Women Leaders in Global Health Conference 2018

The Women Leaders in Global Health Conference was born from frustration many women working in global health felt when seeing the lack of women and diverse leadership in their field.

Women make up 70% of global health force but hold just 30% of leadership positions, and many felt the urge to direct an international spotlight on the matter.

This urge became a reality in October 2017 with the 1st WLGH Conference, hosted at Stanford University.

This year, the 2nd Conference was hosted in the UK by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Longer and richer in content, there were 2 days of panel discussions and vibrant exchange among women – and men – who work in different areas of global health.

Credit: @drawingchange

One of the main figures of this year’s conference was the former Minister of Health of Peru, Dr Patty J. Garcia. Patty is a scientist and an expert in Public Health who decided to take a new leadership position when the Prime Minister of Peru, Pedro P. Kuczynski, called her to offer her one of the most important roles in the country.

She worked within the government of Peru from July 2016 to September 2017, achieving important public health goals such as access to contraceptives for adolescent girls, availability of emergency contraception and rise in vaccination coverage.

Credit: Giorgia Dalla Libera Marchiori

She said that she would have never imagined she would be involved in politics, and even less to become a minister, but that “we need to take opportunities as women”. She took the lead and decided she would use her position to make the changes Peru needed.

Sometimes you are invited to the table and you just have to sit down and get to work. Most of the time, however, you need to open your folding chair and make space for yourself at the table. If no one makes space for your folding chair – “you sit on the table”, suggests Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Chief Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Women have great expertise, but too often don’t believe in themselves, because the patriarchal society we live in has taught us to look down, apologize and not be a ‘bi**ch’. Women and men need to rethink gender roles and move towards an equal society, where gender, place of birth, sexual orientation or disability will not count anymore, only competence will. 

Around 100 speakers participated in this year’s conference, bringing different perspectives which animated the discussion in so many ways. Dr Ola Abu Alghaib, Director of Global Influencing and Research at Leonard Cheshire Disability, told the audience of her personal experience with disability and finding her leadership role as a person with disability.

Her life is a proof of resilience. She has achieved what she wanted, including doing a job she is passionate about and having her own family. Many told her that as a disabled woman she would not be able to reach those goals, but she decided early on to lead her life in the direction she wanted. Women with disabilities need to be part of the conversation, Ola says, because there is no equity if we, as women, are the first to exclude some of us from the running.

Every woman can be a leader.

This is the philosophy behind one of the best universities in the African continent, the Ahfad University in Sudan. Professor Nafisa M. Bedri explained how their university, founded originally as a girls school by her grandfather, Babiker Bedri, aims to form future women leaders in Sudan.

Investing in women’s education and shaping women’s roles in society is challenging, because of cultural and religious beliefs, but the benefits are tangible and impact our entire society. 

One concept shared loudly and proudly at the end of this gathering was well summarized by Ayoade: “my ceiling has to be your floor”. This means that whatever we do, it has to create better opportunities and a world free from inequities for the generations to come, for all the girls who are dreaming big and should never have their wings cut off.

See you all next year in Rwanda for WLGH 3.0!

In the meantime, find your opportunity to become a leader in your group, community, work place, country. Don’t wait, act. And while doing it, “ensure that your significant other (whether a woman or a man) is a feminist” – Professor Sarah Hawkes, Co-Director of Global Health 50/50.

Midwives: Innovators on the Front Lines of Care

With simple but resounding words, Frances Day-Stirk, President of the International Confederation of Midwives, reminded 4,200 people gathered in Toronto that midwives are the engine of creativity and care that can deliver for mothers, babies, and families around the world.

Always aiming to best serve mothers, babies, and their communities, midwives’ human-centered approach to delivering care drives them to find ever-new ways to improve, adjust, and improvise when needed. Innovation is fundamental to midwifery. Enabling that ingenuity is fundamental to how Johnson & Johnson supports and champions midwives and others on the front lines of care as they improve the trajectory of health for humanity.

