Staff Spotlight: Laura Cordier
When PIVOT launched at the beginning of 2014, we had a lot going for us: strong partners, seed funding, and the government’s blessing to start work strengthening the health system. From an outsider’s perspective, however, there was little to no evidence that the organization had a good shot at success. “I couldn’t even find a website for PIVOT,” Laura Cordier recalls, “or any sort of online presence, really.”
But it was exactly that opportunity to start something from scratch that compelled her – in what could only be described as a leap of faith – to apply for one of PIVOT’s very first job listings.
Despite the feeling that she may be under-qualified she figured “why not.” Having concentrated her studies in public health and epidemiology, the fact that PIVOT was conducting a baseline survey of the population before beginning work excited her – it was something that set PIVOT apart from other international development organizations, and it drew her in.
From a data standpoint, PIVOT felt like a huge opportunity to contribute to important health delivery and research. On a personal level, her grandparents had lived in Madagascar for several years in their twenties, so she had grown up hearing stories that put the country at the top of her list of places she wanted to spend time.
It wasn’t until Laura had already accepted a different job offer that would have moved her to New York that she heard from Tara Loyd, now PIVOT’s Executive Director, with an offer to move to Madagascar and launch PIVOT’s Monitoring and Evaluation program.
Around that same time, though, the New York offer unexpectedly fell through.
“I believe in things being meant to be,” Laura says. So, before long, she agreed to spend two years in Madagascar as PIVOT’s first Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Manager.
She describes her first few weeks on the ground as “hectic, eager, and fast.” But PIVOT’s ambitions matched her own – at 24, she was hungry for a challenge. And, fortunately for Laura, there would be plenty of challenges in the process of building the data systems that have become the lifeblood of PIVOT’s identity.
“Figuring out optimal data flow” is one of her favorite parts of the job, she says. “It’s like a puzzle.”
Laura has worked tirelessly to ensure PIVOT has seamless data feedback loops that our clinical teams and leaders intimately rely on to inform programs and strategy.
In five years, she has formed and trained a 13-person M&E team comprised of data collectors, analysts, and database managers. The M&E team, like much of the PIVOT staff, is young and motivated, which Laura finds inspiring. She invests significant time in building team capacity, ensuring data literacy among her staff, and helping them to hone the skills required to meet her high standard for quality of work. The same goes for her relationship with Ministry of Health officials, who she has supported in the improvement of data quality and reporting, integrating their existing systems with PIVOT’s.
“She is always bringing up new ideas and ways for us to improve our work,” says Benedicte Razafinjato, who has risen from her position as an M&E Assistant to that of Manager during her time working with Laura. Benedicte says Laura has a keen sense for recognizing her team staff’s skills, cultivating them, and celebrating them.
Together over the past year, Laura’s team has worked through the long and meticulous process of building a platform that will grant everyone in the organization access to virtually all of the data her team collects. As clinicians, managers, and leaders eagerly await the conclusion of the platform’s rollout, they look forward to having the fruits of the PIVOT teams’ labor right at their fingertips.
“We are so lucky that Laura has dedicated so many years of her career to working for PIVOT,” says PIVOT National Director Dr. Ali Ouenzar. “Her contribution to the mission is matched by few, and her dedication represents the spirit of the organization.”
Now, as Laura and PIVOT enter their sixth years of work in parallel, she is part of the organization’s Senior Management Team in Madagascar, and serves as Interim National Director whenever Dr. Ali is not present in the PIVOT office. She successfully manages to balance her time between being deep within the details and driving high-level strategy.
Perhaps most importantly, Laura has integrated herself into the local community. Today, a stroll with Laura through the local market would not be complete without a flurry of greetings exchanged with friends, neighbors, and her go-to banana vendor. She credits the market with helping her assimilate in the beginning. She spent a significant amount of time there early on, getting to know members of the local community as well as the culture and the language. Investing time in these things is a priority for Laura – she believes that the better she understands the culture of the people PIVOT serves, the better she is at her job.
For as many joys as come with being a friend and neighbor to many locals, Laura says there are as many challenges. Showing up for celebrations of life events, like new babies and marriages, comes with an equal expectation that she will be present for the harder things, like funerals, of which she says there are simply too many. This motivates her work day in and day out.
On any given day in the PIVOT office, Laura can be heard flowing in and out of conversations in Malagasy, French, and English without skipping a beat.
“When I look back on hiring Laura in 2013, I feel so grateful,” says Loyd. “Five years into the work, our data systems stand out as so exceptional in the field that it looks like that must be the easy part. But I know very well that the incredible foundation and team Laura has built has required commitment and perseverance that comes entirely from within her. She is a part of the fabric of the organization and has integrated into the community in a way that will set the example for anyone we hire for years to come.”
In her spare time, Laura loves painting watercolors, the subjects of which are often interesting-looking doors that have caught her eye (a lifelong “obsession” with vibrant, textured doors is nourished well here). She also plays basketball on a local women’s team – a sport she had never played before moving to Madagascar, but that allowed her to meet some of the people she now considers best friends. And on weekends, it’s likely you’ll catch Laura and her fiancé Haja – a PIVOT chef and local business-owner – on a walkabout with their “zoo” (Rex the dog, Biquette the goat, and Serge the chameleon).
When asked what has compelled her to stay so far beyond the two year initial commitment, Laura replies, “PIVOT has been a never-ending source of interest for me. PIVOT is fascinating and inspiring, and the beauty of it is that it never stops. PIVOT is providing care regardless of how complicated the health system is or how far away the people live from it.”