Questions for Rosaline Hendricks: Part II

This interview is one in a series introducing the people of iHRIS to the global iHRIS community. To nominate someone to be featured, please leave a reply below.

Rosaline Hendricks is the iHRIS Human Resource Information Systems Advisor in Namibia. This interview is the second part in a two-part series.

Interview by Adam Gori

Part II

Rosaline HendricksI'm curious to know why you do this work. What motivates you?

I shared with you that what gets me excited about IT is knowing how much it can optimize a process. It can add so much value at all the levels of an organization if you do it right. What excites me about working for an NGO like IntraHealth is that you're not driven by profit. You're trying to make a difference. Namibia has got a tremendous shortage of health workers. We don't know where our health workers are half of the time because our online workforce data is not accurate, or we don’t have electronic workforce data available. We don't know the skills that our health workers have.

If there were an emergency that required a particular type of skill, you wouldn't know who to contact, because that information is in an HR file somewhere in the registry. For example, a facility wouldn’t know that one of their registered nurses has done emergency obstetrics, and they wouldn’t call her in to consult on a case.

That's the kind of thing that makes me excited about working for IntraHealth and working with iHRIS. I can see the value the system can add to the way a hospital plans to ensure they have the right health worker at the right place at the right time. They can extract a list of specialized skills to be consulted in an emergency situation, or even just in planning their shifts and duty rosters, ensuring they have the correct mix of skills on a shift. They can manage their in-service trainings so that health workers attend the required trainings to keep their skills current. Using the system has the potential to impact directly on healthcare delivery, and that is what keeps me motivated.

I was demonstrating iHRIS to some health workers in a hospital management meeting, and in the course of the demonstration, one of the medical officers mentioned that he had done research in a specific area, and that was the first time that his boss, who was also present at the meeting, had ever heard that. He said, “You never told me that.”

It's exciting to be able to make that kind of information, especially skills and qualifications in a health facility, available to health workers and to management, to know that you can really make a difference by making information available.

What do you hope to achieve through your work?

I'm hoping to achieve a more equitable distribution of health workers in Namibia. The current picture of our health workforce is a bit distorted. It is inflated in some areas, or inaccurate, or it is outdated. We don’t have enough health workers in the rural areas or at the lower-level health facilities, at clinics and health centers, whereas in the cities, often we have too many health workers.

iHRIS, by providing a system as close to the data-capturing source as possible, can increase the accuracy of information at a national level. What I hope to accomplish with iHRIS in Namibia is to provide a national health-workforce registry. A registry will allow us to know how many health workers we have, who is licensed to practice, where they are located, what their skills are and whether those workers are public-sector health workers, FBOs or private-sector workers.

We are still working with information at the individual facility level. But once all our partners have an iHRIS, we can consolidate those different databases. We can even make that information available real-time at the national level. So if they want to search HR information or workforce deployment information, they don't have to look at last quarter's statistics. They can actually look at today's information.

Two of our regions are prone to heavy flooding around February every year. That puts a lot of strain on health workers as there is an influx of injuries and an increased demand for health care. Recently a cholera outbreak demanded additional healthcare workers to address it in a timely manner. Currently it’s difficult to plan adequately or mobilize emergency resources for these types of contingencies because we don’t have accurate and timely regional and national HRH information. If we did, we could make plans at the national level to deploy from areas where they know it’s not going to be so busy. So making the national health workforce information available real-time or as close to real-time as possible is my vision for Namibia.

Why is that important to you? Is there something from your background that makes this type of work part of your make-up?

I grew up in a small town, and have firsthand experience of clinics that only have a few nurses, with traveling doctors and dentists only available certain times of the month. I never saw a specialist until very late in my adult life. Now that I’m working in the city and I have health insurance, health care is very easily accessible. But I know what it looks like in small towns. When I visit our FBO partners based in the rural areas, I still see the queues of my childhood, and that makes we want to help.

I like helping people. I've always liked helping people, and what better way to help than by making sure there's a health worker to treat people when they get to the clinic or the health post or a hospital? I don’t like the spotlight and prefer working behind the scenes to make things happen. Working in IT systems allows me to do that. It is a very powerful tool.

When I was young, I hated giving public speeches, but I was the “head girl,” what you would call the senior class president, so public speaking was required of me. I had to do it, but it was nerve-wracking, and I wouldn't want to do it again. I prefer working behind the scenes.

It's interesting that you put yourself in that role.

I know. I was nominated and didn’t think I would be chosen as head prefect, so I accepted the nomination. I hated being up there giving speeches, but I did enjoy having influence and being able to make a difference, and worked hard with my team of nine prefects. I liked making things happen, making them work. That hasn’t changed. If I commit to something, if I agree to it, I get it done. I’m like a bulldog. Once I get hold of something, I don’t let it go.

