Jenny Dahlstein

With JSI since 1993

jennydahlsteinHow long have you been with JSI?

I have worked on and off at JSI for more than 20 years. I guess that more or less qualifies me among the group of “JSI lifers”—those who spend most or all of their careers here.

What prepared you to work here?

When I came to JSI, I didn’t have any relevant technical public health training. But I did have a vague notion that I wanted work with a global focus; though born in Sweden, we moved every few years, living in Italy, Russia, Kenya, Ecuador, and Argentina because of my father’s work. The job I was offered at JSI did not disappoint; over the next several years my work backstopping international projects brought me to Morocco, Mali, Madagascar, Vietnam, Yemen, and Nepal.

But it wasn’t all fun and hotel pools. Working here, I soon realized, means you must be willing to perform an endless variety of tasks and be skilled in many areas. The learning curve is steep: I recall feeling overwhelmed in my first USAID proposal meeting, with everyone throwing around acronyms that filled my notebook page with lists of capital letters and question marks. But the project management and proposal writing skills I acquired here have benefited me beyond the workplace.

“Working here…means you must be willing and able to perform an endless variety of tasks and be skilled in many areas”

Dahlstein-family

Jenny’s husband and sons: Ravi (12), Rohan (10) and Heeten

You took a break from JSI to pursue other opportunities. What did you do?

I’ve left and returned several times. I completed graduate school at the Refugee Studies Programme at Oxford University; I worked in catering and also as a behind-the-scenes cook for various PBS and Food Network cooking shows (like “Simply Ming”); I worked at a childbirth support (doula) program. Cooking has always been my creative outlet. While on leave after the birth of our second child, I started Jenny’s Ekobaby, making and selling organic baby food. Using planning, budgeting, and management skills learned at JSI, I ran the business for two years, and it was an adventure. But it was also lonely, hard, miserable. I really missed having a community built into my work. And I really missed JSI. Joel always jokes that people who leave the fold eventually “come crawling back.” And maybe I did, but its arms were open.

What was it like to come back?

Returning to JSI was like coming home. Sure, every workplace is full of characters and personalities, and JSI is no exception. If the reality of personality and style clashes, the unintended but mostly amusing cultural misunderstandings that come with international work weren’t true, we wouldn’t relate to the humor of TV shows like “The Office.” Yet I can genuinely say that overall, JSI is full of “my people,” who give their best and work hard, with commitment, care, and good humor.

How has the company changed since you started?

The company has grown so much since I began working here, but culturally JSI remains very much the same: JSI attracts good people, and by that I mean people who are good in their hearts and good at their jobs. JSI is still a workplace with a “throw your ideas out there” atmosphere regardless of your age or position, where you can be creative and make mistakes as long as you’re making your best effort. Most importantly, I still learn new things daily, the workdays are totally varied and challenging, and endless opportunities evolve, even after 20 years.

A Project to Remember

I backstopped Nepal Integrated Rural Health/Family Planning Services, which built on one of JSI’s first overseas projects, from 1993 through 1996. I learned what “logistics” means as I watched female community health volunteers provide door-to-door services, and witnessed the challenges of delivering health care in a resource-limited, geographically challenging country. While my current role is around resource development and systems support in central operations rather than direct project support, I just returned from Ethiopia, where we visited one of the Last 10 Kilometers project sites. It provided another glimpse into the positive ways JSI’s work is improving public health for mothers in rural settings, as we met with committed people all the way up the health care “chain”: from pregnant mother in her modest home with straw-covered floors and no electricity to her Health Development Army volunteer neighbor, to the health post, health center (where a young male midwife had just attended his 258th birth in two years) and ultimately the district hospital (where complicated births get referred, and where an entrepreneurial obstetrician had built a neonatal intensive care unit at the end of a hospital hallway and they’d reduced the premature baby neonatal death rate from 36% to a remarkable 12% in just three years!).

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