Hi, I’m Dena.

I joined WGHA in April and have been overwhelmed by your warm welcome.

I recently moved to Seattle and am new to WGHA, though WGHA is not new to me. I had worked with WGHA and was aware that Washington was a powerhouse of global health expertise. I was a senior advisor in a US Senate leadership office, where it didn’t take long to recognize that the Washington congressional delegation’s interest in global health funding was driven by both policy goals and home-state interests. Then, as director of the Centers for Disease Control’s DC office, I saw firsthand the breadth and scope of global health innovation in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, one of my earliest meetings at CDC was with WGHA and a delegation of member organizations.

My take on the state of things

My professional background is steeped in policy, so I find this a fascinating time to be joining you in Washington State. Our region is carefully watching the transition in political power at the federal level. We anticipate policy, political, and budgetary changes to the global health environment, although how much, when, and just what that change will look like is not clear.

What political science and experience have taught me is that democracy is messy. According to the civics books, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judiciary each play a tidy role that collectively serve as checks and balances and keep the country running throughout periods of change. And they do provide balance and keep things running—but it’s not usually tidy.

The beauty of this messy democracy is that we—as the Pacific Northwest region, as a global health community, as organizations, and as individuals—play a part in forming the government and shaping its policies. If there is anything I’ve learned in 29 years of professional service as an advocate, in the US Senate, and in leadership at CDC, it’s that we each play a role in finding solutions. And when we stand together, we are more effective. That recognition is at the heart of WGHA’s value in this community.

A foundational decade for WGHA and this community

WGHA’s governance board, its staff, and founder and former executive director Lisa Cohen have built a strong network of global health stakeholders over the last decade. And what a first decade WGHA has seen. Today, WGHA connects and champions the 168 organizations in Washington’s global health community. In 2016 alone, WGHA made 649 connections leading to partnerships, funding, and jobs. Our member-driven forums on disease areas, health systems, human resources, and a host of other topics bring together interested stakeholders to spark partnerships.

WGHA’s digital strategy has matured over ten years and our website is the source for Washington’s global health news, events, and careers—providing a strong channel for our members to amplify their work. WGHA events draw thought leaders like Melinda Gates, Paul Farmer, Christy Turlington Burns, and Peter Piot, and our community was even collectively featured in this New York Times piece.

WGHA’s next decade

That was just the first decade. We will build on that foundation as we begin our next ten years, with a focus on connecting people and organizations so that our members can have more impact and improve the lives of more people. Now, more than ever, our community needs to approach global health challenges collectively.

WGHA has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of our members. We will continue to connect and champion people, projects, and organizations in the global health sector, and we will continue to convene our community to participate in our messy democracy.

I’ve been both delighted and humbled by the professional excellence and personal warmth of the people I’ve met in this community. I look forward to meeting many more of you as spring turns to summer. (I’ve been promised that spring will turn to summer.) Please introduce yourself at an event or stop by our office or meet me for coffee. I would love to get to know you and hear your perspectives on how WGHA can best catalyze our community for greater impact on global health.

As WGHA marks its first ten years, we are planning a barn burner celebration for this year’s annual Pioneers of Global Health Awards Dinner and Auction, November 9, 2017, at The Triple Door. We will honor some of Washington’s luminaries at the event, and because I’ve heard the WGHA staff is required to use our musical talents, I’ve started intensifying my cello studies.

Thanks to all of you, to WGHA’s strong board, to Lisa Cohen and our talented staff, and to too many stakeholders to be named for providing a very warm welcome.

Now, let’s get to work. Together.