Meet Elsa Assefa of Team Jordan 2017-18: Biometric Cash Assistance

You recently transitioned from the Global Health Innovation team to a new role as Investment Associate with the Humanitarian Grand Challenge team at Grand Challenges Canada. Can you tell us more about that?

I am excited to be in a new role with the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, In this role, I identify and support innovators through Transition to Scale funding. Our innovators are responding to the needs of the hardest-to-reach who have been affected by conflict and often continue to live within a conflict zone – an initiative greatly aligned with Reach’s mission. As an Investment Associate, I work directly with the innovation teams and provide grant management, ultimately aiming to support the scale and sustainability of these innovations so they continue to improve and save lives.

Can you tell us about an interesting project that you’re working on now?

While I work on many interesting projects, Muso has been an amazing innovator to support and watch grow. I joined GCC when Muso was being funded as a Transition to Scale level 2 project. They have since moved into level 3 funding enabling GCC to support the completion of a randomized control trial in Central Mali that examines the impact of its proactive care model on child mortality. This research will be used to support national health reform and improve the lives of millions, going even beyond Mali. They have continued to conduct their work, alongside the Malian government, despite working in a humanitarian setting, where even a coup d’état took place this past August. It is innovators such as these who will create catalytic change and playing a small role in helping them move the needle is what inspires me to do the work that I do.

How has an organization like GCC pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic? What strategies have you adopted to be able to complete your work remotely?

Like many other organizations, GCC adapted to a work from home in March 2020. This process has been made easier thanks to the flexibility of the organization. We have been encouraged to maintain a good work-life balance and to set strong boundaries now that these two worlds have collided. Whether that be through mid-day walks, or even joining GCC’s “Fitness Challenge”.

As an organization, we have been able to continue supporting our innovators virtually and were fortunate to provide many of them supplementary funds to either accommodate their shift in programming, or to supply much needed personal protective equipment.

How did your experience in Reach inform your career path?

My experience with Team Jordan has very much informed my career path. Not only did I continue to seek out opportunities within the humanitarian space, but it is partly due to my time at Reach that my interest in this area was solidified. Through Reach, I was exposed to the lived experience of Syrian refugees in Jordan. I was able to better understand their needs and learn just how broken the humanitarian system was/is. Having now joined the Humanitarian Grand Challenges team at GCC, I feel empowered to apply the lessons I learned in meaningful ways to my everyday work.

What takeaway did you get through your experience as a Reach researcher that you are applying to your work now?

My time as a Reach researcher taught me how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. As much as you want to believe you have prepared for something, there is always the possibility that things will change. That is why you must always be adaptable. In my professional career, I continue to prepare for these moments, but also try not to let the surprises throw me off. Instead, use the strength of a team to work through any challenges by brainstorming ideas that maybe you had not thought of, because you were too caught up in how things did not go according to plan.

What is your fondest memory from your experience in Reach?

I have many fond memories from my team at Reach, and specifically on Team Jordan. I will never forget my opportunity to work with an amazing team. Not only was I surrounded by incredibly bright individuals, but some of those friendships have continued until this day. Your Reach team is your guiding light and the ability to lean on each other for ideas, as well as support, is the kind of lesson in teamwork that has carried into my professional and personal life.

What advice would you give to researchers who have mostly completed their desk research and are about to begin their interviews?

I would encourage researchers to reflect on what is driving their interest in their project. What about it motivates you? What lessons are you hoping to learn? What challenges do you think you will face? You can do tons of desk research but remember to be open to anything you hear in the interviews. Seek out new information, refine your interview questions and be willing to adapt as this is what will get you to the heart of the project.