Prabodh Bhambal: Singing the praises of Singapore

Prabodh Bhambal: Singing the praises of Singapore

Juggling the Union’s global finances alongside the role of Deputy Executive Director and now that of Regional Director Asia Pacific may seem like a daunting – as well as impossible - challenge to most. But for Prabodh Bhambal it’s one that he relishes.

He became director of the Singapore office in April of this year adding to his two other - not so insignificant - Union roles and perhaps leaving many to ponder, just how is he managing to do it ?

The answer lies in what drives Prabodh. For him, improving public health isn’t solely a professional challenge, it’s also a personal one and it’s this passion that drives him to do what he does. Prabodh brings over 20 years of budget, finance and project management experience to his position at The Union, where he has been responsible for its global financial operations, including 200 projects in 89 countries, since 2007. For someone who has a Masters in Finance, working in public health must have seemed a million miles removed from the corporate world he inhabited where he first began his career.

Indeed it wasn’t by design that he got his first taste of the not-for-profit sector but rather more that he fell into it when he swapped his financial job in a management consultancy firm to work at the Leprosy Eradication Program of the Danish International Development Assistance (Danida) in New Delhi. They needed someone for ‘some financial consultancy work’ and, while he freely admits he ‘didn’t know what he was getting into’, the moment he took the job he knew it was exactly where he wanted to be.  A financial consultant role with the World Health Organisation followed in 2001 where he assisted in developing the national TB programme budget and three years after that an opening at The Aga Khan Foundation, in New Delhi, saw him implement a US $2.3 million post-tsunami relief fund for Andra Pradesh.

Working at The Aga Khan Foundation also saw a shift for Prabodh as it afforded him the opportunity to work on the programme side of things. Not only did he discover that he loved this ‘on the ground-level’ kind of work, but that he was also good at it. “There was lots of travel to interior villages, sitting with communities, really understanding what the health issues were at the village level,” says Prabodh.  It was also fortunate that the senior programme officer at the time moved on and Prabodh saw a chance to develop his skills further.

Armed with this new expertise, Prabodh initially came to The Union in February 2007 as Head of Finance, India. This was quickly followed by the role of Finance Controller and four years later as Chief Financial Officer. He also became Deputy Executive Director in 2013.  With a ‘great team’ now established in Paris, Prabodh still oversees and manages The Union’s global financial affairs but has now been able to take on responsibility for the Singapore office, again affording him the opportunity to work at ground level.

He feels this is a region that, because of the time zone differences from America and Europe, is one which tends to be slightly isolated. It is, however, one that he feels has huge potential in terms of making a difference to public health.

“There is a burden of disease which is not as great as say India, or Africa or China, but it’s there. There are some good resources here too so there is a lot that can be done, which definitely drew me to this position.”

Singapore has offered lots of support to many of the Union’s global programme initiatives says Prabodh, but he feels very strongly that it should have impactful programmes of its own.

He wants to hone in on a number of key areas including TB and Tobacco and NCD’s.  The other area that he is strengthening is the support that the Singapore office gives to The Union’s education and training programmes.

The ambition is to play a growing role in the management of the training and education portfolio.  “We are working closely with the Director of Education and Training to make sure that all the support that is needed to have a successful education and training programme is provided by the Singapore office,” he says.

In addition to that, being in a developed country, Prabodh can see huge scope for fundraising.   There are plans afoot to set up the Singapore Public Health Network, bringing together different public health organisations initially to network but with the idea to broaden this out to the corporate sector. “I think one of the big issues is that corporate organisations don’t understand fully what we actually do,” says Prabodh. “They set up their corporate responsibility programmes but a lot of the work is with obvious causes such as children’s organisations or hospitals, which isn’t a bad thing, but there is much more that can be done and which can be more impactful.”

Further to the networking plans, the office has already secured a $170,000 grant from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for a leadership programme which is being held in Myanmar at the end June focussing on effective tobacco control management.

He’s already bolstered the Singapore office staff numbers from 7 to 15 and taken on two new interns.  He’s also been invited to speak to students at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and participate in their internship programme. And he’s hoping to forge further corporate partnerships at an event being organised by the Singapore Stock Exchange.

But this is just the beginning and Prabodh has high hopes of bringing Singapore to the fore of The Union’s work.  For a man willing to take on anything [he once oversaw a million dollar project, building a new school in India in just under year after the project had stalled, despite having no experience in managing construction] this shouldn’t pose a problem.