The Localization Saga: Chapter 53

By Karl Hofmann, President and CEO, PSI

Next year PSI will mark its 53rd birthday.  None of our 4500 employees around the world were here when we started; we are all simply custodians of the narrative arc of our NGO for the time that we are with it.  River keepers, for the time that the river flows through our time at PSI. 

Karl Hofmann, President and CEO, PSI

From the birth of our organization, the founding principles have been around power in the hands of the people we strive to serve, our health consumers.  Now, expectations grow steadily, and louder, for a faster push toward localization of our work.  But this is nothing new to our river, which has been flowing in that direction all along.  In fact, for almost 53 years.

Previously I wrote about how PSI has embraced principles of locally-rooted development through our PSI global network.  That network comprises many locally registered NGOs that formerly were a part of PSI, but which now operate independently from us – still part of the PSI community, still aligned in our approach to consumer powered healthcare, but not directed from a North American center.  “Locally rooted, globally connected” is the way we sum up the value proposition of PSI’s network, and it has yielded an impressive group of high performing national health organizations that are accountable to their own national stakeholders.  This group continues to grow, as parts of the global PSI enterprise become independent. 

But the aim is not to create many different independent streams.  The aim continues to be to harness a river of many different currents, flowing together and being stronger and more resilient because of their connectedness.  Transnational and connected networks of development actors offer a resilient and agile approach to solving tough challenges in tough environments. 

PSI arrived at impressive impact results over the past five decades by always staying agile and open to change.  We must lean into our agility and embrace change if we are to meet the change mandate that is flowering now in our sector:  get resources closest to the core problems we are addressing; align our work better to national government plans and priorities; share capacity and build durable national organizations.  We are doing all this, but we can do it even better.

We are now exploring how we can leverage our agile and flexible network of institutions through which we deliver our health impact – nationals NGOs, social business operations, branch offices of PSI, independent members of the PSI network that formerly were an integrated part of PSI – to move power and decision-making even closer to the problems we are trying to address.  We’re examining our current digital health hub in Nairobi (nearly 40 talented digital health innovators, all Kenyans, helping to develop solutions for PSI network members globally) for replicability and further scalability.  We are examining how our various corporate registrations around the world could offer different means of diffusing power across the network. 

For best performance of our global network, we are examining Who should do What, Where. 

We’re going to take the next few months to conduct this exploration in earnest and make some decisions early next year.

Diffusing power, shifting decision-making, dispersing authorities – these are all good approaches to flatten hierarchies and ensure our organization is truly responding to the needs of our consumers without bias or bloat.  But I’m always mindful of the connective tissue that needs to keep working for the enterprise and the network as a whole, to find its optimum impact.  I see my unwritten title and main responsibility as this: Chief Connections Officer.

We came across one data point that seems to indicate we are moving in the right direction on the localization and power-shifting front.  PSI is excited to have joined Climate Accountability for Development, a grouping of like-minded international NGOs looking to measure, track and reduce our carbon footprint globally.  As our first level setting exercise, we’ve looked at carbon usage associated with international travel, building costs, and vehicle fleets across our central Global Services office in Washington and our ten largest country operations, comparing 2019, 2020 and 2021 data.  We’re aiming toward a 30% reduction across our operations by 2030.

Our international travel carbon impact is lower than we expected, even after accounting for the pandemic effects.  Why?  The “fly in” development mentality applies less and less to our work, as more expertise, leadership and decision-making already resides at country level for us.  There is less a need for travel from far-away Washington.

Localization can help with carbon reduction for this international NGO, in addition to keeping us responsive to our consumers’ and stakeholder’s needs.  A nice synergy.

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