International Non-Governmental Organizations

Building Collaboration to Prepare and Respond to Pandemics


Rein SkullerudUSAID created an initiative to help developing countries to better respond to a human pandemic. They funded a group of NGOs and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to create tools and processes to help countries prepare or respond to a public health emergency. In order to help disseminate the information, they planned three regional conferences with representatives from NGOs, National Societies and governments. The 3-day conferences were designed for participants from 7-10 countries in each region to hear experts from WHO, AED, and others to share their work.

Regional conferences were held in northern and southern Africa (Ethiopia and South Africa) and in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). Each conference had roughly 100 participants representing local NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent and military and government representatives from various individual countries.

About 12-15 speakers were to present at each conference. Speakers included medical and public health experts from WHO and other organizations. Participants represented a wide range of backgrounds and expertise in pandemic response. Participants also came from countries with very different capabilities and histories of public health efforts. With 7-10 countries and 100 participants at each conference, there was a tremendous range of needs to be served if the conferences were to be successful.


Sharon and Rick designed and facilitated the conferences to emphasize a variety of ways to support participants in getting what they and their countries needed from the meeting. Participants were seated in country groups or teams. This supported conversation across NGOs, National Societies and others that do not regularly engage with each other as well as helping with language differences. Second, we designed a variety of ways for the participants in these groups to develop questions for presenters and get those out into plenary sessions. Finally, we devoted a good part of each conference to multiple rounds of concurrent, small group sessions where participants could select which sessions to attend and presenters could engage more specifically with particular issues. In the third conference (Vietnam), we took this one step further by asking participants to suggest sessions they would want to host to share information or discuss ideas arising from their experience with SARS and avian influenza outbreaks.