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Introducing 'Featured Experts': Interview with Maggie Burke

We are excited to announce a new blog series at IBI, 'Featured Experts'! This series will highlight our team members worldwide, from our headquarters to our field offices, and all of the good work they are doing to advance IBI’s mission of improving people’s lives. For our first-ever interview as part of IBI Voices, we sat down for a chat with Maggie Burke, IBI’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, a lifelong development professional and strategic planning expert.

Question: Maggie, thank you for chatting with us today. Let’s jump right in with our first question. What motivated your decision to join IBI?

Maggie: I was drawn to IBI because I recognized that IBI’s work focused on creating long-term, sustainable transformation in exceptionally challenging situations. Coming from a humanitarian background, I had a great deal of experience focusing on short-term, high-impact assistance—but humanitarian assistance has its limits. Eventually, the time comes when a nation is truly in need of transitional assistance that will help it progress from developing to developed. This type of work is extremely difficult, and it could be years before positive outcomes are truly felt on the ground; but it’s so important to maintain that long-term objective in sight. I reached a point in my career where I knew that long-term assistance with the ultimate goal of stakeholder ownership was what I wanted to work on, and received an offer from IBI shortly afterwards. It was perfect timing!

Q: Speaking of long-term, difficult work, let’s take a moment to discuss the 2014 Ebola outbreak. IBI remained in Liberia, supporting USAID and continuing our technical assistance throughout the entire epidemic. Can you tell us about your experience as one of IBI’s key leadership team members assisting the field staff during this time?

Maggie: Sure. Just 11 years after the end of a brutal civil war, Liberia had made tremendous progress. To get hit with Ebola when they did was nothing short of disastrous—a major setback. Yet, even though they got hit the worst they recovered from it the fastest. There are a number of reasons why. One main reason—and one that is especially relevant to our work—is that the appropriate government ministries and agencies were truly able to collaborate effectively and execute a uniform strategy for combatting Ebola. There was a time in Liberia where meaningful collaboration across the various departments of the central government was far from the norm, but the progress they have made over the last 10 years put them in a much better position to handle the epidemic. IBI is proud to have supported their ability to harmonize efforts through its implementation of USAID’s GEMS and GEMAP projects.

In terms of what we did for our project staff, we made it clear that safety was our first priority. I flew out and conducted trainings on infection prevention education, which every single staff member—from our drivers to our lead consultants—participated in. IBI also provided staff with supplies like thermometers and gloves, and made sure they were thoroughly prepared and educated on infection prevention. We made it a goal to ensure that no one from our office contracted Ebola and we met that goal by 100%.

Our second priority was continuing our projects. We knew that the Government of Liberia needed our assistance then more than ever; and having been in Liberia for nearly 10 years, we were in a prime position to support their efforts. Our staff developed asset management systems for donated supplies and generators, ICT communication strategies to increase public awareness and outreach, and contributed to the government’s “Post Ebola Stabilization and Recovery Plan”. I think we illustrated that flexible and practical donor support is paramount. During a situation like Ebola, you have to be able to address emerging needs, while advancing a project’s original objectives. That’s what effective assistance looks like and that’s what IBI was able to provide.

Q: Wow! Thank you for your insight and the important work you have contributed to. Speaking of your work in Liberia, you are now working on a technical assignment and putting your new degree to good work. Would you like to tell us a bit more about that?

Maggie: Yes. I am very excited to be back in Liberia, and even more excited about my technical assignment with the Justice Administration and Management Support (JAMS) project! I recently received an MA in Leading Innovation and Change with a focus on Leadership and Strategic Planning. This was an ideal degree for my professional development, and it truly enabled me to engage the knowledge I gained through my career in development, while equipping me with new innovative strategic planning methodologies. During my assignment, I am supporting Liberia’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as they finalize their five-year Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 and enhance efforts to improve their performance. The long-term goal of this project is sustainability; right now, IBI is supporting the MOJ to develop this plan. However, our ultimate aim is for the Ministry to be self-sufficient. That’s how we will know that we’ve actually accomplished our mission. This is a pivotal time for the Ministry, as the Presidential Election is in two years and a new Minister will be appointed shortly after. The steps we are taking now will ensure that the MOJ continues moving forward for years to come. Needless to say, I feel very fortunate to be a part of this endeavor and I’m committed to helping the Ministry create a foundation for long-lasting results.

Q: Awesome! Well, good luck on your assignment and thank you again for taking the time to chat with me today. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Maggie: You’re very welcome. For all those working to create positive change, I just want to remind you that the world doesn’t change overnight. Every day we are making a difference, even though the results may take time.

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