My journey with the Gates Foundation began in February 2008. I've had the incredible opportunity and privilege to lead our work to improve the health and lives of women, children, and newborns as well as to expand access to family planning for women in the Global South over the last several years. I've witnessed the drive of my colleagues and our partners to reduce poverty and improve the health, nutrition, and well-being of people across the world; and the power and leverage of collaboration and partnership.
Recently, I was asked to take on a new and exciting role within the foundation as a Senior Fellow, working across the foundation to elevate and integrate the foundation’s strategic approach as it pertains to the health and well-being of women and girls. I see this as an incredible opportunity to influence foundation strategies and investments, and to develop a more holistic approach to how we address the needs of women and girls in low-resource settings.
If the foundation is going to be successful at understanding the complex challenges that women and girls face we must prioritize them in our work.
This is an opportunity to build on the amazing work that’s been done to date to think big, broadly and in new ways about the issues that affect women and girls on a daily basis and their ability to lead healthy, productive lives.
For example, we know that farmers in poor countries, growing food on small plots of land, are critically important to reducing hunger and poverty. As my colleague Haven Ley points out, about three-fourths of all of these farmers are women. This is critical to note because if we are to actually improve life for poor people, we need to address the challenges women farmers encounter in the poorest countries, such as: less access to better seeds, technologies, and the means to sell their own food. In other words, the health and well-being of girls and women is directly connected to feeding the world.
I am excited to continue and contribute to the cross-cutting work that’s been done thus far, both within the foundation and by our partners and grantees, to apply a “gender lens” to issues that are fundamental to the foundation’s mission.
I am keen to better understand how the issues that affect women and girls throughout their lives connect and impact one another. Adolescence and the weeks and months before are particularly ripe for innovation and attention in public health programs. Currently, global health programs focus on children up to age five, and then, in the case of a girl, re-engage with her when she becomes pregnant. The period between age five and child-bearing is almost entirely off the global public health agenda, and there are few stakeholders taking an integrated approach to providing the services these girls need throughout their lives for example health, nutrition, education and social and child protection.
As I learn along the way I plan on sharing insights, lessons and challenges with you. I urge our partners and those invested in this work to do the same by sharing here with me. By sharing, I hope to sharpen my own thoughts and opinions as well as engage with you in a conversation about the field at large.
If the foundation is going to be successful at understanding the complex challenges that women and girls’ face we must prioritize them in our work, and engage a wide range of stakeholders including: program experts, advocates, policy makers, researchers, and most importantly the women and girls we support.
Focusing on improving the health and lives of women and girls is not new for me, in my work here at the foundation. But looking at the ways in which we can use this lens to create a more holistic approach to our work across our global programs is new. As I embark on this journey, I look forward to learning and collaborating with all of you in service to women and girls.
I hope that you’ll join me.