‘Becoming a System Transformation Leader’: My Basecamp Journey

by Nigar Izmayilova

November 24, 2021

My story in public health began at the moment when I heard the news that our president had signed the bill of “healthcare system transformation” and created an agency that would be leading Azerbaijan through these reforms. I remember immediately deciding to join the team of this newly created agency no matter what. Back then I was already working closely with the autism center, both studying autism and advocating for the kids with ASD. Being in healthcare system for quite a while I could see the gaps, which sometimes needed minor changes, but were mostly in a need of substantial shift. So, I got the job and very soon after, my friend shared this amazing opportunity of Basecamp with me. I believed that the program would equip me with the necessary tools to guide the team of fresh minds that would smoothly lead the country through healthcare system transformation. Our focus point, for now, is primary healthcare, as we believe that health starts at the very basics, and the new concept is to prevent, rather than to treat.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I think that the very first “mind opening” moment at Basecamp for Health System Transformation was the whole concept of diagnosing. We were so sure that we knew our problems and thus, so concentrated on finding solutions, that we were blind to see opportunities and even just the positive sides. I wouldn’t lie saying that it was hard in the beginning, I constantly needed to pull myself back from the solutions to the diagnosing. However, it was so worth it. Together with the team of international experts we were able to draw a scheme of not only the limitations of the system, but also advantages. For example, we could now see how doctors and even the hospital managers were willing to support us, their passion for learning new systems, new ways of treatment, creating new protocols was very encouraging, even inspiring. It became obvious that human recourses were one of the biggest and most important pros that we had. We just needed to use them wisely.

One of the biggest challenges for me personally was the stubbornness of the management team of our agency. They were supposed to be the new generation leaders, and have all the features that this term holds, but in reality, we ended up with having new strategy from the government with the same old minds in lead. Several times I was so close to giving up and leaving, but thanks to Basecamp team of coaches and all my student mates, each time I found a reason and inspiration to stay and continue.

During one of the one-to-one calls with Anna, she told me about the so-called “appreciation” tool. So, the secret is to express admiration, appreciate the merits and years of hard-work and experience and only then to start talking about transformation. No need to mention my surprise when it actually worked. For the first time, I had the full attention of the top management team. This is just one quick example and one tool, and I’m now equipped with so many of them.

Another very big advantage of Basecamp is concentration of so many minds from different parts of the world, different systems. These 9 months showed me that we all were more alike than different. Experts from Africa, Asia and Europe were all talking about pretty much the same problems that they faced, the same obstacles, but they all had different approaches due to different cultures, ways of thinking, experiences etc. That’s where the real studying process started for me. When you want to change the system, you simply must step out of it. And that’s exactly what Basecamp did for me, it helped me to step away and to look on my country from another angle. I remember this wonderful session with Marna when she talked about “resistance indicators”. Gossiping being one of them was so shocking for me. Another eye-opening session. Only then I realized how resistant I was myself. Carrying this discovery to my team had a big impact on us. We are now working on changing our habits, on speaking out when it is needed rather than then gossiping behind. I’m seeing positive changes happening in our collective.

There is one more strong point I’m carrying out from Basecamp experience I would like to mention. I realized that sometimes when you can’t change the whole system, and you know in advance that your views and proposals won’t be accepted by the government or any other leading authority, find out the reasons why your ideas will be denied. It is crucial to make this diagnose. This is the way to find the alternatives and to maybe start with something small but effective, something that you are sure will be accepted. Russians have a famous proverb: “Moscow was not built in one day”, that’s exactly what it is.

And last, but not least, working on a project in a team was another amazing opportunity for learning and sharing experiences. Even though we were working on a project of another country, diagnosing the system of Algeria, discussing what we have found out, listening to each other’s comments, questions, points of view were a big help for then to do the same kind of research for my own inquiry. I now have a piece of each of my teammates installed in me.

I’m sure that this only the beginning of my way to becoming a system transformation leader.

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by Nigar Izmayilova

Nigar Izmayilova is a School of System Change alum.

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