Amplifying Women’s Voices in Health Leadership

Jim Rice

Former LMG Project Director

Woman leader posing at deskPhoto: Rui Pires

As we in the LMG Project move to support women’s mentoring networks in the health sector of low- income countries, we look for inspiring and relatable stories about women leaders.

Alyse Nelson is CEO of Vital Voices, an NGO that identifies, trains, and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, bringing visibility to extraordinary women (and men) around the world.

Through her work as CEO and as the former deputy director of the Vital Voices Global Democracy Initiative at the U.S. Department of State, Nelson has helped design and implement

Vital Voices initiatives throughout the world. More than 14,000 emerging leaders in over 144 countries have received vital support, training, and mentoring. And they, in turn, have “paid leadership forward” by training and mentoring an additional half-million more women and girls in their communities. With the vision and passion of an exemplary leader, Alyse has helped unleash the leadership potential of women leaders and social entrepreneurs worldwide, enabling them to transform their lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities. 

"We want to empower women, and the LDP is one way we can address and empower women in Afghanistan"

One way in which the LMG Project is working to unleash that very leadership potential of women is through programs such as the Leadership Development Program (LDP) in countries like Afghanistan. Sabera Turkmani is the President of the Afghan Midwives Association. AMA has come a long way since its inception in 2005 with over 2000 members to date, and continues to make progress by implementing the LDP, a team based, results oriented, participatory leadership development process that enables teams to face challenge and achieve results through action-based learning.

Turkmani admits that “Yes, in our context in Afghanistan, it’s not easy for a woman to be a leader among a male dominated environment. They don’t accept you easily …but you have to be ready to fight those challenges and overcome those challenges.” She goes on to explain that midwifery does not require only clinical skills—a midwife should be a leader and a manager as well: “[A midwife] needs to be in partnership with the woman and the community. And for partnership it is not enough to have clinical skills. You need to have management skills, communication skills, and leadership skills. The LDP has provided us with a mixture of just that. We want to empower women, and the LDP is one way we can address and empower women in Afghanistan.”

Alyse Nelson’s tireless perseverance is an example of how health sector leaders need to seek and support women leaders, like Sabera Turkmani, at all levels of our health systems. When speaking on the bravery of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who survived an attempted assassination because of her advocacy of education for women, Nelson poignantly stated that leadership “is about the values that endure, uncompromised. It’s about the conviction and sacrifice, about the resolve to take risks if they bring you closer to the shared progress you envision.” Through the LMG Project, we can amplify the voices and the sacrifices of women who lead, manage and govern for stronger health systems.

James A. Rice, Ph.D., is the Project Director for the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project.