Most of my time at ICASA has been spent behind our exhibition booth. Before you start to feel sorry for me, however, I need to tell you that I have probably met more people from a wider variety of countries and contexts than most other delegates. It has given me a greater appreciation of the incredible array of individuals and organizations involved in all aspects of the HIV response in Africa. ICASA is providing a unique opportunity for all of these people to come together to share, network, and learn.
To engage with those passing by the booth, I frequently open with asking people where they are from and what they do, to better gauge their interest and tools/products we have which may assist them. This has been fascinating and educational – people are responding to the needs of specific population groups in unique ways. Many of those I have met work at very high levels – people it would be hard to access under different circumstances. Yet, every delegate I have met has been friendly and open (and willing to listen to me trying to convey the breadth of what we do in two sentences).
I also have an enhanced perspective of my own organization, Management Sciences for Health (MSH). Working on a specific project in our regional office in Pretoria, South Africa, I vaguely knew that MSH was working in many countries around the world, but I have now experienced firsthand people from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda, among others, sharing how they have partnered with MSH in their countries or know of our work there. All of the feedback has been positive.
We are having MSH staff attending ICASA work in shifts at our booth, and this has provided opportunities for those of us from different projects and countries to mix together in ways we haven’t before, building relationships that I believe will bear fruit in the future. We don’t have the most prominent booth location, but this has enabled us to enter into deeper and more meaningful conversations with people.
Johanna Theunissen is a Senior Communications Associate with MSH’s Building Local Capacity for Delivery of HIV Services in Southern Africa Project in South Africa