Papa Diouf reading to primary school pupils
David Kezio-Musoke/VSO Rwanda

Life at VSO: Papa Diouf - Global Practice Area Lead for Health

VSO has a team that operates across the world. Here Papa Diouf, our Global Practice Area Lead for Health based in Cambodia, gives you an insight into what life is like working at VSO.

Papa Diouf addresses crowd at community clean up
David Kezio-Musoke/VSO Rwanda
Papa addresses volunteers and staff members after 'Umuganda', Rwanda’s home-grown solution at which all citizens converge on the last Saturday of the month to clean up their surroundings .

My role as Global Practice Area Lead for Health allows me to provide leadership to VSO’s global health portfolio with the ambition to better position our work and grow our impact and influence in the area.

Overall, I ensure that our health programmes are aligned not only with VSO’s People First Strategy, building on our unique Volunteering for Development (VfD) methodology and blended volunteering approach, but also with the global trends in health. We use the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as one of the overarching frameworks we are working towards.

Our global health portfolio was recently re-articulated with the aim that all adolescents and youth (aged 10–24 years). This was especially for those who are most marginalized and vulnerable to achieve the rights to quality Sexual Reproductive Maternal Newborn Child Adolescent health and well-being through our VfD model.

How long have you been at VSO?

I started working with VSO in 2015 as Country Director for VSO in Rwanda where I lived for six years. I really enjoyed my time in this role as I was able to see the impact our volunteers and projects were having on a community level.  I then moved to this new exciting role as Global Practice Lead for Health in August 2020 and relocated to Cambodia with my family.

How did you get to where you are now?

Girls at the She Club, a safe space for girls to learn about SRHR
Chosa Mweemba

Adolescent and youth health and wellbeing

Improving health services for all and empowering the most marginalised to exercise their right to quality care.

Over the past five years we have helped over 3,600,000 people access better healthcare.

I studied Economics and obtained an MSc in Development Economics at the University of Namur in Belgium. After this, I worked as a Research Programme Assistant for the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) based in Maseno, Western Kenya.  

I then undertook an another Masters in Poverty Reduction Strategies, Conflict and Reconstruction at the University of Manchester.

In 2004, I joined WaterAid as a Programme Officer in Burkina Faso. I was the third staff member to be recruited and was responsible for programme implementation with local partners, building various relationships, fundraising and proposal development. Overall, I spent 11 amazing years with WaterAid in various positions including everything from Regional M&E coordinator to Global Programme Manager of a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project.

I joined VSO in May 2015 as Country Director for the Rwanda programme. Although it was not an easy decision to leave an organisation with which I have had such a strong connection for more than a decade, I was very excited to join VSO.

Part of this role involved providing strategic leadership and management to VSO’s growth in Rwanda around our volunteering for development methodology. For four years in Rwanda, I was also the Chair of the INGO network (NINGO) which brought together more than 80 international non-governmental organisations for networking, advocacy, and collaboration with the government of Rwanda and development partners.  

In August 2020, I started my current role as Global Practice Area Lead for Health which is an amazing challenge to take on.

What does your average day look like?

Papa Diouf during the distribution of the ‘Building Learning Foundation’ (BLF) English teachers’ toolkit
David Kezio-Musoke/VSO Rwanda
Papa Diouf during the distribution of the ‘Building Learning Foundation’ (BLF) English teachers’ toolkit. Volunteer (left), Papa Diouf (centre), Zigirumugabe Theophile (right), a former BLF District Coordinator.

Being based in Cambodia, I’m four to seven hours ahead of most of my colleagues who are based in in Africa or the UK.

My day starts around 5:30am and typically I catch up on the news, emails, and social media first thing. Then my wife and I prepare and drop off our three children at school and then we go for a quick run.

I’m then ready to start my working day, and I try and divide it up into three parts as that helps me be more productive. Mornings are usually spent reviewing documents, sending emails, with some meetings with partner organisations in between!

The second part of my day consists of meetings that start when our global teams begin their day. On average I have around four to five meetings each day, which includes one to ones with my direct colleagues or catch-ups with other teams and volunteers working on our projects. It’s really interesting to hear what they’ve all been up to, and conversations can range from everything between programme development to potential partnership opportunities in the pipeline. 

There are lots of external engagements that I attend too. This can include events and conferences to learn about different trends in the sector, as well as events that build my own professional network which can help position our global health portfolio in the best way possible with the right people.

What is one thing that you like the most about your role? 

The one thing I love about my work at VSO is the dedication and hard work of all staff and volunteers who always go the extra mile to transform the lives of millions of primary actors. It is so inspirational to witness the genuine drive of everyone in VSO to work with the most marginalised and vulnerable people and identify innovative approaches to accompany the primary actors in fully exercising their active citizenship.

I live with this mantra:

The success of failure is ‘I have always done it this way'

What makes VSO different to other organisations? 

From my perspective, there are three things that clearly differentiate VSO from other organisations:


Volunteer Valerie Desborough (UK) on Rwandan Inspired project
David Kezio-Musoke/VSO Rwanda
Valerie Desborough, from the UK who volunteered under the Rwandan INSPIRED! project for 3 years, visits the Kigali office to share her story as part of the 20-year celebrations of VSO Rwanda. Valerie has fallen in love with Rwanda and visits yearly.
  1. VSO’s ambition is to transform the lives of most marginalised and vulnerable groups through a primary actor centred approach. It is truly inspirational to see all the tireless efforts made across the organisation in contributing to the active citizenship of the primary actors through stronger voice and agency. ‘Primary actor’ is a unique concept that only VSO has adopted – recognising their position within the system and their own agency. 
  2. The value and power that VSO puts into volunteering are exceptionally defined as the Volunteering for Development methodology which builds on a blended volunteering approach that has proven to be extremely transformational and impactful, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The strength of VSO’s volunteering approach combined with a people-first centred approach lies on the volunteers’ accompaniment of the primary actors to take their own defined actions to change their world. 
  3. The strong belief and ethos that change can only happen when we bring people together underpin by high values of integrity, collaboration, accountability and inclusion which drive every single employee to do their best to achieve the strategy.

What we do

VSO brings about lasting change not by sending aid, but by working through volunteers and partners to empower communities in some of the world’s poorest regions.

Our work

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