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"My role gives me an opportunity to make a difference in the world"

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Selma Dar Berger is currently Global Project Portfolio Officer based in Paris.

Originally from India, currently the country with the highest burden of TB in the world, Selma Dar Berger has always been motivated to make a difference in the world.

She says: “I am so grateful for my role at The Union. Seeing the direct impact of our work motivates me every day.”

Selma has worked in The Union’s finance department for 11 years, and currently plays a vital role building relationships with partners and donors from the grant proposal phase to final delivery reports.

She says: “It’s one thing for an organisation like The Union to recognise where our activities can have an impact but it’s quite another thing to actually bring that impact to fruition, there are so many changing aspects. My role is to facilitate how our funding relationships stay strong and grow to ensure projects reach their maximum potential.

“I can see the direct impact of our work through changes to policies and programme implementation, which improves case management and treatment on the ground, and in turn, leads to improved health services for those who need it most.”

A large part of Selma’s role is to support The Union’s Centre for Operational Research (COR), which she’s been part of since its inception in 2009.

The COR was established to enhance the operational research (OR) capacity of low and middle-income countries that are overburdened with serious communicable disease epidemics, and growing epidemics of non-communicable diseases.

In these countries, the capacity to prevent, control and treat these diseases is hampered by weak health information systems and a lack of experienced personnel to provide the data needed to improve both policy and practice. The COR aims to promote and advocate OR and to build capacity of public health professionals through its Structured Operational Research Training InItiative courses (SORT IT). The COR also aims to build partnerships with organisations to maximise the benefits of OR and evaluate and track the influence of OR initiatives.

Speaking about the work of the COR, Selma says, “The OR courses and OR projects truly reflect The Union’s vision to provide health solutions for those living in poverty by identifying the health challenges that low and middle-income communities face, and by finding gaps in health service delivery. OR is a key element of The Union’s work that supports this vision.”

The important work Selma does greatly supports technical experts so they can focus on delivering programmes strategically. Amongst other things, Selma is responsible for compliance, risk assessments and due diligence, which are all crucial to the success of the programmes and The Union as a whole.

Selma participates in SORT IT course as part of the COR by travelling to course sites to perform due diligence on how funds are spent and to ensure the best value for donors. Working closely with course administration assistants, Selma coordinates three national SORT IT courses and one regional SORT IT course in Asia, always maintaining contact with partner organisations Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and WHO-TDR.

As a testament to her close collaboration with field staff in the COR and on the ground, she has co-authored 10 scientific papers and assists 12 operational research fellows, located in Asia and Africa, ensuring they have everything they need to conduct their research and meet their annual milestones.

“It’s a great honour to work as part of the COR, and to be a part of the journey building capacity in countries where the impact of that work will  improve the delivery of health services and save lives.”

As well as being part of the successful team that built the COR, which today has trained nearly 700 health professionals and published more than 1,000 scientific papers, during her career, Selma was also successful at closing a significant Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) grant for 32 million Canadian dollars for FIDELIS (Fund for Innovative DOTS Expansion Through Local Initiatives to Stop TB). She plays a crucial role in ensuring funding relationships grow.

“A well-delivered project evaluates as it goes along and adjusts according to that process. This is where a strong relationship with a funder makes or breaks a project.

“From my experience, funders are always open to a dialogue about how to make their money best reach the shared targets. We need to work together, and my approach is to be honest and open and bring ideas to the table.

“My approach I think comes from those I have been lucky enough to work alongside at The Union – particularly Professor Tony Harries who founded the COR.

“Professor Harries has been a big inspiration to me throughout my career. I have been lucky enough to work with him for 10 years and he has taught me about sincerity and passion. His encouragement and trust have helped me grow and appreciate the work I do, which provides me with the passion and motivation to continue.

“Prof Harries also taught me one of the most crucial things I have learned in my career so far - always keep your eye on the bigger picture.”

Selma continues, “The most satisfying part about working for The Union is to know that I am part of this legacy, which began almost 100 years ago, and has made a difference to so many people’s lives all around the world.”

Demonstrating her dedication and passion, Selma also contributes to two personal projects in Malawi for children and the community. Through her work with The Union, Selma has been visiting Malawi for 10 years and has spent time getting to know the country and the people.

Selma concludes: “The Union continues to make headway in raising awareness about all threats to lung health. Currently through OR, the organisation is making an impact globally, providing evidence and solutions to decision makers to improve their health service delivery.

“Hearing from TB survivors at this year’s Union World Conference in The Hague was so impactful and reminded me why I get up each day to do this job that I love. And why I hope to be able to continue doing it for many years to come.”