July 14, 2022

5 Questions with Caroline Soyars

Our monthly check-in with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.

Please tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to CHAI. 

My name is Caroline Soyars, and I am a Senior Technical Associate for the Essential Medicines team based in Metro Detroit. I am a biomedical engineer by training. Before CHAI I held roles within academia and nonprofit organizations focused on global health design education and medical device innovation. I found my way to CHAI after meeting Martha Gartley, a Senior Technical Advisor for the Essential Medicines team in early 2021 during a World Health Organization (WHO) consultancy project focused on evaluating and disseminating information about promising health innovations for COVID-19. I was excited to come to CHAI because I was looking for opportunities to apply my analytical and research skills to real-time needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the Essential Medicine team’s track record in oxygen, coupled with CHAI’s approach to solving global health challenges in partnership with government, I was confident that I would be able to make an impact as an engineer at CHAI.

1. What has been one of your proudest moments working at CHAI?

In 2021, CHAI and Unitaid signed agreements with medical oxygen suppliers, Air Liquide, and Linde to help increase access to medical oxygen in low- and middle-income countries. So, one of the core areas of our team’s work is to realize and catalyze that agreement to increase access to liquid oxygen (LOX) in countries with limited resources. My role in our liquid work is to support system planning at health facilities that have been identified as a good fit for the cost-effective use of LOX. System planning activities include but are not limited to demand planning, procurement of medical gas pipeline systems to deliver oxygen safely and efficiently to the patient, determining system configuration to comply with the operational and technical requirements of the LOX supplier, and completion of infrastructure works, namely the construction of a reinforced concrete slab to withstand loading of bulk LOX tanks than can be more than 25 tons. After acquiring experience in these topics while supporting projects in Zambia and Lesotho, it became apparent that successful LOX projects require coordinated project management. Since we are in the early stages of implementing LOX projects in other geographies, I took the lead in developing a generic LOX project management framework. Alongside my Zambia and Lesotho colleagues, I had the opportunity to showcase this LOX project management along with some associated tools in a presentation to the broader Essential Medicines team.  I was proud of the resources we were able to put together in a short period of time, and they have proven useful for other country teams.

2. What is the most challenging part of your job?

Balancing priorities. Since our oxygen portfolio has grown to over 25+ countries with approximately US$17 million for oxygen therapy-related equipment and infrastructure procurements, there is never a shortage of tasks that require my attention. While this gives me the opportunity to engage across a diverse suite of projects, and to meet so many fantastic individuals across country teams, it can be challenging to manage competing demands and priorities and strike a healthy work-life balance while at it.

3. What is your favorite thing about your career?

My favorite thing about my career is how dynamic it has been. Traditionally, a career is defined as “climbing a ladder,” but in the last six years since graduating, I have had the opportunity to work in multiple global health-related positions across academic, engineering, and public health organizations. Because global health is a non-traditional path for engineers, I believe that my engineering background has given me unique opportunities to make an impact within this sector that I would not have had otherwise. I thrive in environments where I can continually learn and apply my analytical skills to a wide range of problems while meeting and learning from so many bright, kind, and compassionate individuals from around the world along the way.

4. What is your favorite quote of all time and why?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky. I am a huge sports fan, especially of my alma mater, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Go Blue!), so I oftentimes draw inspiration from athletes. This is my favorite quote because it reminds me to be bold and take chances when the opportunity arises.

5. If you were stranded on a deserted island, and could only bring three things with you, what would they be and why?

I would bring my “3Ms” – My new fiancé Manik, my cat Mina, and heck, a sneaky margarita. These people, pets, and things bring me the most joy on good and bad days.

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