By Carolyn Hart on October 15th, 2018

Dear fellow IAPHL members, what a treat to be asked by our esteemed community director, Liz Igharo, if I’d kick off a new blog series she has planned! Liz will invite a guest blogger once a quarter – so if you’re interested, I am certain she would love to hear from you. When Liz asked me, she suggested a few great topics…from finding and working with “true consumption data” … to trying to create supply chain integration while managing multiple donors … to measuring supply chain effectiveness … and others. Any one of those would be great, and I know I’d love to read about each one when others take up the blogger’s pen. But what I want to write about in this inaugural blogpost is this community itself. IAPHL.

For more than a decade I’ve watched IAPHL grow and grow … and grow. We’re now approaching 6,000 members spanning the globe. Why do people join this community? What do we get out of membership? What do we bring to it? And where are we headed? I’m fascinated by global communities of practice for public health topics – and by online communities generally – and also by the potential of social media to improve our work (our working environment, our work practices, and our outcomes). So, with that set of questions in my mind, I offer the Five Most Important Things IAPHL Provides to Members from my own experience. Let me know if you have more to add, if these ring true, or not!

IAPHL provides:

1. Community: A place of support and camaraderie
I experience IAPHL as a community, first and foremost – a group bound by common interests, passionate about similar things, and shaped by the daily realities of our collective mission: to ensure the availability of public health products wherever and whenever they are needed. And as a community, we are shaping the domain of public health supply chain management, a specialty that didn’t even used to exist! It’s so nice to be in a group that “gets” you. I also really enjoy witnessing the concern and respect with which IAPHLers treat each other.
2. Growth: A place to develop as a professional
I also experience IAPHL as a place to grow professionally. None of us has enough time or money to attend every course in public health, management, leadership, or logistics that we’d like to attend, but the moderated discussions and the back-and-forth IAPHL threads offer opportunities to develop competencies (or at least, let’s say, our awareness and knowledge) at no cost! What have you learned more about through IAPHL? My list includes GIS, racking, and drones – not to mention pest control and working with policymakers!
3. Answers: A place to engage in problem solving and peer learning
One of the greatest things IAPHL provides is a platform for asking questions, and getting answers from your peers. Whether the response is commiseration about a shared problem or an actual answer, whatever you hear back is typically a ground-truthed response – not a sales pitch nor a wildly costly “blue sky” solution nor an academic treatise. Some members and funders would like IAPHL to do more vetting or endorsing of the “hivemind” or crowd-sourced answers people provide in IAPHL discussions, and I know Liz and others are looking into how we can do that better, how we can endorse accurate answers and support best practices. Stay tuned, or better yet, offer your thoughts on that, please! Also, please watch for a new quarterly series of recommended readings – hoping those will provide answers to questions you didn’t even know you had!
4. New perspectives: A place to ponder how others do things
IAPHL members come from over 140 countries and from every aspect of the fields of supply chain management and public health. New perspectives abound. For example, I remember marveling at the ingenuity and variety of some of the bar coding cases shared in that thread several months ago.
5. Personal development: A place where it’s ok to be who you are, or to try out new personas
An online community like IAPHL is a very good place to test your communication skills. Are you an introvert (like me)? On IAPHL you can participate without being too uncomfortable. Are you shy, but confident in your skills? IAPHL is the perfect place to speak up and share what you know! Is your workplace formal and hierarchical, so that you feel questions are discouraged? Every voice is heard on IAPHL and I’ve yet to see a silly question.

So, what do you think? Are these also valuable aspects of IAPHL to you? Do you consider IAPHL your community of practice? How can it improve? I hope you enjoy this community as much as I do, and if you do (or maybe even more importantly, if you don’t!) I hope you’ll share your perspectives.

IAPHL Blog Series: The Top Five Reasons to Love IAPHL