04 Jan 2016
Taking Time Out for a Challenge
A doctoral candidate returns to her studies after a year helping tackle Africa’s Ebola crisisTopics:
Photo by Russ Campbell
After living in Sierra Leone from 2006 to 2010, where she worked as a founding board member of the Welbodi Partnership, which supports the country’s health system in delivering essential services to women and children, HBS doctoral student Ryann Manning was moved into action when the Ebola outbreak hit the small African nation in 2014.
“Having watched Sierra Leone and its neighbors make great strides over the last decade to consolidate peace, grow their economies, and invest in public services, I knew they remained among the poorest countries in the world, with extremely weak health care systems,” she recalls. “I suspected the outbreak would outpace the region’s ability to contain it, and I worried especially about the nurses, doctors, and other health care workers who were most directly at risk.”
A New Hampshire native who attended Princeton as an undergraduate, Manning earned a master’s degree in public policy from the Kennedy School in 2005. At HBS, she is pursuing a PhD in organizational behavior and sociology.
Manning decided to take a leave from her PhD path and step in as acting CEO of Welbodi, providing strategic leadership and helping to determine how best to contribute during this unprecedented public health crisis. She is committed to planning for the long recovery and rebuilding process that lies ahead.
“I’m proud that, over the last year, Welbodi was able to play an important role in helping three government hospitals—including the national referral hospitals for pediatric and maternal care—provide essential non-Ebola care in a manner that protected the safety of staff and patients,” Manning says. “I’m proud that we were able to partner with volunteer groups in poor urban communities on lifesaving outreach efforts. And I’m proud that Welbodi has just approved a strategic plan for the next three years, as Sierra Leone works to build more resilient systems.”
Back at HBS for the 2015–2016 academic year, Manning says she’s grateful her advisors and the doctoral program office supported her decision to work full time on the Ebola outbreak last year. “HBS encourages its students and staff to tackle big challenges,” she says, “and in this case they made it possible for me to do just that.”