Alumni Q&A: Dr Stephen Nurse-Findlay

Alumni: Dr. Stephen Nurse-Findlay
Graduated: 2008
Role: Technical Officer, Human Reproduction at the World Health Organization


Dr Stephen Nurse-Findlay is currently Technical Officer for the Human Reproduction unit within the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO. In this position he supports policy work in STI prevention, Family planning and Infertility and serves as the team’s communications focal point.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Nurse-Findlay is a licensed pediatrician who completed undergraduate degrees in biology and Chemistry at Tuskegee University in the USA. He then completed medical school and graduate studies in public health policy and management at Johns Hopkins university and an IO-MBA at the University of Geneva after completing his clinical training in pediatrics at Crozer-Chester medical center and the Children’s hospital of Philadelphia.

When not working you can find him on his skis, in a museum, on his bike or on the salsa/merengue/kizomba dance floor. 


What was the best advice you received while in the IO-MBA program?

International development is only successful if one focuses on solving problems, not importing solutions.

In order to solve the complex problems we face we must ask the right questions to the right people, in the place where action is needed at the right time to better understand how the  issue in question, affects lives in their environment.

Your role is to ask the right questions that facilitate the sharing of  resources at your disposal to assist the ongoing effort of the dedicated people working their asses off to address these issues at the level where lives are directly affected.

Your role is NOT to import some unilateral “solution” (or “tool” or “best practice”) developed in isolation around some European conference room that has no bearing or relevance to the work already being done by people behind the issue in question.

You have to choose what kind of development professional you will be.

If you choose to focus on asking better questions, it will be tougher for you, but you WILL make a difference, however small and however long it takes, that will affect someone’s life.

If you choose to focus on delivering “solutions” it will be easier as you will simply reflect the arrogance and hubris that has plagued international development for the past 50 years.

“Choose wisely”

-Sean Connery: Indiana Jones and the last Crusade

What is the greatest skill you learned while in the IO-MBA?

Translating medical expertise and public health knowledge to people who are conversant in neither, but fundamentally affect both

In three words, how would you describe your journey from IO-MBA to where you are now?

Fun! Risky. Fulfilling.

What advice would you give current students looking to follow a similar career path to yours

All international organisations (Yes, ALL of them 🙂 ) make massive investments in reinforcing  existing policies, programmes or projects, often with minimal effort to evaluate whether these policies, programmes or projects actually affect function or performance in people’s lives.

It’s very important to search out a space that welcomes (your) new questions- even if those new questions upset the established status quo- and I encourage exploring these questions to see how function or performance can be improved.

This is a very difficult thing to do in this industry, especially in a small, highly desirable and very insular town like Geneva…

Once you are here, lots of people want to stay, and reputations get around quickly, so sometimes it pays not to “rock the boat.”

And of course this makes you part of the problem…

So to avoid this, you have to be creative and resourceful…

Maybe you have to learn how to ask your new question in a way that does not threaten existing policies, programmes or projects- Smiling a lot helps….

You might have to break your question into smaller chunks that can be swallowed by people who like the status quo…

Maybe you have to find someone with enough power who will listen to you, and show you another way…

Sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut, and play your position for a while because the environment  is too hostile or the timing is not right for your questions…

Perhaps your questions are just wrong- You need to be open to insight from more experienced,  country level colleagues (or both) to really understand the situation.

BUT you MUST continue to fight to ask these questions and fight to move things forward- this is why you chose this job.

The fight is totally worth it because when you ask the right question at the right time to the right person, even a small improvement in performance can improve people’s lives tremendously.

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