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on a positive impact

Trust Talks with: Valeria Del Canto, Business Development Manager at North Star Alliance

Valeria Del Canto is the North Star Alliance (North Star) Business Development Manager in Kenya. North Star, a Trust Flagship Partner, has been hosting Johnson & Johnson Secondees since 2014. Through their Blue Box Roadside Wellness Centers, North Star connects hard-to-reach mobile populations with primary health care services, HIV testing and health education in 10 countries across Africa. In March, Valeria temporarily transitioned from her management role in external manufacturing for Johnson & Johnson in Zug, Switzerland, to lead North Star’s laboratory development efforts in Kenya over the next six months. The Trust had the opportunity to catch up with Valeria as she shares her progress and goals, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave behind.

What is the goal for your Secondment with North Star and how would you describe your experience so far?

My assignment is to evaluate and improve the efficiency of the North Star laboratories. In Kenya, where other private clinics charge much higher fees for their services, the Blue Box Clinics fill a need in the communities they serve, and are very busy. So we’re also looking for opportunities to expand services and open more laboratories in other parts of Kenya and throughout Africa. I lead our marketing efforts to recruit more patients. Another one of my roles is to facilitate knowledge transfer, and so, from coaching sessions to developing marketing plans, everything we do, we do collaboratively, as one North Star team.

The experience so far is very different from anything that I have ever done before. I’m getting to spend a lot of time in the field — in the clinics, in the laboratories, and at the hot spots where truck drivers park and sex workers work. Navigating the cultural differences between Switzerland, where I had been living and working for the last eight years, and Kenya has been the most difficult part of this work so far. I’m grateful to be learning so much and am adapting my leadership style to the local context. It’s refreshing.

How has your background at J&J helped you develop North Star’s laboratory services? What’s working already?

At Johnson & Johnson (J&J), we’re very target-oriented and focused on performance, and the J&J business mentality, I think, is what really has contributed to my secondment. Carrying this business approach from Switzerland to my work in Kenya with North Star, I’ve been able to identify problems here and work with the North Star team to understand, set, and reach targets together. Collaboration is something we already do really well, and from day one, I’ve been committed to meeting everyone, listening to different perspectives and including them in proposals, and working together to turn our ideas into reality. 

Photo Caption: Valeria with Osborne Ndalo,  Clinical Officer, and Ernest Bishop, HTC Provider.


What role do the North Star laboratories play in creating innovative solutions to increase access to care for mobile populations?

What I’ve seen at clinics with laboratories, as opposed to the ones that don’t, is a drastic difference in the timely delivery and comprehensiveness of health care services. At clinics without a laboratory, patients have to get a consultation, approval for testing, and then look for a laboratory to do the test. At many of our Blue Box Clinics, clients receive fully integrated services and can achieve in two hours what might otherwise take them days. Our full package solution is especially important since many of the small towns that we serve along service routes are located very far from the nearest hospital.

North Star Alliance is a longtime Flagship Partner of the Trust and has hosted eight Johnson & Johnson Secondees since 2014. How have you built upon the legacy of your fellow Alumni Secondee colleagues?

I am the first secondee assigned to this project of evaluating and expanding the North Star laboratories. But North Star has hosted secondees in other areas before, and it’s very clear the impact that they have had here. Everyone I meet remembers not only the previous secondee, but the one before that. My legacy, I hope, will address the sustainability of the laboratory project. By evaluating and streamlining our current standard operating procedures, I’m hoping that the procedures and processes we’ve implemented will not only be manageable for the North Star team when I leave, but easily passed on to whoever may come next.

Follow Valeria on her secondment journey on LinkedIn or find out more about the Trust Secondment Program here.

Photo Caption: The North Star team outside the Salgaa Roadside Wellness Center.