Why the Joint Learning Initiative?

Human resources – the people who provide health care and design health policy – are central to health systems performance. Although this is widely recognized, human resources for health and development have been grossly neglected. Strengthening the human component of health systems is essential for global health equity, human security, and the attainment of world health advancement, including the Millennium Development Goals.

The Joint Learning Initiative on Human Resources for Health and Development (JLI) was launched in November 2002 in recognition of the centrality of the workforce for global health. At that time, human resources for health was neglected as a critical resource for the performance of health systems. Put simply, the workforce was invisible in the policy agenda. Political deliberations and social advocacy had appropriately focused on increasing financing and lowering prices of antiretroviral drugs for saving lives at risk to HIV/AIDS. To the founders of the JLI, it became progressively clear that the workforce, the human backbone of all health action, was comparatively overlooked. Human resources presented both a huge opportunity as well as a major bottleneck to overcoming global health challenges.

The JLI was crafted as a multistakeholder participatory learning process with the dual aims of landscaping human resources and recommending strategies for strengthening the workforce for health systems. The information that follows describes the JLI goals; working group co-chairs and members; reports and working papers; consultations, workshops, and activities. Also appended are the JLI secretariat, the research and writing team, and acknowledgment of financial partners.

JLI was designed as an open, collaborative, and consultative process involving a diverse membership from around the world. More than 100 members joined seven working groups to pursue—in a decentralized manner—a learning agenda crafted by the working groups. Each of the seven working groups was assigned a theme— history, supply, demand, Africa, priority diseases, innovation, and coordination—and encouraged to pursue that theme. This open, unstructured design was intended to encourage creativity, innovation, and an unimpeded dialogue enabling JLI to bring out the best of the combined expertise of its diverse participants. Over the two years of its life, the JLI has not only conducted research and analysis but also consulted widely. Its learnings—crystallized in its papers, reports, and especially the JLI Strategy Report—are intended to help accelerate community, country, and global strategies to strengthen the health workforce in all countries, but especially those facing health crises.

As a unique endeavor, the JLI process was supported by three secretariat bases—in New York City at the Rockefeller Foundation and in Boston at John Snow Inc., and the Global Equity Initiative of Harvard University. JLI thanks and acknowledges the funding partners who offered flexible financing for participation and learning. We thank in particular the Rockefeller Foundation, which launched the JLI, Swedish Sida, which provided unrestricted support at a critical juncture, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which encouraged openness to learning, and the Atlantic Philanthropies, which provided exceptional support for our South African and overall work. Other participating contributors were the Open Society Institute (OSI), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), Germany, and the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom. Throughout its two-year life, the JLI received the unstinting support of the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

With the publication of the JLI Strategy Report, “Human Resources for Health: Overcoming the Crisis”, momentum behind the JLI is being channeled into strengthening existing groups and a JLI-successor initiative to maintain independent perspectives and to promote JLI recommendations. This alliance for action will seek to advance learning in the field, advocate for the importance of learning in the field, and enhance the effectiveness of all actors in human resources for health.

For further information, please see the JLI brochure.