September 12, 2016 | ,

PATH’s new policy and advocacy leader on unlocking innovation

How advocacy can advance innovative health solutions and why it is essential for tackling the challenges ahead in global health.
Portrait of Carolyn Reynolds.
Carolyn Reynolds is vice president for policy and advocacy at PATH. Photo: PATH/Jean-Pierre Leguillou.

Editor’s note: Guest contributor Kelly Healy spent some time with Carolyn Reynolds, PATH’s new vice president for policy and advocacy to find out what inspires and motivates her, as well as what challenges and opportunities she sees for global health and development.

What first drew you to global health and development and what motivates you today?

I have always been interested in the world around me. At first I wanted to become a journalist. Then after college I spent a year teaching in rural Kenya and it opened my eyes to poverty in Africa and motivated me to dedicate my career to finding solutions to give people around the world an opportunity to build a better life. That experience cemented my career path in development, and since then I have fortunately been able to connect that with my interest in communications to effect meaningful change. That is what really motivates me—effecting change to help others realize a better future.

What drew you to PATH?

I believe if you want to effect meaningful and lasting change you have to do it from a number of vantage points, including both inside governments and international institutions and outside.

My career has its roots in civil society. For example, I helped grow InterAction’s advocacy efforts in the mid-1990s. At the World Bank, I spent the first part of my career focused on building and expanding relationships with civil society. I believe these organizations—including nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, and academia—are a source of tremendous ideas, innovation, and expertise that can and should inform and complement what national and international policymakers bring to the table.

After spending nearly two decades driving change from the “inside” at the World Bank, I was drawn to PATH because of its reputation for leadership and excellence in health innovation, which is so critical to achieving the global health and development goals. It is clear that we will not be able to achieve these goals unless we unlock innovation—and take solutions to scale—and PATH has demonstrated its expertise in doing just that.

PATH calls this “the Journey of Innovation,” and I think that phrase perfectly encapsulates the sometimes messy and long—but critical—process required to get an idea from the laboratory to the end user in a community. After all, an innovation is only impactful when it actually reaches the people whose lives can benefit from it. Advocacy is an essential step in that process.

Screenshot of the "Advocacy at Every Step" special feature.
Click this image to learn more about how advocacy unlocks innovation to save lives.

Can you give me an example of where you’ve seen the impact of effective advocacy?

Effective advocacy is not singular. Achieving meaningful policy change requires a multi-layered, multi-stakeholder, and often multi-year effort. Within health, what comes to mind is the now decades-long campaign to expand access to treatment for HIV/AIDS. That effort has required a combination of activists, scientists, practitioners, community leaders, and committed policymakers. The fight is not over, but we have made incredible progress over the past 15 years. Today you see how global health advocates such as our PATH colleagues and partners are building on those efforts to help governments understand that they must invest not only in combatting specific deadly diseases, but also in building well-functioning, sustainable health systems that will offer quality care for everyone.

In development more broadly, I am amazed by the tremendous progress the world has made in advancing girls’ education. Opportunities for girls around the world have increased dramatically since my first experience teaching in Kenya more than a quarter century ago. There has been a dramatic shift in the understanding among decision-makers that investing in the education and empowerment of women and girls is pivotal for achieving any other gains in development, including health. As with HIV/AIDS, this progress has been the result of a multipronged global advocacy push that has not only shifted attitudes but really impacted programming and investments.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges right now in global health and advocacy?

The world has now set its sights on much more ambitious goals for global health with the Sustainable Development Goals. Rather than just focusing on reducing incidence of certain diseases or gradually reducing deaths, we have set a goal to reach everyone with health care that will empower them to live healthy, productive lives. I think that’s the right ambition.

While we have made astounding progress over the past 15 years, the next 15 will be even more challenging, working to serve the most disadvantaged and hardest-to-reach populations. At the same time, we are seeing flattening investments in global health and development. The refugee crisis, violent extremism, and economic volatility are pulling policymaker attention and funding elsewhere. And we are seeing more frequent and severe epidemics that, without swift action, can become deadly pandemics. More than ever, we need sustained investment at the global and national levels in strong health systems. Strategic, smart, and sustained advocacy is more important than ever to ensure that commitments are made and fulfilled.

I look forward to working with PATH’s leaders and partners around the world to advance advocacy and policy efforts that make a real difference in the lives of women and children around the world.

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  • Carolyn Reynolds is vice president for Policy and Advocacy at PATH.
  • Kelly Healy is a communications officer with the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.