Here at TheGrindstone, we’re all about women in business, whether that be in traditional for-profit ventures or in the incredible world of non-profits. Pamela Barnes, the CEO and President of EngenderHealth, has experience in both. As the head of a large global organization focused on improving women’s health around the world, she knows a lot about being a woman in a leadership position, as well as mentorship and innovation. I spoke to Pamela about her inspiring job, including her career experience before taking her position as CEO, what her work life is like now, and the biggest challenges involved in running a company with employees who work, literally, all over the globe.
You made a serious career switch, going from working in finance to working in nonprofits. What made you want to switch fields and focuses?
Making the shift after 20 years in finance to focus on women’s health was a big risk, but totally worth it. While I loved working in finance and found it intellectually stimulating, it simply wasn’t enough. I had a feet-on-the-floor moment and wanted to pursue my personal passion – women’s health. I decided to go into the Peace Corps, so I could work with the women and families who needed my help the most.
What was it like transitioning from the Peace Corps back to the regular work world?
My experience in the Peace Corps in rural Paraguay exposed me to the harsh realities that women face simply because they are poor or where they live. I understood what it was like to live without running water. I saw a woman die because she didn’t have access to basic health care. When I came back from the Peace Corps, this fueled my desire to continue working globally in women’s health. Knowing that I can make an impact on women’s health and lives around the world is what motivates me each and every day.
Can you tell us a little about EngenderHealth and what it does?
EngenderHealth is a global women’s health organization that works in more than 20 countries, mostly in Asia and Africa. We train health care professionals and partner with governments and communities to improve women’s access to high-quality reproductive health care so that every pregnancy is planned, every child is wanted, and every woman has the best chance at survival. We are 70 years strong and growing.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about running EngenderHealth?
I lead a team of more than 500 people, most of whom live outside of the United States. Leading this global team can be difficult because we are based around the world and don’t experience typical ‘water cooler’ dialogue that helps build personal connections with one another. But, between advances in modern technology—like Skype—and my personal commitment to travel often, we have overcome this challenge and built relationships that transcend geography and distance.
How about the coolest thing?
Since I’ve been at EngenderHealth I’ve traveled to more than 15 countries and seen the impact our work has had on the lives of women around the world. This is the most rewarding thing about my job: meeting the women and families whose lives we have positively changed, hearing their stories, and knowing that we played a lead role in making their reproductive vision a reality. Earlier this year, the coolest thing was sharing one of these experiences with my 15-year-old grandson during a trip to Tanzania.
What advice would you give to people, especially young women, who are hoping to rise to leadership positions at both for-profit and non-profit companies?
For all professionals, and especially young women, the world outside our comfort zone can be huge and scary. Until we are willing to put ourselves out there and take a risk, we will never be able to achieve professional success and realize our potential. It’s time to leave our comfort zone; time to go after what we’re passionate about; and time to achieve our dreams.
Do you have any basic work world tips?
You never know who you’re going to meet, so regardless of where you are—a business setting or a casual one—think about the impression you’re going to leave on the people around you.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about EngenderHealth?
Because of EngenderHealth, there are millions of skilled health professionals and clinics across 100 countries that have the tools and the know-how to deliver critical reproductive health care to women and families. Follow me on Twitter, keep up-to-date with the latest news, and join the conversation, so that you can get involved in the work that we do around the world.
Photos courtesy of EngenderHealth