This week marked the launch of the GenH Challenge, a social venture competition designed to accelerate everyday solutions to health challenges. We were honored to launch the GenH Challenge at the world’s largest gathering of midwives, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Triennial Congress. But of course, championing innovation on the front lines means not only fueling innovation within midwifery – it also means bringing midwives to the table with health innovators and entrepreneurs as they design new approaches to health care.

Samara Ferrara, a participant in Johnson & Johnson and ICM’s Young Midwife Leader program, as well as an Aspen Ideas Festival “Spotlight Health Scholar,” has had the opportunity of being part of both sides of this conversation. Samara has been a practicing midwife for eight years, and plays a leading role in redefining what it means to be a modern-day midwife in Mexico. As ICM wrapped, and in anticipation of Spotlight Health, we spoke with Samara about this unique intersection.

Zack Langway (ZL) What does leadership mean to you, and what would you say is your leadership style? 

Samara Ferrara (SF): A leader is someone who leads by example – someone who inspires and touches other people to act, do, or think in new ways. I try to lead by example by bringing the community and midwives together, and by sharing information so people can better understand what midwives do, not just in Mexico, but around the world. I want people to understand that it’s not enough to survive birth, and that the experience of the family during the birth has a large impact on that human being for the rest of their life. I also share moments and stories from births I witness with inclusive language so that everyone, whether they currently understand midwifery or not, can see themselves or someone they know in the story.

ZL: How do you use your role as a midwifery leader to identify community needs, and come up with innovative ways to solve them?

SF: I create opportunities for dialogue between midwives and other decision-makers in my region. For example, I recently organized a regional conference for midwives, government representatives, medical schools including nurses and doctors, as well as non-profit organizations, to bring all sorts of different perspectives together on the role of midwifery in improving the health of our women and children. The definition of what it means to be a midwife is still unclear in Mexico, and because of the conference, I am now engaged in a discussion with government representatives about midwifery law and what it will take to open a midwifery school.

Creating these links with the community and decision makers is incredibly important to establish that midwifery is an option for quality care. Whether through a conference, or smaller classes, I try to continuously offer educational opportunities for my fellow midwives to reinforce the importance of continuous education and participating in advocacy efforts. It’s not a new profession, but we are pioneering new areas that have not been defined in the community and country.

ZL: What are some of the little, everyday things that have made a big difference in the community you serve?

SF: I’m working hard to give new meaning to what midwifery is nowadays, because there are many misunderstandings around what it means to be a midwife, like the planning and support we provide women and their families during, before, and after pregnancy. I’ve also started partnerships with a pediatrician and a gynecologist which have been very successful. People sometimes think that midwives and doctors are adversaries, but working together, we can offer families the best of both worlds and the clients can really have a choice in how they receive care. So, something as little as a partnership that builds new relationships can have a big difference for families and health.

ZL: As Frances emphasized, how can midwives be the pioneers developing new approaches and methods to provide the best possible care for mom and baby?

SF: We need to put women first. We can start by asking them directly what they need so innovations based on their ideas will be rooted in their needs as the “end user.” As midwives, we also need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. We need to expand our education beyond midwifery and learn new skills that can help us better advocate for our profession and demand change from our leaders. As midwives, we need to take on many different roles in our communities – care provider, counselor, leader, advocate, innovator – and we need to be prepared to do so with the highest level of quality.

I also want to encourage my fellow midwives to take part in competitions like the GenH Challenge because our ideas are the fastest roads to innovation in our countries. I definitely plan to regroup with my team back home, as well as the women of my community, to hear their voices and determine the best innovation we can submit to the GenH Challenge.

ZL: What is do you enjoy most about attending conferences like the ICM Triennial Congress and Aspen Ideas Festival?

SF: I look forward to connecting with new people and creating alliances on shared goals. I also love to learn about the latest innovative ideas and information out there and think through how that might apply to my work. We need innovation so we can change and create new possibilities in my community and my country.

