Dearest members (and longtime friends),
I will say the last part first. We are announcing today that I am stepping away from Global Health Council this month. It was not at all a decision I came to easily, but the pull to serve in a new capacity at such a critical moment was too strong to ignore. So I said, “Yes.” Rest assured that I won’t be going very far.
I still remember nearly ten years ago now, sitting in a hotel meeting room huddling with the heads of major global health and development organizations about their future. We weren’t contemplating the state of U.S. or international government affairs. We were talking about Global Health Council (GHC), which had announced recently – and quite suddenly – that it was closing its doors. I was a newbie to this group of devoted CEOs, somewhat of an outsider but brought in by a few at the table who had come to know me – and I was keen to be helpful. As I sat and listened, I was most impressed by their passion and commitment to GHC. They shared even deeper memories than my own of attending annual conferences and advocacy events, recalling all the ways the organization had put our issues on the map and made a difference in the work we did. Then, they asked a difficult but important question: Does it even matter?
As it turns out, most people responded affirmatively. According to many throughout the Washington global health community, they still valued a centralized convening platform for the range of global health priorities constantly up for deliberation. Likewise, congressional officials spoke to the necessity of consensus across stakeholders, lest we cannibalize the very issues and investments we all championed. So we rebuilt, bit by bit, from CEO pledges to reconstituted roundtables led by volunteers ready and willing to pitch in. I found myself on the board of GHC later and participated in outreach to members or donors, reporting on our progress. As tough as it was at times to make our case and show a real impact, people were driven by a belief in our collective action and that working together would “lift all boats.”
Fast forward to 2016 when I accepted the position of president and executive director of GHC just before what would be one of our most defining presidential elections. I stepped into the role officially that December, facing an entirely different landscape than what many predicted. Not only was I tasked with bringing the organization back into a solid financial and reputational standing but now we were fighting unforeseen battles to defend the very core of our mission. It was a sprint from the starting line, pushing back against dangerous cuts while constantly refreshing our case for support. We released a 2017 congressional briefing book highlighting what we’d learned from the most recent Ebola crisis – remember that, everyone? – and another in 2019 intended to reach the wave of freshmen members of Congress with an interest in championing our cause. We were not only pushing the agenda stateside but also tracking global dialogues, diversifying our delegation to World Health Assembly so that it included more people with lived experience best positioned to speak truth to power. And we were paying a LOT of attention to WHO leadership before it was front page news, hosting civil society town halls with each of the Director-General contenders before their election, to ask about candidate priorities and pitch our recommendations. But some of my favorite moments came from convening our network for events like The Future of Global Health or Global Health Landscape Symposium. I am incredibly grateful to each of you for letting me push the envelope, demanding equity and evolution before it became commonplace.
Who could have imagined things would kick into an even higher gear this past year? Thankfully, Team GHC still had some gas in our tank, working with members and partners to step it up in the wake of a crisis no one ever wanted but for which we somehow had been prepared. Our advocacy got that much louder at home and abroad, and you know what happened? People actually heard us. No, we did not get everything we wanted and must keep at it, but to have advocates and policymakers alike echoing early calls for big, bold change to achieve access to health worldwide is a testament to our enduring tenacity.
That’s how I know I can move on, because there are so many of us now on board with where we go from here. You have trusted me to lead GHC and light our path down the new roads we must travel as a community. To be clear, I haven’t been the only beacon. Each of you also has kindled a fire along our route, encouraging or redirecting my vision as needed to land at a place grounded in impact and truth. I gladly step aside today, with the most open heart, eager to follow new emerging leaders into the future.