In her role as a Senior Advisor in Digital Health with USAID Global Health’s Center for Innovation and Impact, Waugaman is bridging the gap between technology and development to better serve health systems and health workers across the globe.
“A lot of what I have learned in this position is that you have to meet people where they are,” she said. “You have to talk to them about how they are trying to overcome the entrenched global health challenges where they work. You have to listen to their pain points and understand the broader context of what they’re trying to achieve.”
Waugaman will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award Oct. 19 during the Reunion Celebration Brunch. The award recognizes a St. Andrew's alumnus/a who has demonstrated unique or significant accomplishments through professional achievement or social impact.
Waugaman was only at St. Andrew’s for two years, but they were eventful ones. The summer after her junior year, Waugaman went on a school-led trip to Honduras, where she stayed with a host family, practiced Spanish, and volunteered. It was her first time in a developing country and an experience that motivated her to see more of the world.
“It was absolutely mind-opening,” Waugaman said. “That experience helped give me the confidence and inspired me to take on an experience in college where I studied at an historically non-white university in newly post-apartheid South Africa.”
Waugaman was part of the first group of students to participate in a direct exchange program between Bard College and the University of the Western Cape, near Cape Town. She spent a semester in South Africa shortly after the election of Nelson Mandela. Waugaman was struck by the “incredible spirit of student activism” and inspired by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a court-like restorative justice initiative designed to give voice to the victims of apartheid.
“I came back to the States and I felt like something was wrong. It took a few months before it dawned on me that this experience changed me,” she said. “I am not the same person who I was before this experience.”
After graduating from Bard College in 1998, Waugaman joined Human Rights Watch as a development and outreach associate. She briefly worked on strategic communications for technology start-ups before returning to human rights work in 2001, when she became a media liaison for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. In that role, she was part of a movement that accelerated the establishment of the ICC through communications, advocacy and capacity building strategies that motivated nations to ratify the treaty that created the court.
“Enough governments said, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’” Waugaman said. “It was a really exciting time to be there, when that catalytic moment happens and the needle moves and things change.”
Waugaman went back to school to earn her Master’s in International Affairs (International Law) with the goal of transitioning to programmatic work. After two years as the communications director for the United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, the partnership’s senior director position opened up; she applied and got the job.
The Vodafone partnership was her first touch with technology and development, setting her up for her role with USAID, where she is writing policy to guide the agency’s investments in digital technology for the health sector, such as text-messaging programs to enhance information exchange during health emergencies.
“The increasing reach of digital technology has been really transformational because a lot of global health programming is built on health data, and it’s hard to get access to quality health data in a timely way without access to digital technology,” she said.
“Even in difficult and hard-to-reach environments, change is coming. How can we think about adapting programs we have now, where there is digital connectivity, or preparing for it if you’re in an area that is not yet digitized? That’s part of our forthcoming guidance, making sure we’re partnering with country governments to understand and help support their health sector digitization plan.”
Collaborating with governments, and working to ensure donor investments align to country-identified priorities and plans, is a value that Waugaman and others were able to put into writing by creating a set of investment principles to guide how funders, like USAID and Germany’s GiZ, invest in digital systems in the health sector. To date more than 30 funders have endorsed those principles. She cites this work as one of her proudest accomplishments.
“The creation of those principles, it was a moment in time, when the donors came together and said, ‘We hear you, governments. We want to do things the right way, and this is what we’re going to do differently,’” Waugaman said. “Anytime you’re trying to create systemic change, it’s hard. You’re asking people to lose something, so you have to show them what the benefit is.”
For Waugaman, it’s the people she works with, in Washington, D.C., and on the ground around the world, who motivate her to make change.
“The most fulfilling aspect of my work is the caliber of the people I work with, seeing a willingness to embrace new ways of tackling really difficult challenges, and that combination of commitment and perseverance but also flexibility and resilience.”