Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dennis The Malaria Expert

On the fourth floor of a building somewhere on the north upper teens in Washington DC, a man in a striped suit is lost in his thoughts, confortable in his orange ergonomic chair. His desk is cluttered with highlighted email print-outs, brochures, newsletters and info-sheets from all over the world and a sizeable number of rubber balls, plasticine and overpriced toys, distributed at one of the recent management courses he attended, along with advice on using them to boost creativity.

His office walls are covered with malaria campaign posters and his shelves are stacked with campaign mugs, key-chains, bumper stickers, lanyards and other time-proven anti-malaria weapons, perfected by this business over decades of successful life-saving work.

His name is Dennis and he is the man in charge of HRIs “Administrative Center” in Washington, DC, an important outpost in the HRI universe and a center of excellence for “global technical assistance and advocacy”. Dennis landed this HRI job after a successful career working as an “advisor” for USAID, a time in which he developed significant knowledge of internal dynamics in USAID, as well as a global informal network of contacts in the US government, all crucially relevant to anyone who wants to make it above a certain level in this business.

It’s called “expertise” and it is at the heart of HRIs meritocratic DNA.

Dennis just got off the phone “with Geneva”, as represented this time by a fellow member and co-chair of the Global Malaria Task Force (GMTF), a forum of experts from the US and several Northern European countries, very active force in the development of cutting edge malaria strategies and of course, very influential in donor circles. The GMTF has been pioneered by HRI and a few like-minded affiliates and donors and it has grown into a force to be reckoned with, addressing crucial issues that range from “lack of leadership” and “absorptive capacity”, to global procurement of treated nets, distribution of ACTs and of course identification and assessment of implementation partners “in the field”.

The call “with Geneva” was disappointing, as two main fractions in the GMTF seem to fail finding an agreement on a crucial point in the current work plan: should the upcoming task force meeting be held in Maputo or Mombasa? There are of course solid arguments for both ("The Maputo Consensus" sounds just as good as "the Mombasa Consensus") and a compromise needs to be found. With the recent re-opening of the Polana, Dennis feels that the arguments are slightly stronger for Maputo, but he is loath to be perceived as pushing on this sensitive issue too hard, as that will diminish his ability to weigh in on other, admittedly more trivial, matters during the meeting itself. Years of experience have taught him that sometimes the sum of many small victories can balance one big loss and he is therefore ready to compromise if it is suggested that they meet in Mombasa.

Indeed, fighting malaria at this level is all about psychology. And of course, the ability to navigate the politics of all the partners involved and leverage strong informal networks to mitigate worthy goals: bashing HRI competitors  pointing out HRI’s comparative advantages and ensuring “strategic partnerships” with donors.

Dennis is able to communicate in French as well (after a stint with the USAID mission in Gabon back in the late 90s, where he also met his wife at a peace corps volunteer function), but his language of choice is obviously “Metaphor”, the lingo for any expert with a full plate and a tough job:

Thanks Dennis, for keeping our backs out there and doing your part in the global fight against Malaria.


  1. i know dennis. i worked for him

  2. Holy shit. I am Dennis. :-0

  3. Actually, I'm Dennis....and so is my wife.

  4. This is freaking hilarious. I am becoming Dennis. Chilling.

    - RSangi