PONPO Talk with Saul Kornik

Saul Kornik, CEO and Co-Founder of Africa Health Placements (AHP), visited the Yale School of Management on November 4, 2013 to discuss the insights he had gained after launching AHP and to impart lessons that can be applied broadly across the nonprofit management sector. The Program on Non-Profit Organizations (PONPO), a collaboration between the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale School of Management’s Program on Social Enterprise, hosted the talk.

A native South African, Mr. Kornik began his career as a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Financial Analyst, but came to a point where he had to “prioritize between making money and doing good.” While he knew that there were many important issues in the realm of global health, he founded AHP with the mission of increasing the supply of physicians to underserved areas, particularly in rural South Africa.

Mr. Kornik‘s presentation started with a jarring map drew each country across the globe in its general geographic location, but was sized based on the number of physicians working there. Despite its massive landmass, the entire continent of Africa was reduced to little more than a sliver. He also showed pictures of pristine, modern hospitals built in Africa that had barely any patients occupying their halls, due to the absence of physicians on staff.

Mindful of the importance of effective management in developing a physician workforce, Mr. Kornik created a plan to improve the recruitment and retention of physicians in rural clinics and hospitals. His team piloted programs, actively collected feedback, tracked participation and performance metrics, and developed mechanisms to quickly alleviate physician concerns. “We are working to change the perception of what it means to be a doctor in a rural area,” he said.

However, Mr. Kornik quickly realized there was an inherent problem, which he referred to as “the Gap,” in improving the management of physicians working with AHP. “In the financial sector it is easy to choose route A or B because there will be an objective measure of what made the most financial sense. In the social sector, there often are not objective measures of success and distracting factors can get in the way.”

In contemplating this issue, Mr. Kornik soon thereafter had an epiphany, which he equated to driving along a highway, seeing a blur of tangled woods out of the corner of one’s eye, and then suddenly realizing that in fact one was driving past carefully planted rows of trees. He realized that organizations have a tendency to create more rules and regulations when seeking to improve operations, but for the social sector, eroding the staff’s autonomy can drive them away. AHP therefore implemented a pyramid approach which establishes its culture, purpose, values and mindset, all of which can then be recognized and incentivized in the behaviors of their staff. Rather than establish a new rote, inefficient process, AHP sought instead to empower its staff to solve problems on their own and feel intimately connected with their work.

This lesson is one all nonprofits can implement. Mr. Kornik noted, “Connect the gap and measure on performance, rather than prescription…Change the system so people want to stay in it.”