Trying to Keep My Feet on the Ground

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By: Seth Cochran, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Seth Cochran, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. He will be blogging about his experience every month, and you can learn more about him, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

In 2011, I have resolved to try to travel less. I feel like I have spent too much time moving around, especially in the air, and need to reconnect with stability. Of course, I had to start the year by flying back over the Atlantic on my return from Christmas in Texas.

Before going transatlantic, I stopped by the east coast where I had a chance to sit down with women’s health luminary Jill Sheffield.

If you don’t know Jill, she is the founder of Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization bringing together voices from around the world to call for action against maternal death. I attended the Women Deliver conference last summer and it blew me away. Picture thousands of important people from pretty much every country coming together to discuss how we can prevent maternal death and disability. It’s an absolutely electric conference and Jill is at its very core.

I admired her passion for maternal health as a member of the audience at Women Deliver, but it wasn’t until the Global Maternal Health Conference in Delhi, where our Young Champions of Maternal Health program was launched, that I had a chance to meet this maternal health thought leader in person. On my way back to Europe, I stopped into the Women Deliver offices in Soho, where Jill gave me a full 90 minutes of her energy and insight.

It’s rare to see such unbridled passion collide with such keen intellect. Jill is a force for women and has the rare gifts of personality that can move mountains, which she has put into action by mobilizing people and resources on an unprecedented scale that spans the entire globe. We had the kind of conversation that left me breathless and determined to work harder and longer to make maternal death and disability an injustice of days past.

When I returned to EHAS in January, some of the work started last year has been put on hold for more immediate organizational needs: resources and structure.

I had a chance last year to take a proposal-writing course at the Foundation Center in New York City. This class proved incredibly valuable for me and I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with the EHAS team. The EHAS program model is so well designed and so impactful that attracting resources should be relatively straightforward. The idea is to create processes that allow the EHAS team to be proactive in search of resources rather and opportunistic or reactive.

The EHAS team is a small group of staff and a large group of globally distributed volunteers. With new funding coming in and surely more to follow, EHAS will need to ensure that the structure of this highly committed group of changemakers is ready to scale. To accomplish this, I am working with several members of the team to complete a study that will present recommendations on organizational restructure. The idea is to make sure that the roles and responsibilities of the positions in EHAS are best designed to fit the organizational objectives and high growth potential.

While I have a ton of experience with this kind of work in the private sector, the process in this instance is dramatically different. We are not attempting to cut staff in a down economy, but rather to redefine positions for improved performance and scalability. It’s a fascinating and detailed process that I am very much enjoying.

Best of all, I have not left the ground the entire month. My body is confused, but adjusting and I hope to maintain my terrestrial existence until April, when I fly to Peru!

FOR PICS – I didn’t take any of Jill (sorry), but there is a great picture of her at this link