This summer I have been lucky enough to spend nine weeks interning at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, in the Evaluation Department. The department is a relatively new office set up to evaluate WHO at all levels of the organization. It was a particularly exciting time to be interning at the evaluation office as strengthening evaluation and organizational learning has been one of the critical components of the ongoing WHO reform process under the new Director General.
I was highly fortunate in that during the period I was with the evaluation office, it was in the work plan to conduct an evaluation that coincided with the subject of my final year dissertation and thus I was able to contribute under the guidance of my supervisor, Dr Elil Renganathan. This evaluation was of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Programme with a special focus on the current neglected tropical diseases roadmap for implementation. The evaluation comes at an important time and is planned to document successes, challenges and gaps and provide lessons learned and recommendations for the final years of the roadmap until 2020, as well as useful input for the elaboration of the next strategic instrument aimed at addressing the remaining toll of NTDs. As the evaluation was in its initial stages, I was able to help review the technical and financial bids made from different companies and institutes applying to conduct the evaluation; this was a highly useful exercise for me as it allowed me to observe the different approaches that could be taken towards conducting such a complex evaluation, as well as develop objective analytical skills.
Although I am unable to go into as much detail as the documents are not yet public, I also provided support for evaluations of a WHO country office and a WHO regional centre for environmental health. This involved tasks such as document and background searches, working on the development of theories of change and investigation into current policies. The tasks I carried out were diverse meaning that I got an insight into many different areas. Additionally, I worked on a high-level accountability framework for the health-related sustainable development goal indicators that is being prepared ahead of the World Health Summit in Berlin in October.
In addition to my official internship tasks, I made sure to take advantage of all that WHO had to offer; I participated in a mapathon run by the polio eradication department and learnt about many areas of global health that I had never given thought to before through lunch time talks and discussions, such as palliative care in health emergencies. Additionally, the WHO interns board organized extremely helpful events such as WHO CV workshops. Furthermore, an amazing aspect of working at WHO is that it gives you the ability to meet with world experts in global health; during my internship I had fascinating conversations with colleagues working in the clinical trials for a malaria vaccine, the neglected tropical disease unit and access to cancer drugs. These were not only highly interesting on an intellectual level but proved very useful in terms of giving me invaluable career advice and connections.
Working at WHO was my first experience of working in an international organization and I found the buzz of working alongside such a diverse and dynamic workforce with origins from all over the world, brought together by the common interest of improving health for all, truly invigorating and inspiring.
Outside work, Geneva is a lovely place in the sun and has given me a summer filled with amazing memories; evenings after work were spent paddle boarding on the lake at the UN beach, while weekends were filled with exciting trips to the high peaks of Chamonix, the sound of music-esque scenery of Gruyere, and even a trip to the world’s oldest chocolate factory.
Overall, many aspects of my internship surprised me, but this is undoubtedly what made the experience so stimulating and enjoyable. While I came expecting to work mostly on the NTD evaluation, I have ended up learning so much more about evaluation and WHO and its different areas of work which has been extremely valuable for me. I look forward to taking my new knowledge with me to my next year of studies on my Msc and further on in my career in global health.
I would like to extend my warmest thanks to the Gateway Fund which helped to make it possible for me to live in the World’s third most expensive city for 9 weeks. The experience has been highly rewarding and has been invaluable to launching my career. I would also like to express my gratitude to my two supervisors, Dr Elil Renganathan and Dr Alex Ross, as well as everyone in the evaluation office for welcoming me so readily and being so generous with their time and guidance.