February 24, 2010
The SAFO Global Operations Workgroup, chaired by Ronnie Jowers, vice president for health affairs and chief financial officer, Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory, with participants representing ten institutions, met to address challenges, risks, and best practices in global operations.
Purpose: To address academic health center policy and practices related to international programs and operations; to examine and analyze the current fiscal and administrative landscape—including employment, liability, insurance, and banking issues; and seek to recommend strategies, organizational structures, and best practices not only to ensure success in global operations but also to increase standardization and harmonization within and among academic health centers nationwide.
Given the increasing expansion of international programs at academic health centers nationwide, including the establishment of global initiatives, it was agreed that in-depth review of operational and finance issues—from banking to human resources—is critical because of the tremendous risk and liability global operations pose for the academic health center.
Participants outlined a range of goals that include:
- Identifying key issues of concern in global operations;
- Developing best practices for international operations; and
- Discussing strategies on how to coordinate processes within the institution.
Areas addressed by the group include:
- Human resources—employment status, compensation, and benefits;
- Insurance and institutional risk;
- Employees in-country: roles and responsibilities;
- Regulatory considerations; and
- Banking and finance – policies, practices, processes, and enforcement
The group agreed that in many areas, there are more questions than answers, which only increases the need for guidance and clarity. Significant issues addressed within the areas under examination are:
Establishing International Operations
- How to identify the best approach to conducting operations in a specific country? Should a university establish a local NGO and what are the benefits and risks of doing so? Should an institution register with a foreign government?
- How are institutions evaluating whether to pursue specific international opportunities? What level of strategic analysis is taking place to guide international operations?
- What types of employment contracts are appropriate for employing foreign nationals? It was noted that foreign employment practices typically trump U.S. laws and often override specific employment contracts.
- It was noted that employment practices must take account of issues ranging from nationality of employee, duration of work, country specific laws, the source of funding of the project, etc.
- What are the different employment and benefit requirements of grants from federal agencies?
- What are the areas of federal law that regulate where people can work and the requirements for doing so?
Finances and Reporting
- New antiterrorism regulations have heightened reporting requirements for international financial transactions. Institutions are looking at how best to meet the reporting guidelines, while also minimizing the resources and time devoted to reporting.
- How can institutions efficiently and accurately finance and report on international operations and grants? International Service Providers, such as payroll agencies, can facilitate and ease these operations.
- What are the best practices for transferring funds, exchanging currencies, and reconciling expenses abroad?
- Who budgets and strategizes for project exit strategies? How will an operation be terminated and who pays for the costs of exiting a country?
- It is critical that institutions consider what the reputational and ethical considerations are for global operations. How is the institution’s name being used abroad and what are the potential risks and risk management strategies that need to be considered?
- Universities have a range of practices to enhance the safety of employees abroad. Evacuation plans/services and life and injury insurance are important examples.
- How to insure property and liability abroad is an ongoing challenge that differs based on country of operations, insurance providers, and a multitude of other factors.
The SAFO Global Operations Workgroup discussed a variety of approaches to gather additional information and move toward developing guidelines and increasing standardization of practices in this arena. In follow-up to the group's discussion the AAHC published an issue brief, Global Operations Require Strategic Assessment. The AAHC has since engaged in a collaborative partnership with other associations and stakeholders to develop an in-depth understanding of international operations, as well as best practices where they exist. The partnership is creating an International Resource Center (IRC), which will provide guidance and strategies to develop, improve, and manage international operations.