January 19, 2017 |

The impact inspired by a little girl

How a photo of a small child helped remind a generation of health professionals who they really worked for.
Toddler in blue tub, peering over the rim.
Photo: PATH/Siri Wood.

Editor’s note: The following post was written by the Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services, following PATH’s recognition of her work in advancing the health of people in the United States and around the world at the PATH Board reception in Washington, DC, on December, 5, 2016.

In my office, I have a picture of a little Senegalese girl named Ndèye Ndiaye. She’s just about two years old, sitting contently in a blue bucket—her little head barely peeking out over the top.

When I worked at the Gates Foundation, I would give everyone a copy of her picture with a note saying, “Looking forward to your contributions to impact for our boss.”

I wanted to make sure that each person working for us knew who they really worked for. I wanted us to always ask, “How does our decision today—how does my work—help Ndèye live a better life?”

Ndèye had some great management experience—by the time she could walk, she had been the boss of more than 125 global development professionals. And I have PATH to thank for this—it was a PATH employee who took that picture of Ndèye.

Read “Finding the Boss,” the original PATH blog story about Ndèye.

Who we’re really working for

Sylvia Mathews Burwell with Steve Davis.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell with PATH president and CEO, Steve Davis. Photo: PATH.

As my team at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) knows, my two favorite words are “deliver impact.”

In everything we do—whether it’s fighting a global health threat like the Zika virus, or helping millions of Americans access the health coverage they need, or giving children the building blocks to healthy, productive lives—impact is always our goal.

Not input, not the effort and energy we put in, but the impact we make.

Impact keeps us focused on outcomes and the people we serve. It keeps us pointed to our true north.

Thanks to people and organizations around the world, we have helped make our planet safer and healthier. In immunization rates for children that are at an all-time high. In reaching the edge of completely eradicating polio. In a tenfold increase in the number of people getting treated for HIV in just five years. In a child mortality rate cut by half since 1960.

Progress means better lives—a child who can join in a soccer game, unencumbered by polio; an uncle fighting HIV who can spend more time with his nephew and niece; a family who can watch their baby girl grow up to be a strong and smart young woman.

Whether we’re working in a government agency, on programs in villages around the world, or taking a picture that will inspire countless people every day—we all have the chance to deliver impact by focusing on the people we serve.

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  • Sylvia Burwell was formerly the US Secretary of Health and Human Services.