Obituary: Farewell to Dieter Neuvians, a Digital Pioneer of German Development Cooperation

Dear colleagues,

on Friday evening, Dieter Neuvians, a highly respected colleague and reliable friend for many of us, passed away – just over a year after his much-loved wife Aenne.

Dieter and Aenne met during his placement as young paediatrician at Marburg hospital. They fell in love, got married and were inseparable for the rest of their lives: ‚We were never apart for more than a few days since we first met‘ he told me last year. Both loved Africa, both loved travelling and, for many years after Dieter retired, continued to spend at least half a year in Cape Town, which had become a second home for them.

Dieter’s postings as public health expert took him and his family first to Yemen (at a visit late last year he showed us pictures of him, Aenne and his then small children camping with friends somewhere near Aden – all of them looking Hippie-style and extremely happy); then for many years to Tanzania – according to Aenne and him the best time of their lives. Next they were sent to Zimbabwe, another place at which they made many friends and even bought a house, before they finally moved to Cape Town until Dieter retired. Since then, they spent half a year in Neustadt near Marburg, where Aenne had grown up, and half a year in South Africa – a practice they only gave up when they needed medical treatment for which they had to be in Germany.

At a time in which digitalisation is so high on GIZ’s and BMZ’s agenda, it is worth remembering that Dieter was THE digital pioneer in German Development Cooperation. Amongst other things he conceived, set up and, for many years, managed this GIZ- (then GTZ) health-Mailing list – at a time when GTZ head office still used fax machines for written communication with colleagues in partner countries. In the late nineties, Dieter started his famous newsletter – the HESP News & Notes – in which he collected and shared the latest publications and resources that could be of interest to his public health colleagues across the world. This fortnightly newsletter, with its long list of interesting publications, its ’tipps and tricks’ section and always a funny cartoon, soon became an institution, within German Development Cooperation and far beyond.

When, many years ago, I asked Dieter if he could support me – with his digital expertise – to start a collaborative knowledge management initiative that would bring together GIZ (then GTZ) colleagues and partners around the world together in debate over ‘good practice‘ in health (and soon also social protection), he was immediately on board. In 2004, we launched the so-called ‚Peer review group‘, (to my knowledge) the first kind of a digital community of practice amongst GTZ, KfW and UN colleagues (a ‚google group‘), soon followed by a GHPC website, at a time when having a website was still something out of the ordinary – at least in our field. Until last year, we worked as a team on this initiative, driven by the conviction that knowledge needed to be continuously ‚harvested‘, shared and discussed, in a transparent and interactive manner (and both being internet-junkies, online except for when asleep).

Several times in recent years, when we had quick work-related email exchanges, Dieter would mention in passing that he was actually being treated at the Intensive Care Unit. But that I shouldn’t worry, that he would bring X,Y, Z online shortly – which he then did. – He sent out his last newsletter just over a week ago, stating that it would be the last one…

When I think of Dieter, I hear his sonorous laughter, I see his smile, I think of his kindness, his modesty and his always even-tempered manner.

Dieter, you will be missed!

Kind regards

Anna

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