After seven years supporting the Global Fund’s efforts in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, Guyana-born Shevone Lord-Corbin has now taken on the challenge of a new role in the organisation, as manager for portfolio services and knowledge management, based at its head office in Geneva, Switzerland.
Previously serving as interim regional finance manager and senior finance specialist for the Fund, her portfolio of responsibilities included financial management and risk oversight of the the High Impact Africa regional portfolio of grants. These grants involve the disbursement of some US$1bn every year in eight African countries, using local fund agents for assurance oversight, with support from several Big Four firms.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to give it its full title, was established in 2002 to help tackle the impact of these three deadly diseases. Governments around the world contribute 92% of the not-for-profit’s funds, with the other 8% coming from the private sector – Microsoft founder Bill Gates, through his foundation, was an early investor.
The Fund is a multilateral organisation that collaborates with many stakeholders to fight the three epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria
‘Success comes from creating your own opportunities. Rather than a barrier, motherhood can be a catalyst on that journey to expanding your professional boundaries.’
‘I am inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb… but I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”’
The Fund raises and distributes US$4bn a year to support programmes in more than 100 countries, implemented by in-country partners such as ministries of health. Its staff, based in Geneva, monitor the programmes.
When Lord-Corbin arrived in Geneva from her native Guyana in 2013, along with her husband and family, she spoke not a word of French. In a single move, she had, as she says, completed the ‘four Cs’ – changing career, continent, country and culture in one fell swoop.
She had left behind a position as the EU’s finance and contract specialist in Guyana, where she had managed a €150m (US$177m) portfolio of EU grants. The move to Switzerland was in part motivated by her perception that, as a non-European, her future mobility appeared limited within the EU structure, even though she had achieved a number of professional goals within it. But it was also motivated by the prospect of new challenges and the opportunities to explore new boundaries that the Fund would give her.
She recalls how, in September 2012, her ACCA membership certificate arrived in the post just as she was about to apply for the Global Fund position. ‘I was able to include it in my application – it felt like a good omen, given the value of the ACCA Qualification,’ she says.
Learning through adversity
Her road to full qualification had not been straightforward, however. She began studying while at Agriman, an agricultural products company in Guyana, but missed the pass mark on one exam. This led to a five-year hiatus while she built her track record in management. ‘It was a lesson in humility, as it was the first time that I had failed anything,’ she admits.
Achieving the ACCA Qualification is ‘a story of building character after failure and extra servings of faith’, she says, reflecting on two significant events that drove her to complete the qualification – a birth and a death. First a close relative who had always followed her academic pursuits died, which triggered a desire to complete the exams in his honour.
Then the arrival of twin boys produced a spark that saw her combine the pressures of study with motherhood to prove that success was attainable in every stage of life, regardless of gender. She demonstrated this determination a second time when she pursued a master’s programme in partnership with ACCA and the University of London alongside the arrival of her third son.
Power of ACCA
‘The ACCA journey equips professionals in such a dynamic way,’ she says. ‘Its global recognition gave me confidence that organisations such as the Global Fund would open their doors. Even more, I wanted to demonstrate that I could make an impact, not only locally but on the global stage – for me, my community and my country.’
The move to Geneva has been fulfilling from a personal and a professional perspective. She has observed the finance function of the Fund mature over the years, having used the EU’s structured aid delivery approaches as a litmus test in her earlier years. On a personal note, her family has gained a new language, a new interest in travel and an appreciation of different cultures – ‘even if my fluency in French has not yet progressed much beyond “merci” and ‘bonjour”’.
Lord-Corbin says her most satisfying professional moments have come when health ministries and local NGOs are able to successfully apply and implement grants that improve the health and wellbeing of their citizens. ‘After all, a productive workforce can spell development for decades,’ she says. ‘To have played a part in deploying, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP), an innovative risk fund administration mechanism in Zimbabwe to mitigate risks of sequestration of grant funds post-hyperinflation, or in supporting the transition of the Fund’s Zambia portfolio from UNDP back to the country’s Ministry of Health following capacity building initiatives, was highly rewarding – and testimony to the adaptability of the ACCA Qualification in any sector.’
Manager of portfolio services and knowledge management, The Global Fund, Geneva, Switzerland
Senior finance specialist, High Impact Africa, The Global Fund, Geneva
Finance and contracts specialist, European Commission office, Guyana
Senior manager, international sales, food production group Alesie, Guyana
Financial controller, Agriman, Guyana
In Tanzania, she managed a portfolio of grants (US$595m for 2017–19), conducting grant negotiations, budget reviews, portfolio optimisation assessments, financial reporting and external audit reviews in partnership with the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI). Her more recent role since last summer has seen her extend support to countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, getting closer to her homeland.
‘The Fund is a multilateral organisation that collaborates with many stakeholders to fight the three epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. But, while doing that, it also aims to help strengthen the health systems that enable the impact we seek to achieve,’ she explains. ‘The value of these health systems became more visible as the world grappled first with ebola and now with Covid-19.’
Very early on, Covid-19 presented both a challenge and an opportunity. ‘The challenge was that Covid-19 could reverse the gains we have made across the three diseases over more than a decade, yet the opportunity was to leverage our in-country partnerships and flexible financing mechanism to rapidly disburse funding to countries. This would mitigate the impacts on lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programmes, and prevent fragile health systems from being overwhelmed. This kicked us into gear, with leadership from the World Health Organisation, to ensure the rollout of US$1bn in funding approved by our board to support countries – an example of how finance and health experts can tackle development issues together.’
As an ACCA-qualified professional accountant, she considers her skillset very dynamic. ‘As well as financial reporting, analytics, risk, assurance and due diligence, our repertoire must include soft skills like stakeholder management, adaptability, team coaching and geo-political awareness,’ she says. ‘These must be balanced with a deliberate plan for your own mentorship by dynamic leaders in your sphere. I have now switched to addressing business continuity plans to ensure corporate goals would not be compromised, given that Covid-19 has impacted the entire supply chain, from suppliers to beneficiaries.’
In her new role, she has drawn on other skills to engage multiple stakeholders as the Fund develops its new strategy to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Such engagement includes the design, implementation and rollout of grant finance oversight, business process development, knowledge management and the coordination of framework agreements with international NGOs and multilateral organisations.
And just as the Fund pivots, so does Lord-Corbin. ‘The ACCA Qualification is synonymous with leadership, adaptability, innovation and financial expertise,’ she says. ‘Above all, it has given me the confidence to deliver – whether it is policy setting and financial reporting, or the actual delivery of business solutions that cut across quality of healthcare or health financing, I’m ready,’ she says.
The Global Fund in numbers
Number of countries supported
Annual funds distributed
Number of lives saved