Welcoming Robert Newman, Director of AMP Health
In October 2018, the Aspen Global Innovators Group welcomed Robert Newman as Director of AMP Health. Robert joins the AMP Health team with deep experience in global health as a pediatrician, researcher, and program implementer. He has worked extensively in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe on malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, immunizations, health systems development, maternal-child health, and health security. Hear from Robert - in his own words - about his background and why he chose to lead AMP Health:
What is your hometown?
Wherever I am in the world. I have had the privilege of living in seven different countries across five continents. I try my best to make each place home by learning about the history and culture, studying the language, traveling to diverse parts of the country, exploring local cuisine, and making friends.
Before joining AMP Health, what was the most unusual or interesting job you have had?
I had the honor of spending four and a half years as Director of the Global Malaria Programme at the World Health Organization (WHO). Director roles at WHO are fascinating and challenging leadership opportunities. You must be a strategist, politician, global spokesperson, fundraiser, cheerleader, technical expert, and a matrix manager – all at the same time. My department had nearly 50 people based in Geneva from 30 countries, with an additional 80 global staff working on malaria across all 6 WHO regions. During my tenure, we developed and inaugurated the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee to oversee the development of global normative guidance; launched Global Plans to address the threats of antimalarial drug resistance and insecticide resistance; implemented the Rapid Access Expansion Programme (RAcE), a program to fast-track uptake of integrated community case management of diarrheal diseases, malaria, and pneumonia in 5 African countries; and worked with Member States to pass a World Health Assembly resolution to accelerate progress in fighting malaria.
What made you interested in joining AMP Health?
Early in my career, in the late 1990s, I was working in Mozambique as Country Coordinator for an NGO called Health Alliance International. While we did not think of ourselves as a leadership initiative per se, the model we used, and the activities that we supported were, in some ways, similar to what we are scaling up in AMP Health. We embedded technical advisors across a range of programmatic areas into two Provincial Health Departments. These individuals worked side-by-side with their counterparts to help them become stronger leaders, better manage their programs, improve supportive supervision, and teach peripheral health staff how to use the data they were already collecting to drive local decision-making. The experience left me with a life-long belief in the importance of partnering with Ministries of Health to develop the leadership capacity. Since then, I have been repeatedly impressed with the power of a strong leader to drive forward progress in public health, and, conversely, the effect of weak leadership on hampering the scale-up of effective programs.
A few years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria commissioned an analysis to determine why similar investments were yielding such disparate results in different settings. While there were many factors, the strongest predictor was whether the person in charge – of a health facility, a district, or a province – had received leadership and management training or had significant leadership and management experience. I was so struck by these data.
Over the years, I have become convinced that there has been a mismatch between the investments to develop innovative tools (diagnostics, medicines, vaccines, and data platforms) and investments to develop human capacity. We spend billions of dollars on innovation, and almost nothing on the people responsible for ensuring that those innovations reach the people who need them. There is a wonderful Chinese proverb that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and that the second-best time is today. We need to urgently convince Ministries of Health, implementing partners, and international funders that investing in human capital is every bit as important as investing in innovation if we are going to reach the ambitious health-related Sustainable Development Goals.
When I first saw the posting for the AMP Health Director position, I was immediately interested. As I went through the recruitment process and learned more about the AMP Health model (especially the very close collaboration with Ministries of Health and the embedding of Management Partners), I became even more excited about the opportunity of joining such a talented and dedicated group of professionals working together on an important, and relatively neglected, area of global health.
What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?
Passionate, caring, and curious
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to be in the water, so I swim 2 km every morning, no matter where I am in the world. When I am traveling, I try to stay in a hotel with a pool, or if that is not possible, then I will find a public pool. I have found that this is a wonderful way to explore new cities, and to visit neighborhoods that are off the beaten track. Once a year, I try to sign up for an open water swim race. The most exciting of those was swimming 5 km from Europe to Asia across the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey.
I also enjoy cooking, reading, hiking, skiing, kayaking, learning new languages, and spending time with my family.
People would be surprised if they knew…
That I once worked as a construction worker building houses, and once ran a house painting company.
What is the best professional advice you have ever received?
The day I started as Director of the Global Malaria Program at WHO, I learned that the department was 10 million dollars short to pay staff over the next 18 months. I went up to London to seek guidance from a former WHO Assistant Director General. He told me to develop a strong strategic plan (the department had never had one); to raise resources relentlessly against that plan; and not to expect that anyone was going to give us a handout just because our cause was noble. I have been forever grateful for this wise advice.