5 Questions with Hervé Afanda Messi

Our monthly check-in with staff from around the world. Learn more about the people who work at CHAI.Head shot of Hervé Afanda Messi, Regional HR Partner, West Africa

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

I am originally from Cameroon where I studied psychology, human resources, and communication. I started my career in human resources at UNICEF Cameroon as an assistant, then progressively transitioned to mid-level HR roles in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire where I supported countries across Africa including Senegal, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia among others.

CHAI had been on my radar since 2010 while I was living in Cameroon; I had a friend working for CHAI at the time, and I was aware of the support they were providing to African governments, especially on preventing the spread of infectious diseases. After receiving a positive review of CHAI from my friend it was an easy decision to make.

1. What does a typical day at CHAI look like for you?

I have been working largely from home since March 2020 although I try to work from the office at least once or twice a week. A typical day involves providing requested assistance to staff and leaders of the West and Central African countries that I am supporting. This includes replying to urgent HR requests from managers and country directors through e-mails or calls, having meetings with my Global HR colleagues on HR-related issues where we discuss topics such as manager and employee support, performance management, employee relations, labor law compliance, and recruitment. I provide guidance and – best course of action – on our policies and procedures to country directors who know I am just a phone call or a text message away.

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

One of the most challenging and one of the best parts of my job is building and maintaining relationships with the teams and individuals I am supporting in a virtual capacity.

CHAI is a matrix organization where global and country teams work in partnership. To be effective as a global HR Partner requires making yourself visible; by which I mean ensuring internal stakeholders know you are available to them as a resource and personally building relationships with those I support. I do this by being reachable, delivering on projects I’ve promised, and going the extra mile to make sure teams trust me as their partner. Ultimately, I want my peers to know I am there to assist and provide informed guidance.

3. Having worked in human resources at several international NGOs before CHAI, why did you want to work with CHAI and what do you feel CHAI HR does differently?

There are a few reasons why I wanted to work with CHAI. At the beginning of my career, I had an offer to work on the programmatic side at CHAI but, ultimately, I chose to accept a more HR-focused position with UNICEF in Cameroon (It was what I studied after all!). Since 2011, I have been working in international NGOs based in Cameroon, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and now CHAI as a Global HR partner in Nigeria. Throughout these years, I’ve learned NGOs tend to take a unique approach to HR management. This experience outside of conventional and more bureaucratic companies has helped me grow as a professional. I’m particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to work in multicultural, and multinational, environments and with organizations that take innovative approaches to HR management.

My experience in this international NGO space led me to my Global HR partner role at CHAI, which, given it was where I almost started my career, felt like a full-circle moment. When I was applying to CHAI, I was already aware of the impact CHAI was making on health access in Africa and especially in Cameroon. One of the exciting things I’ve learned on CHAI’s HR team is that the impact of the work is tangible even from my viewpoint in HR, from an office desk, and outside of a programmatic position in the field.

During the past 2 years and 10 months on the CHAI Global HR team, I have noted how CHAI is protective of its values and how HR fully participates in promoting and implementing them. I have come to appreciate the flexibility that CHAI offers in our procedures. I have worked with organizations where procedures were so important they seem to forget the human component of HR. At CHAI, I’ve found my function as an HR partner puts the individual staff members at the center of all conversations around development. It is not just about hitting our targets but supporting staff to ensure they can be creative and take risks that are aligned with our values.

4. Who is someone you admire, and why?

My mother. I admire her because of the choices that she’s made for herself as an individual, but also as a mother. She was a housewife, which is a lot of work on its own, but she also decided to go back to college to finish her degree. She then had a successful career while taking care of my sisters and my brother. She is loving, devoted, and kind. She always sees the good in people, which contrasts with my more skeptical mind, I must admit. She is in her 70s today, but she has never lost that faith in other people even when she’s been hurt.

5. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Probably ziplining, which is probably the worst idea for someone who is acrophobic. I did a series of aerial ziplines within and above the forest canopy in Mahé Island, Seychelles. It was a scary but fun experience, and I will probably do it again if I get the opportunity. I boldly challenged my fear of heights which has mostly since left. The fear kicks in from time to time but it is no longer as bad as it used to be.

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