought long and hard about how to present my findings to management. I wanted them to understand my purposed approach and the value of the opportunity we had to align our work. I also wanted to do the work myself. The problem was that my term with USAID/Tanzania was running out and I was planning to return to Washington.
A couple days before the meeting in which I planned to make my pitch, I got the distinct impression that I was somehow destined to do this work. Two days later, senior management agreed to my proposal. They supported my leading the effort from back in Washington, DC. Then Mark got me a position as a contract employee on his team. When, a year later, Mark left his post with State Department, he told his boss that he should hire me to lead the global work.
Mark’s boss, Paul Bouey, asked me if I wanted to take a job as a State Department employee. I said yes of course I wanted the job. But I didn’t see how that was possible given the job requirements and competitive rules for awarding government jobs. The next thing I knew the State Department offered me a 5 year political appointment to do the work. It turned out to be the easiest way they had to offer me the job. A few weeks later, I was running the systems portfolio for the Global AIDS program as a State Department employee.
I retired from the State Department two years ago with a handshake from Secretary of State John Kerry. By the time I left in 2015, I had fielded a global program management system called DATIM. The system opened to 12,000 invited users the first day it deployed. It collected program results from more than 77,000 health facilities and other sites in 50 countries around the world. In its first month of operation, PEPFAR recorded 1.3 million unique results.
While I am routinely credited with delivering the system, that is not how I see it. First, there were tons of talented people involved. It never would have happened without each of them. But there is a second factor I think about. Over the five years it took to conceive of and deliver the system, we encountered obstacles at every turn. Yet every obstacle we met with magically vanished. And every time we needed something it wondrously appeared. For example, every time someone opposed this work, a boss stepped in to tell them to get on board. If we needed extra money, the money truck arrived.
I can’t explain how all the necessary pieces fell into place. I can only say that they all did. And there were tons of things that needed to come together to get this system out. But here’s my bottom line (as crazy as it sounds): it feels like deployment of a unified global health management information system had some unseen guiding hand.
Now, when I consider the time I spent trying to be a writer, I remember the Yiddish proverb: Man plans, God laughs. When I think of the compulsion I felt to take on the PEPFAR systems work, I think of Romans 12 6:8. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is…serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach. I am grateful for the grace of systems work.
Now, as I sit at my desk here in Tonga in 2018, I am happy I can say:
My kids, Kate and Luke, are both healthy and well credentialed. They are both working at jobs they love and living on their own. Nancy is the Peace Corps Country Director here – a position she has always hoped for. And I have had the great good fortunate of being married to her for thirty years.
I am still working with PEPFAR and the systems team at State. And I relish my opportunity to write most every evening.
Here’s my bottom line: If you’re one of those who finds they need a Plan B, I hope you find, as I have, it is in addition to Plan A. Because no matter what else I do, I will always continue trying to write a book someone might actually want to read.