Read the transcript of our podcast interview with Bahman Shahi.
The start of your journey at Acasus was a bit irregular in the sense that you were not joining an up and running operation or team, but you actually had to build up and manage the "introduction" of Acasus in the country. What is truly amazing is that you have been working in Afghanistan alone for almost a year at the very start of our work in the country. Could you tell us a little bit about how was it for you?
While I was the only person on the ground, I have had full support from my colleagues at Acasus. Whenever I needed them, they were available. I never felt alone.
Though challenging when I first started working with the government officials at national and provincial levels, they were very supportive after 6 months. We were able to launch our program in all the five pilot phase provinces and start seeing impact within 6 months. I had only 3 days leave in the past year. I had to be available always since I was the only person on the ground.
Now that you work with an expanded team of four, how is it? Do you find the work easier now that you have people with whom you can share the responsibility?
Owing to the success of phase 1, we are now expanding to 12 more provinces covering a total of 17 provinces and 70% of the population in Afghanistan in phase 2. We have more work and more challenges to solve now.
I delegate the task to the new team members as they are onboarding. They are fast learners and passionate about their work. They remind me of myself when I first joined Acasus. Though it has been a month, our new team members joined, they are contributing a lot in our scale-up. I am grateful for having such a wonderful team of committed people.
Now let’s talk a bit about work trips in the country. I think it would be exciting to see with whom do you travel, what do you need to check on the field, what are the most frequent malfunctions happening on the field?
I often travel alone to the provinces. There, I meet with the managers and provincial health directors to review the existing challenges and consult them on fixing the existing problems.
I also visit health facilities along with the managers to supervise the performance of the vaccinators against the key indicators (i.e. fixed sessions, outreach sessions, stock availability, etc.). We make sure the clients who visit the Health Facilities are treated well and vaccines and vaccinators are available in the health centers.
We also check if vaccinators are visiting communities who are not able to come to the health facility due to the long distance from the health facility. Communities who fall beyond the 5 km radius of the health facility should be covered through the outreach sessions.
Because you mentioned how we are expanding to 12 more provinces, are there significant differences between provinces?
Yes, Afghanistan is a diverse country with different languages and ethnic groups and a population of around 35 million people. Security, geography (mountainous and hard terrains in the North vs flat and deserts in the South), and climate (cold in the Central and North while warm in the East). These three issues affect service delivery during different seasons. We always take into account these issues in our planning and implementation.
What do you consider as a specific challenge working in Afghanistan vs other countries?
Most of the basic needs in a working environment (i.e. electricity, internet, transportation, security, etc.) are a luxury in Afghanistan. It is hard to have a stable internet connection or 24/7 electricity, or available safe transport to all provinces. The factors which we don’t have control over are far more apparent in Afghanistan.
Does the fact that there are war zones currently in Afghanistan have any effect on your everyday job?
Yes, whenever I travel to provinces outside of Kabul, especially the ones with no flights, I am taking a risk. I have traveled to these provinces at my own risk. Acasus never asked me to travel to a province where I did not want to travel.
Working in Afghanistan comes with these risks, and I am not alone. Millions of people live under the same working conditions.
Having such a diverse background working in different kinds of national/international organizations what do you think are the main differences between working in the private vs. public sector?
Working at Acasus has pushed me beyond my limits to achieve my goals. It is a highly demanding and highly rewarding job at the same time. To succeed at Acasus, one must walk that extra mile.
Everyone I know at Acasus is ambitious and super achieving. The standards are set high and quality work is the norm. Acasus employees are self-reliant and highly skilled. This work culture pushes new employees to work hard.
There is a lot of room for growth and innovation for employees at Acasus. I enjoy the horizontal leadership and work culture. Line managers are supportive and encourage critical thinking and innovative problem-solving.
What do you consider an extra skill that serves as an advantage to get into Acasus?
We do a lot of problem-solving in our day to day activities at Acasus. Being a debater helped me build that attitude throughout my college years which I believe also helped me getting into Acasus.
Having the right attitude is crucial for getting into Acasus. One must be willing to be pushed out of their comfort zones. One must have a passion to solve problems and embark on challenges.
What do you love most about working at Acasus?
My line manager is very supportive of me, and I have learned a lot from him. He has been patient with me as I developed my skills throughout the year.
When I joined Acasus, he would revise more than 4-5 times each PPT which I developed for our clients. He helped me think differently and supported me to get the skills which I needed to do my job well.
What is your most beloved memory of the past one year?
When we first started, we were doubted that such an advanced system will not work in a country like Afghanistan where there is poor security, limited electricity, and poor internet connection. The same people are now very excited about this program. They are now the champion of this approach and advocating that the rest of the country should also use the same system.
That I think shows how much we can achieve with dedication and by giving in all that we have, to work for a purpose bigger than just ourselves.
Tune in to the original podcast here.