Matching Idealism with Pragmatism: Working towards a Healthier Tanzania

Over 7,000 miles away from Tanzania’s Lake Zone is a different sort of jungle—New York City. While Touch’s in-country team executes and manages our projects in East Africa, I support the development, implementation, and evaluation of the organization’s communication plan from Touch’s New York office. Established in 2004, the Touch Foundation works to improve Tanzania’s quality and quantity of healthcare workers, optimize their deployment and retention, and enhance the healthcare delivery mechanisms in which they work.

I worked with a lot of nonprofits during my four years at Davidson. What drew me to Touch was its commitment to sustainable impact and emphasis on local collaboration and ownership. Our projects are designed from careful needs-based analyses and executed with the expectation that Touch will eventually transition them to Tanzanian management, empowering our Tanzanian partners and ensuring the vitality of Touch’s work. Touch embodies a sense of idealism matched with a pragmatism that channeled the many Exit 30 discussions had on effective service and international development. This isn’t entirely coincidental as a fellow Wildcat, Lowell L. Bryan ‘68, founded and leads Touch as its president. This now a warrants a shout-out to Dr. Steve Justus ‘78, Touch’s Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President and Hannah English ’12, Touch’s Development Manager. Adjusting to post-grad/city life wasn’t too bad as you can now see.

Working from New York has also enabled me to obtain a greater grasp at nonprofit development, i.e., the fundraising elements of nonprofits. It certainly spans far beyond throwing annual galas and generating appeals. Development is a giant undertaking an an integral component of a nonprofit organization. It encompasses donor management to ensuring funds are raised, responsibly spent, tracked, and reported. What repeatedly overwhelms me most about the process is learning how many organizations there are working on healthcare in Africa. What makes Touch worthy of donor contributions among the tens of dozens of organizations doing great work?

But then I step back. I think about our approach. It’s a single country focus and while not as “sexy” as rolling out a map with project dots emblazoned across four continents, it’s what makes Touch effective. International development takes time. There are relationships to build and success is contingent upon a community’s specific dynamics and institutions in place. We’re here for the long-term and when we leave it’s because Tanzania is ready for us to leave. Such realizations make me even more proud to be part of such a dedicated and reflective team.

I know this will increasingly be the case when I experience and contribute to our on-the-ground work firsthand–and it looks like this will happen sooner than later. Vaccination appointments set and flights are booked! Just in time to escape New York’s painfully cold weather too.