Zack Langway is senior manager of experiential philanthropy in social innovation for Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson, Zack led the global development team at Fenton, the social change agency. He has served as a consultant and in-house digital strategist for organizations including the United Nations Foundation, Save the Children, and Bread for the World. 

This blog post was originally published on the Healthy Newborn Network.

Franka Cadée Calls for Midwives to Take Action

”All midwives here know when it’s time to breathe and when it’s time to push. This is our time to push!”

Franka Cadée, the new President of the International Confederation of Midwives closed the 31st Triennial Congress by addressing midwives from around the world with the main message that it is time to “humanize midwifery care – together”. She mentioned that many women across the world are at risk of receiving care too little too late or too much too soon. 

Young Midwifery Leader, Samara Ferrara, from Mexico had the opportunity to speak with Franka Cadée prior to the end of the Congress. She asked how the new president is planning to continue the work to ensure universal access to maternal, newborn and child health care, as well as, how she will support midwives in Mexico to have improved quality education. Franka Cadée also sends her key message to midwives as they return home to their communities. See the two videos below.

Celebrating 100 Interviews with Inspirational Women

My interview with Women LEAD Co-Founder and Former Executive Director Claire Charamnac, published on March 7, 2017, marks my hundredth Inspirational Woman interview. The realization that my hundredth interview coincided almost exactly with International Women’s Day 2017 surprised me and made me think deeply about how far Inspirational Women Series has come.

Back in September 2013, I started interviewing women leaders weekly for Women LEAD, and since then, I’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to launch Inspirational Women Series, which is dedicated to showcasing the experiences of women leaders in social impact, international development, and historically underrepresented fields for women.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 was “Be Bold for Change”. This intrigued me, because all of the women I’ve interviewed boldly use their actions and words to effect change in their everyday work. And nowhere does their boldness shine more clearly than in challenging situations. In my recent interviews, I started asking questions about the biggest obstacles my interviewees have faced –  whether professional, sector-related, or personal. For some women, their biggest challenge was scaling a multinational organization in a region where abject poverty limited business development; for others, it was working with unreliable or incomplete data. Some women shared the risks they faced when they quit their private sector job to launch a social enterprise, while others discussed the difficulties of designing programs for populations ravaged by violence and trauma.

Through this vast range of experiences, it is self-evident that the women I have interviewed for Inspirational Women Series embody an intrepid, relentless spirit in the pursuit of impactful causes that often jeopardize their physical, psychological, or intellectual safety. For many of the women I’ve interviewed, a conscientious boldness provided the original impetus for their unabiding responsibility to the causes they work towards, the communities they serve, and the lives they influence.

Naturally, this boldness was not devoid of worry or fear, but it equipped many of my interviewees with both the stamina to pursue hitherto untraveled paths, and the inability to give up when reaching a dead end. In many ways, boldness is crucial to the most unpleasant parts associated with making a positive dent in the world – making unpopular decisions, immersing oneself in the unfamiliar, making trade-offs between time, costs, and quality, and revisiting failures over and over.

Narratives of my interviewees’ challenges have made me realize how profiles of inspirational people should not focus solely on their successes, but also on the difficulties they have faced and overcome. The success stories contemporary culture exalts are often needlessly optimistic, framing an unrealistic depiction of achievement bereft of all-nighters, painful deliberations, crippling anxiety, and fractured relationships.

Boldness is essential to navigating difficult situations, but another noteworthy point is that the difficult situations themselves can strengthen one’s boldnessI am in awe of the experiences and accomplishments of all the women I’ve interviewed as part of the Inspirational Women Series. I am equally in awe of the challenges they have faced, and how these challenges have molded the inspiration they have imparted to me. I can only hope that by foregrounding their personal and professional boldness, I can inspire others to Be Bold for Change too!

Cover photo credit: Arkady Lishifts