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on a positive impact

Trust Talks with: Ylse van der Schoot, Executive Director of North Star Alliance

The Trust had the opportunity to catch up with Ylse van der Schoot, the Executive Director of North Star Alliance, one of the Trust’s flagship partners. We talked about what her first year as Executive Director has been like, as well as North Star Alliance’s new Strategic Outlook and what it means for their work moving forward.

How would you describe your first year as Executive Director?

I would say that it has been a big learning experience. I spent my time really getting to know the organization, my colleagues, the partners, and of course the challenges that face mobile populations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. While I am based in our head office in the Netherlands, in my first year, I’ve visited 11 clinics in several different countries and our two regional offices. So the first year has been a lot of meeting new people, getting to know what works, what doesn’t work, and what are the challenges. All the new information I’ve received is serving to shape the kind of organization we want to have in the future. 

Since beginning your role as Executive Director, what has surprised you the most about the North Star Alliance team?

What stands out is very much the commitment of the people. The staff work extremely hard in difficult circumstances, especially the people working in the clinics since they are not always in the safest places in the world. Plus, they are usually working at odd hours to accommodate our target groups of mobile populations. I would say their commitment and their drive to really help the target groups and deliver something useful to them is outstanding. There’s a lot happening with a limited number of staff who are serving a lot of people, so the resilience in dealing with the challenges is amazing.

Can you explain what the objectives are in the new Strategic Outlook? And why are they important to the organization’s vision, mission, and values?

We have defined five strategic objectives: 1) Increase access to health care; 2) Guarantee the quality of services; 3) Strengthen data management, monitoring, evaluation, and research; 4) Optimizing our funding base; and 5) Enhance governance, leadership, and engagement.

The first three are really about the organization, our clients, and how we want to strengthen our processes. The other two are more internally focused to make sure our organization is ready to scale up. North Star’s vision is very much about access to healthcare for everyone. It’s an ambitious goal and our mission is to contribute to that by providing quality healthcare to mobile workers and the communities they interact with. I would say all our objectives are very much linked to our mission on healthcare and scaling up, to reach more people with more services, but also guaranteeing the quality of those services and making sure they match the needs of our target groups.

How do you think these new objectives will lead to impact on the ground? How will they directly help mobile workers?

The overarching element is that we try to serve mobile workers’ health needs. If you know your clients’ needs, what kind of illnesses they present, what kind of health problems they have, or risks they run because of behavior, etc. you can then adapt your services according to that. This will lead to more clinics, more outreach to bring in more patients per clinic, and making sure that if clients are happy with the services, that they come back more often. Not once a year, but maybe three times a year. Scaling up, combined with high quality healthcare, and making sure we address the needs of our populations, will lead us to the biggest impact.

What are the biggest challenges you are expecting over the next four years as you implement this new Strategic Outlook?

I would say a big challenge for any NGO is sustainability. Securing stable funding and sustainability of your operations is a huge challenge every day. As a result, we apply different funding strategies to make sure we can continue doing our business in the way we planned. But we are also aware that there are many changes and different policies taking place in the donor world that lead to changing priorities within the health sector. A lot of our funders are interested in innovation and scaling up, but at the same time it is just as important to maintain the progress we have made so far. We are constantly thinking about how to make the funding as programmatic, as long-term, and as strategic as possible.

How do you see the relationship between North Star Alliance and the Trust developing?

We have been working together for years on three different levels. The first level is as partners, which provides us with access to the Trust’s team of experts and their wide network of partners. We come together regularly to problem solve and explore innovative approaches to our region’s health challenges. Second, it’s been great receiving support from Secondees who come to North Star from all different parts of the J&J business and diverse parts of the world with different expertise to work on selected assignments for about six months. Our eighth Secondee just recently began her assignment in Nairobi, where she will be providing business development recommendations that lead to more financial stability specifically in our three laboratories in Kenya. And the third level is the three-year funding we receive, which is crucial to our work as an organization and for specific projects focused on topics such as e-health. We look forward to continuing our partnership on all three levels to intensify our collaboration and do even more together in the future.

Follow North Star Alliance’s progress on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vimeo, or on their website.