Andriy Klepikov

Executive Director, Alliance for Public Health

LEARNING TO PIVOT: LEADING AN NGO DURING A WAR

Andriy Klepikov (IMPM Cycle 12), Executive Director, Alliance for Public Health


 

Where did you grow up?

In Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. Shaping of my personality overlapped with a number of social and political changes and challenges, and even existential threats. I was 15 years old when Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

I grew up as it happened. It was in 80 kilometers from my home, it was a direct exposure to the risks beyond my control: radiation was invisible, you couldn’t feel it, but it had negative impact on everyone in the city. Even now, 38 years later it is a 30-killometers dead circle zone around Chernobyl, still restricted to access due to high radioactivity. No one had protection, even the catastrophe itself was kept by Communist party leadership in secret to avoid panic. In a week’s time after the explosion, my parents arranged my evacuation to a safer location. I came back to Kyiv in four months – in September 1986. Chernobyl was a key turning point for me: I’ve never trusted Communist party since then.

“Chernobyl was a key turning point for me: I’ve never trusted Communist party since then.”

While growing-up in Kyiv I always enjoyed visiting my grannies in Chernihiv in the north as well as from Poltava region in the center of Ukraine. It was opportunity to discover family stories which were not talked publicly. The stories of my grand-grand farther, the Orthodox priest who was killed by Stalin’s regime – for being a priest. The stories of Holodomor artificially arranged famine in 1933-34, actually a genocide that killed 6 million Ukrainians including some of my relatives. While there is a lot of bitterness in these stories I’m so proud of my roots.

Many people in the world heard about Gorbachev, Perestroika, Glasnosts. It was my daily reality. I’m happy that I was growing up in the time of change: breaking up communist ideology and false believes, shaping my country in my own way. In the recent history Ukraine counts its independence from 1991. It was the time of not only witnessing change, but exactly living though it and actually making it!

I decided to study philosophy, I grew up with my University friends, with my great friends we are still keeping together. Nearly all University textbooks became non-relevant due to ideological lenses, or even censorship. Since that time I value original texts, as well as count on elaborating own judgements and guiding by truly meaningful senses.

What was your first professional role? Your first aspirations?

The early 90s were extremely gloomy times in Ukraine. It is impossible to believe but average salary in that time was 3 USD per month. It is not a mistake: 3 USD per month, not per day or per week. At that time a billionaire and philanthropist George Soros decided to set up “Open Society Foundations” in Ukraine and other countries of Eastern Europe to promote and support democratic changes. My first part time but real work was with one of his programs – “Transformation of Humanitarian Education in Ukraine”.

“It is impossible to believe but average salary in that time was 3 USD per month.”

I had rather supportive role, but it was an opportunity to interact with top bright minds in the country, creating its future through developing new textbooks, changing educational programs, translating the key sources into Ukrainian. I learned a lot from my first job, learned from people, learned process and standards, learned how to select the best among the best, learned how to make and communicate difficult decisions. Important, that with my job I contributed to the program which was really needed in my country, it was really meaningful and inspirational experience. And I made my 20 USD per month!

 How did you become involved with the Alliance for Public Health? How has your role evolved since then to now?

Over several years my role in the Open Society Foundation increased so significantly, I was directly working with Executive director and the Board, and supervised about half of all programs funded by George Soros in Ukraine, the whole spectrum: legal reform, advocacy program, penitentiary reform, Roma program, harm reduction… and many more.

One day an absolutely “marginal” opportunity was brought to my attention by my friend: would you consider to move from this stable and recognized role to something absolutely new and unknown – to start and lead new program in HIV prevention, from scratch.

“HIV-infection sky-rocketed among people who injected drugs. And it was real, it directly impacted tens and hundreds of thousands of lives of Ukrainians.”

While HIV-infection was really a marginal issue for most of the people around me, I knew the problem. HIV-infection sky-rocketed among people who injected drugs. And it was real, it directly impacted tens and hundreds of thousands of lives of Ukrainians. It mattered. And another reason was to try something where I was the main person in charge, being ultimately responsible for everything. Prior to this point I always worked in larger organizations, being part of the team but with no ultimate responsibility.

And I took the challenge.

I successfully passed the job interviews, even had it face to face, flying to London. And got a green light. It was me and my assistant. No team, no office, no equipment. Nothing. Just our drive and commitment. And of course support from our “mother” organization in the UK – International HIV/AIDS Alliance (now Frontline AIDS). Initially we started the first project, a few years later I became a founding director of new organization – Alliance for Public Health.

It was quite a journey. And I’m still here, leading the organization – now one of the largest non-governmental organization in Ukraine, and in the entire region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

 Why are you so passionate about your career path?

