Interview with GHFP Mentor Maggie Huff Rousselle
Dr. Maggie Huff-Rousselle is a GHFP mentor on the faculty of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She is also the founder and president of SSDS (Social Sectors Development Strategies) a consulting and research network company specializing in Education, Health, Nutrition and Population. Dr. Huff-Rouselle has over 30 years of consulting, teaching and research experience in international health, including eight overseas residencies and roughly 100 short term consultancies in nearly 50 countries. Her experience includes policy, financing, and management issues in the health sector.
Dr. Huff-Rousselle has served on the governing council of APHA, and the Technical Review Panel of The Global Fund. She also has current or former faculty appointments at Boston University, Harvard University, Tulane University, and Keele University (England) where she teaches graduate courses on health and social marketing, financial management and planning, and global pharmaceutical issues.
Tell us a little about your background and what you teach. How would you describe your area of expertise?
At Tulane, I’m teaching two courses. One is called “The Other Drug War,” and deals primarily with policies, financing, and management issues of commodity supply of contraceptives, ARVs (anti-retrovirals), and vaccines. I also teach a course called, “Behavioral Change and Social Marketing”.
I actually have a few areas of expertise. I have an MBA in health systems management, a degree I got because in those early days I was working with ministries of health in the public sector. I’ve developed expertise in policy, management, and financing. I also work on financial management and planning coordination for organizations.
One of the cornerstones that the university partners provide to the GHFP fellows is the opportunity for mentoring. Can you tell us why having a mentor is important or useful?
I think it really depends on the person, sometimes it doesn’t matter that much – it’s more of a fall back. But in other cases it is very important. Much depends on how the individual fellows “use” their mentors. There are lots of personality dependent-elements involved in this relationship. Some of the fellows I’m mentoring right now are very mature. Our relationship is more of a professional relationship; one that is more peer to peer. We have a shared professional framework. I have other fellows who are new to this work and our relationship is different.
What motivates you to be a mentor?
Basically I love the energy around younger people, their enthusiasm. As the world keeps changing and moving faster I‘ve learned from them; they keep me up-to-date. I get a lot of satisfaction out of these relationships.
How many fellows are you mentoring?
Three right now. And there are a few fellows to whom I provided ad hoc advice. I also mentored a fellow in Rwanda who has finished her fellowship and has moved on to another position with the UN.
How do you begin setting up working with a mentee? What’s your first approach? And how do you continue to keep in touch?
I spend some time getting to know them. I ask them about themselves. A new fellow who just left for Rwanda is the most recent one. We spent about an hour talking before he left. We talked about his background and where he is at this point in his life. I asked him lots of questions including why he chose to do a fellowship at this point in his life. I told him a little bit about myself and followed up with some materials about my current work. When he was going to Washington, DC for his initial training and orientation, I hooked him up with some folks at the World Bank who had recently worked in Rwanda on assessment projects. I’m not sure he was able to meet them but there has been a lot of email traffic back and forth. I also gave him some contacts in a USAID project in Rwanda that he could check out when he got there. With the overseas fellows, much of the time, we keep in touch via Skype, sometimes using text messaging services and sometimes we talk. We also use email.
Does the relationship change over time? Is there is a natural life to it?
I’ve seen this happen a few times. One of my younger mentees comes to me for ideas about her professional development activities and training. A more senior fellow and I have a different relationship; he and I share articles back and forth and are perhaps more peer to peer at this point in his professional life. The younger fellow is great fun to work with. She’s come to me for technical advice and information. We enjoyed setting up a professional development activity for her in Zambia.
Could you explain how that professional development activity came about?
It seemed important for fellows who are new to a situation to have a chance to visit a well run commodities program. This way the fellow could be in a situation where she can see things that are running well; watching, listening, talking and seeing what’s going on. This would be more valuable than any course or readings she might be doing. In the classroom the focus is often on the actualities of logistics planning and management – projecting needs, etc. – and very little about the politics of the situation. You don’t get to see the realities of the situation which make planning and coordination so challenging. I thought that if she could talk to people who had gotten through some of the initial crises of dealing with these situations and had a well run program, this kind of on-the-ground training would be very valuable to her as she began her logistics job. I contacted several people in large projects around the world and asked if they had the time and expertise to share with her. This kind of activity takes a lot of personal time and I wanted to be sure the host agencies were willing to take the time needed to work with her and maximize the experience.
It sounds like one of the other things you’ve been doing is linking fellows together in working groups around common interests. Can you explain how that’s happening? Has it been successful? What would you say to other mentors who might be in a similar position?
The group of fellows that I work with are all in the area of logistics and commodities management. One of the effective tools we use is a group listserv; I send out articles about the subject, announcements of trainings, and downloads from an APHA commodities logistics working group that I moderate. I watch out for things that I think would interest them and enhance their professional experience.
Are you called on to provide career counseling?
Yes, that has happened in a couple of cases. “What can I do next? What are the options for me in this field when I finish this fellowship?”
It sounds like you’re open to relating to fellows in many different ways, providing networking opportunities, suggesting and facilitating professional development activities, and career counseling – the broad spectrum of mentor services.
Yes and you can add one more way we are relating with fellows. I’m actually working with one fellow on coauthoring a publication. We thought it would be good to offer them the opportunity to publish something on their current work.
How do you like working with fellows?
I like it very much. Sometimes I think I could do more. Such as when I haven’t heard from a fellow in a while, I wonder, “should I track them down?” They are all so different and I’ve enjoyed the variety.
Can you tell us about a mentor in your life and some of the important professional advice you got?
Two; one is my husband. He did a lot to teach me about rules and regulations when I was still new to the profession. Peter has a background in health management with a focus on information systems. He had a senior leadership position at Management Sciences for Health and I started out in the accounting department. He was actually my boss for a couple of years.
Then I had a country professional who was also an early mentor of mine in St. Lucia. He was very much my senior. And when you asked me about the best professional advice I ever got, I remembered what this gentleman told me early in my career. He said, “Diversify your sources.” This was important advice because if you listen to a lot of different people with different viewpoints you can begin to know how to act and what to do to find solutions to difficult situations.
One final question. What’s new and exciting in your work right now?
I just got back from Congo where I was working with WHO on a project involving the procurement of vaccines for Africa. That was exciting. I’m about to leave for Cote D’Ivoire where I’ll start a new project which will develop curricula and training materials on several topics related to HIV/AIDS.
The exciting things about the work that I do is that you are dealing with an industry that is driven by the market economy and the needs of countries that are driven by other needs. This inherent contradiction makes my work and the work of our fellows challenging and worthwhile.