I’m extremely hard on myself. I expect perfection from myself, and I know I drive my team very hard, because our output is a team effort and reflects on us as a team. I’m a perfectionist in my work. It just has to work perfectly. Sometimes I’m not the most liked person because of it.

You seem very likeable actually. I can’t imagine you having a whole lot of friction with your co-workers. 

That’s true, I get along very easily with most people, and people find it difficult to say no when I ask them to do something. I think it’s because I’m always willing to help, but also because I work very hard. But I also play very hard. If the mood in the office feels heavy, I’ll be the one trying to lift people’s spirit and bring some excitement into the office. Who can work when you’re not energized, right?

I'm also very persistent. If I feel you don’t understand me, I’ll go think a little bit about it and then come back and rephrase it until I can get you to see the same picture that I can see and agree with me. Sometimes you might convince me otherwise, and we’ll end up with a different picture. I'm open to that, as well, but you need to know your stuff to convince me otherwise because I do my homework thoroughly. I think my easygoing, collaborative way of working does result in less friction, although there are times when I know I can be quite difficult to work with.

You mentioned that you grew up in a rural area. Do you feel that growing up where you did shaped you in regard to your work now?

It definitely shaped me in that I wanted to be able to be financially independent. When I grew up, you either had to become the school principal or the reverend, or you had to become the doctor to earn a good and steady income, and I don’t like blood, so becoming a doctor was out of the question.

Growing up in a rural area made me very ambitious. I mean, for somebody to have been introduced to a computer in the final year of high school and then decide to choose that as a career, in hindsight, shucks, I really thought a lot of myself. Or I was extremely naive.

Coming from a rural area, I understand how you just have to make do with the little you have. When we did the iHRIS rollout for the Ministry, going out to the regional offices in the rural areas and spending time with the people, I felt I was giving back to my community because the biggest impact we can make is in the rural areas, where people struggle. They have so few resources already, but they are expected to provide quality healthcare services.

iHRIS resonates for me because it's open source and therefore free of license fees. You just need to have the willpower and the desire to make it work for you. IT systems can be very expensive, and the infrastructure alone requires a huge investment.

I've been through very expensive system implementations, so I know a bit of the costs of systems implementations. Typically the main questions that we have at the outset of an implementation are: “Will we be able to support this system afterwards? Can we afford it? What are the license fees?” And it brings joy when you tell them, "Listen this is open source, you won't have to pay license fees." And they actually struggle to understand that concept because they're so used to having to pay for IT systems.

That's one of the things I like about iHRIS. It was also my first introduction to an open-source system. Here in Namibia, open-source skills are still quite hard to come by. 

As someone who thinks about systems, what value do you think open-source systems hold for Namibia?

Most of the organizations in Namibia run either customized-off-the-shelf systems or very high-end enterprise resource planning systems. Those systems require annual license fees as well as service-level agreements to guarantee continuous support, and they don’t allow for a lot of customization, or they cost a fortune to customize. This makes IT systems unaffordable for small-to-medium-sized enterprises and civil-society organizations like the FBOs in Namibia.

Lack of systems was one of the recurring challenges that was identified by our CSOs and FBOs when we conducted organizational capacity assessments in the past. This creates a unique opportunity for open-source systems in Namibia. We just still need the entrepreneurs to realize it and run with it.

In addition, the Polytechnic of Namibia has changed all their computer labs to run on open-source and is teaching the LAMP architecture as part of their Software Engineering curriculum, so they definitely see the potential as well.  Given the low after-implementation costs for open-source systems, I think it provides a real opportunity for software to be developed for organizations that do not have the means to spend a lot on IT systems. 

One of the main things that we need to put in place for sustainability is to make sure that we have the skills in-house or at least  in Namibia to be able to maintain the software, especially since our FBO partners do not have IT developers on their staff establishment.  We only have two developers now, and we're adding a third developer to our team. We have visions of becoming the iHRIS support group for the Southern African region.

How do you envision that?

There's a big scope for iHRIS still in Southern Africa. It's a perfect opportunity for Namibia to provide that kind of support and resources. There are a few countries, such as Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, that are in various stages of implementing one or more of the iHRIS products. But there remain fewer than five competent iHRIS developers in Southern Africa.

The region is very reliant on resources from the USA, Uganda or Tanzania. Air travel is costly in Africa.  Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland are within driving distance of each other, no more than two days at most, and Namibia has the most advanced iHRIS skills. So it makes sense for Namibia to capitalize on that and start providing these skills to our neighbors.

Read Part I of Rosaline's interview.