I’m with Alliance for Public Health from the very beginning, for over 20 years, and it never gets boring. We always evolved: starting with HIV, we then extended the core scope adding tuberculosis and viral hepatitis. When the pandemic started – we launched COVID-19 programs. Besides public health we are prioritizing community action, human rights and gender. We widened geographical scope of my organization Alliance for Public Health (APH), and in addition to core focus on Ukraine added Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as global dimensions. We set up a subsidiary for offerings consulting around the world, using power of horizontal collaboration. And we became successful. By now we have provided support to over 80 countries around the world. Actually I don’t know any other Ukrainian organization having such global footprint.

I’m proud that in Ukraine we are really making huge impact. Just one example: every 2nd person found HIV-positive was tested and diagnosed within APH programs. It is an enormous role, in most of the countries this is a role of the governmental, while civil society and community organizations play rather a niche role. This is not our case. Working shoulder by shoulder with all partners and government, we took the HIV epidemic in Ukraine under better control.

“Working shoulder by shoulder with all partners and government, we addressed the HIV epidemic in Ukraine head-on.”

Besides the work, APH is a very special place for me for another reason: I met my wife Tanya at APH: we fell in love and got married. It definitely brings a special meaning, and that makes me happy.

In regard to my career path I also would like to acknowledge IMPM’s ongoing role. Besides the IMPM learning during the study which continues to be instrumental and inspirational, the ongoing peer support from my cohort is also very important for me. Since completing the IMPM 15 years ago, our group of Cycle 12 has been in regular contact for all this time. Following the completion of the IMPM we have gathered in person in China, UK, Uganda, Ukraine, Germany, Canada as well as in special Zoom meetings for self-organized additional small IMPM modules, focusing on reflection, personal developments, and emerging issues. This is a unique platform to receive a friendly and supportive, development-oriented friendly advice from a professional group of people who know you and who follow your professional development over time.

One of their development advice for me was to explore engaging in boards, and I joined several since which became an important step in my career. Thus, I moved to the truly global roles, representing civil society from over 100 developing countries as Board member of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the largest donor organization in the area, raising and investing more than US$5 billion a year to fight the deadliest infectious diseases, challenging the injustice that fuels them, and strengthening health systems. Such role gave me an opportunity to interact with top level policy-makers directly passing key messages to Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden.

The circumstances you have had to work in over the past few years in particular have not been easy – can you give a snapshot into the realities of these challenges? Are you able to identify a way in which your IMPM experience has supported you in addressing them?

While I graduated 15 years ago, for me IMPM is not a memory, not the past, but my present, what helps to keep going.  Since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion, my Ukraine-based organization Alliance for Public Health not only sustained operations, but actually increased scope responding to the emerging humanitarian needs.

Through the prism of the IMPM experience, we have successfully navigated unparalleled circumstances, where traditional management doctrines falter, and the compass of value-based leadership guides. My three lessons from leadership in war times are: prioritize agility and responsiveness to needs, exercise delegation and trust building on team’s strengths, find proper balance between safety and risk-taking.

Our daily reality changed significantly: sirens, strikes, evacuations, supporting patients with medications and arranging their new living conditions in safer spaces – in winter without electricity, providing humanitarian aid. We started to do basic primary healthcare in territories that were occupied by Russian army at the start of the invasion and then freed up by Ukrainian Army in autumn of 2022, this is a large territory of 40,000 sq km, the size of the Netherlands or two Israels; we come there with our mobile vans with family doctors and nurses and basic equipment for check-ups and medications. Our teams wear bullet-proof vests and know well what to do in case there are mined territories or strikes. Healthcare needs are emerging in geometric progression and you cannot well predict what comes next. We are now trying to secure funding for a support to Ukraine civilians and veterans blinded by war to teach new living skills, provide the necessary devices. Another major need is for prosthetics – there are over 20,000 Ukrainians in need of prostheses, while the government can secure some 1,000 annually and another private fund – about the same. The UN estimates that over 14 million Ukrainians are still in critical need for essential humanitarian assistance. We are capable and ready to do much more, but we critically lacking funding for this.

“Our daily reality changed significantly: sirens, strikes, evacuations, supporting patients with medications and arranging their new living conditions in safer spaces – in winter without electricity, providing humanitarian aid.”

While dealing with thousands emerging things every day, we found time for reflection and strategizing.  Since the full scale Russian invasion we’ve added humanitarian and crisis response addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. We developed our strategy for the next three years, assuming different scenarios of war and peace.  Being forward looking, we identify our key organizational strength in Ukraine’s re-building.

Alliance for Public Health – To make a donation, visit : https://donate.aph.org.ua/en/

 

 

 

 

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