This week we introduce you to Luke, Executive Director of North Star.

From Humble Beginnings to North Star’s Inception

Far from the warm weather and the fine sandy beaches of its Australian homonym, Luke grew up in Sydney, Canada– a small fishing and coal town, surrounded by abundant nature and well-known for its cold and snowy winters. Having started as working in communications, but coming from a Politics and Economics background, Luke quickly became involved in the Supply Chain business, working alongside TNT and WFP in coordinating food delivery services to hungry people in Africa.

Luke’s career took a major turn, when TNT and WFP discovered that they were losing their truck drivers, a critical part of the food delivery supply chain, to communicable diseases because they weren’t able to easily access healthcare. North Star Alliance grew out of a deep concern about this situation, and the effects it was having not only for businesses but also within communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Founding North Star was a way to stop disease in its tracks; to give essential healthcare services to the mobile populations that need it.

In September 2005, the very first clinic in Mwanza, Malawi opened. In 2006, TNT and WFP created North Star as an independent NGO. Luke was appointed founding Executive Director in 2006 and has since then spearheaded what is known as “the Blue Box revolution” along major transport corridors across the continent.

A Day in the Life

Beginning at dawn, a typical day for Luke starts by catching up with e-mails, then moving on to a daily marathon of phone calls and meetings. Luke wraps up his evenings with some writing and taking a quick last look at his inbox.

Described by his friends as having an optimistic view of life, Luke likes to spend time with his wife and two children and hang out with his friends. When he’s not working for North Star, he takes his mind off of work by playing the guitar or reading voraciously about everything from European history to innovations in climate change. He also has a soft spot for watching the TV series, Downton Abbey with his wife and daughter.

Even Leaders Can’t Solve Everything

What Luke finds most challenging in his job, is to not be able to work directly on all the problems. “For somebody like me that likes working alongside people, getting my hands dirty, it can be challenging to be have to sit back and wait for other people to do it.” Luke shared. But he noted that trust and patience are key to an organisation’s success, and that people never fail to surprise him with great work and creative solutions to problems.

Whenever the going gets tough, Luke recalls his motto: “If it was easy, somebody else would have done it.” Luke says that he never expected his job to be easy. Instead, he embraces the challenges of his work, and draws motivation from the obstacles he encounters.

True Commitment

A large part of this motivation comes from North Star’s frontline staff, who Luke commends for “doing the hard work” in the clinics on a daily basis, despite the setbacks. Luke shared a story to illustrate the extraordinary courage and commitment of our teams on the ground:

“We had a group of clinics that had to shut down because of a funding shortage, and those teams had to endure months of uncertainty with no income. Now we just re-opened them, after a four-month pause, and 90 percent of the staff came back to work for North Star. I’m just enormously appreciative, grateful and amazed at how committed they are in what they do. If they can put up with that, I can certainly put up with everything”.

To witness the commitment of our frontline staff in action, Luke hopes that folks will have the opportunity to visit one of our Blue Boxes. “In a North Star clinic, you see professional dedicated staff, a great facility and happy patients coming in and out. That’s the way healthcare should be”.

It’s our DNA

According to our ED, if you’re considering participating with or joining our Blue Box Team, familiarizing yourself with our core values is a great entry point into how we work. To give you a head start, here are Luke’s thoughts about each of our core values: People Matter, Integrity, Quality and Entrepreneurial Spirit.

People Matter

“We are really a people oriented organisation. You’ll have to quickly show that you have respect not only for our clients/partners but also for your colleagues. Whether they are your boss or your employee, you have to treat everybody with the same amount of respect”.

Integrity

“It’s ok to fail at North Star, but it’s not ok at North Star to hide your mistakes, to lie about it. We place integrity above all. An honest mistake is always welcome; good lies are never welcome”.

Quality

“We are in the healthcare business, we’re dealing with people’s lives. We can’t afford to make half efforts, we need to make the best we can in every single circumstance”.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

“A lot of people think that entrepreneurship is about developing businesses and being a business person, but it’s not. Entrepreneurship is really about being creative and resourceful with the means that are at hand. You can display entrepreneurship in every single position in this company– looking at the challenges and problems that we have in front of us; saying how can I work and address that problem, just given the means that I have in front of me. It’s always amazing to talk to people in our clinics, and to see how resourceful they’ve been”.

Which of North Star’s PIQuE core values (People, Integrity, Quality, Entrepreneurial Spirit) do you most identify with, and why?

“Nothing that we have accomplished will have been possible without our people; the very reason that we’re doing what we’re doing at this moment, it’s because of other people. And people who come to North Star clinics are people that have suffered in terms of stigmatisation, in terms of being shut out of other systems– not all of them, but many of them. The fact that we offer them that basic human dignity, and the basic right to receive health care is the most important thing that we do at the end of the day. And the only way you can do that, is to have a group of people that understands how important that is and are committed to deliver it.
Without people, you just have ideas”.

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Photography | David Childley, Gideon Mendel