5 Questions with Michael Tekle Palm

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.

I have an MSc in Economics. While studying, I was particularly interested in courses on health economics and development economics. My first job out of university was at the regional government agency acting as the “single-payer” for health care in my home region of Stockholm, Sweden. Working there confirmed my interest in health care policy and health economics. After four rewarding years, the itch to apply myself and my experience in a low-to-middle income country setting became too strong.

I reached out to my cousin in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where my mother has roots, and the first organization she recommended for me was with CHAI. Luckily, the Ethiopia office was hiring for their health financing team at that time. I had a colleague in Sweden with international experience in public health who was acquainted with CHAI and when I asked him for his advice he said without hesitation, “Go for it”. When I applied, I felt that the types of challenges CHAI works on and its approach to solving these challenges was a perfect match to what I was looking for. After three years I’m happy to say that my experience has been what I had hoped for and more.

1. What’s the best thing about your job?

To have the privilege of working together with ministries on long-term systems strengthening is something I can always feel proud of. But what keeps me happy in the day-to-day is the steady stream of new challenges we’re faced with, and the fantastic team mates I get to work on solutions with. Two days are rarely the same, which makes every day interesting, and the variability of assignments we take on means that we always get chances to keep learning. I also greatly appreciate the fact that we regularly get out of the office to work with local government offices and health facilities around the country – these engagements are both humbling and educational.

2. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Balancing the urge to push our government partners ahead, with the need to adhere to the pace and order of the government system, is something I’m always challenged by. On the one hand, at CHAI we are ambitious and aim for transformational change, while we are on the other hand determined to achieve lasting impact. A government system is a complex creature anywhere in the world and especially so in a country as large and diverse as Ethiopia. Achieving transformational and sustainable change requires effort, but to be successful our solutions must also fit into the existing overall government machinery and should empower governments for the long term through institutionalized capabilities. But the upside is that the potential impact is huge, which makes it easy to stay motivated!

3. What’s been one of your proudest moments working at CHAI?

The first moment that comes to mind is actually not of a specific project I’ve been involved with – not that there isn’t lots we’ve done that I’m proud of – but rather it’s a memory from when we had an internal Health Financing summit where our different country teams got to meet face-to-face for a few days. This was before anyone had heard of Covid-19 mind you! At the time I was approaching one year on the job and was just beginning to feel like I was getting to grips with the country context and the support we were giving. Then I met my colleagues from around the globe and heard them present their work. I was blown away by the wealth of competence within the organization, the breadth of challenges that CHAI helps tackle, and the sophistication of solutions employed. The experience was very inspirational and gave me great pride to be working at CHAI.

4. What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I love to play football (soccer). Shortly after joining the Ethiopia office, my colleague Leulseged invited me to come to play with his team on Saturday mornings. I took some convincing (kick-off is at 7 am) but eventually, I overcame the snooze button and it’s been one of the highlights of my week ever since.

5. What advice would you give someone who’s considering joining CHAI?

If you feel the drive to strengthen low- and middle-income country health systems and your personality aligns with the CHAI approach – to act with urgency, flexibility, humility, and creativity – then you won’t find many better places to work. You’ll be intellectually challenged, invited to help solve high-impact problems, while surrounded by great people.

CHAI is looking for dynamic and self-motivated individuals who are committed to strengthening integrated health systems around the world and expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other illnesses. Join our team.