Ivan Teri, Tanzanian in diaspora whose love for homeland remains

Ivan Teri

What you need to know:

  • Mr Teri, a public health practitioner and researcher based in Washington DC, has maintained strong connections with Tanzania

Dar es Salaam. With more than 70,000 Tanzanians in the United States, the North American country has the largest number of Tanzanian diaspora in the world.

Their contribution to their motherland goes beyond remittance as many of them bring back expertise and knowledge acquired in top-notch universities in the world and implement it within Tanzanian communities.

Ivan Teri, a public health practitioner and researcher based in Washington DC, has maintained strong connections with Tanzania.

He not only calls it home despite moving to the US, but also continues to give back to Tanzania with several projects and initiatives that target the country and the marginalised communities.

Recently, he launched Building Research and Implementation For Driving Growth and Equity (BRIDGE) in Africa with colleagues at the George Washington University, which aims to use science to address challenges facing Tanzania and Africa as a whole and spurring growth equitably.

“We are just starting and our focus is on growing interest/capacity of youth an area which we believe can help us address several key challenges that we persistently face,” he said.

Mr Teri has worked with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) since 2008, first working in their Tanzanian offices before moving to Washington DC (mainly Virginia) 13 years ago, working on HIV programmes, mainly supporting sub-Saharan Africa projects, and working with many talented colleagues and health professionals to improve the quality of the healthcare across more than 15 sub-Saharan countries.

He was born in Arusha, his father was a medical doctor and his mother was a nurse, he followed his dad’s path, who worked in reproductive health.

He grew up mainly in Uganda and Kenya where his father was stationed. He would later move to the United Kingdom and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Medical Genetics and his master’s in International Health. Just like his father, he has always been passionate about helping improve the health systems in Africa, “you can say I am a pan-Africanist, my aim is that every African receives quality health care so they can live a quality and productive life” he said. “Everything begins with health,” he added.

Mr Teri had a dream of becoming a lawyer and a psychologist before deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps, upon returning to Tanzania after his studies, his first job was with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation and he has been with them ever since. For the three and a half years he worked in Tanzania, he worked in many regions from the south in Mtwara, Lindi to the northern circuit in Kilimanjaro and Arusha. He would later support the regional programmes across several countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda before making his transition to the global team in Washington D.C. “Seeing the money lawyers make in Washington DC, I wish I had stuck to law studies” he joked while laughing. Ivan’s work for an HIV-free generation is still a daunting mission, the earliest cases of HIV/Aids in Africa were reported in the early 1980s, and more than 40 years later it is affecting many parts of the continent. “HIV is still an epidemic, it can increase exponentially if it is not controlled” Mr Teri cautioned. Stigma, discrimination, lack of awareness, risky behaviour, limited access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment, and lack of social and economic inequities still pose a challenge to the elimination of the virus from the continent. “If today we say, let’s stop all the interventions, you will see a rise in HIV/AIDS cases,” he said. “It is still very dangerous but we have made improvements in so many areas, “ he added.

HIV/AIDS is much more controlled with people living longer and quality lives with the availability of regular testing, ARVs, various prevention strategies, and widespread education. Now the focus is on making sure the people living with HIV get access to better biomedical technologies including more effective and easier-to-manage medications, quality care and treatment services, better income-generating opportunities, protection from climate change and other non-communicable diseases, social protections, and more. Hence the need for HIV programs to work with multiple sectors, like finance, agriculture, private sector, and civil society so that vulnerable and marginalised groups are reached and systems are strengthened to ensure long-term and sustainable policies and practices are in place.

Mr Teri owes much of his achievement in the health field to the science studies that he chose.  Science determines much of the lives we live, from designing products, and innovations, and understanding our world, he said.

To address many of the current global challenges and to find equitable and sustainable solutions, science can play a huge role, he says and therefore young Tanzanians have to be inspired to pursue science studies. Our challenges in Tanzania can be addressed by first having the talent, skills, resources, and will from ourselves – we can partner with the rest of the world but should be leading the change that we seek. Embracing and harnessing science is one way, therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure future generations continue to grow our capacity in this critical area, he advised.

Having a Tanzanian passport is a symbol of pride for Mr Teri. “When people know you are Tanzanian, they know you come from a warm and welcoming land,” he explains. Tanzania is increasingly recognised within the US, our vigorous promotion of our tourism industry has made Tanzania known, and Ivan is building on that to make sure people in his circle know Tanzania and visit it. Nyerere is still very popular among older generations that know African history and Ivan always mentions him among our known tourist spots like Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and Serengeti when he introduces his home country to Americans.

Mr Teri is a definition of success, educated and having a great job he is passionate about, but he insists nothing comes overnight, and young people should have the patience to learn and master their craft in whatever they are destined to do in life. “Understand what your goals are and take small steps towards your goal,” he advises. He advocates for unpaid (or paid) internships and volunteering if that is what will get your foot in the door in the field you pursue, as well as reading and improving on your knowledge relentlessly. It will give you exposure, network, and build your CV, he explains. Mr Teri did himself volunteer in different organizations including Hubert Kairuki Hospital when he was in Dar es Salaam, it helped him land his first job.

 “You have to take steps forward as you are patiently waiting,” he said.

Even with his post in the United States Ivan is still dedicated to serving Tanzanians, he launched “Afrika ni Yetu” his initiative to work with a wide range of partners and stakeholders, including his sister Sara Teri’s Sustainable Afrika company, to design, promote, and sustain Africa-based solutions for Africa. Partnering with individuals and local organisations to help them in areas such as strategic planning, positioning, design thinking, network optimization, capacity building, and working with Tanzanian scholars, entrepreneurs, and SMEs so they have a bigger and lasting impact in maximising the potential of Africans.