Newsroom & Blog

Apr 12, 2022   |   Blog Post

From Ideas to Commitment: Leadership Shifts at VillageReach

By Ruth Bechtel

Vice President, Global Programs

VillageReach has seen tremendous growth since I joined in 2013. We have grown in the number of staff, the number of programs and the number of countries where we work. This growth and organizational evolution have also pushed us to be more explicit about how we define and actualize our values of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Becoming an organization that is locally driven and globally connected did not happen overnight. It required intention, leadership and commitment. It required building strong teams in our core countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique) with technical, administrative and management capabilities, while also maintaining connective staff based both regionally and globally.

Most importantly, it required a commitment to decentralizing our leadership structure, and I am one example of this commitment in action.

Starting with an idea

As VillageReach’s Mozambique Country Director, I worked hard in my early days to make sure that the perspective of my team and our approach to working in country was reflected in the strategy and direction of the organization.  My opportunities for influence grew as I became part of the leadership team in 2014.

However, the biggest shift in decentralizing our leadership structured occurred at a leadership team retreat in 2017. There, we made a written commitment as an organization to hire staff in the Africa region unless there was a justified reason not to, and we committed to hiring people that are from, and live in, the places we work. Overtime, we also carefully assessed and harmonized salary and benefits across all geographies, correcting internal inequities that arose over time.

These conscious steps fundamentally changed how we hire at VillageReach. We set these concrete objectives, and then held ourselves accountable by setting yearly goals to track our progress. And in 2018, we hired our first to African-based Vice President, Global Programs, a position that had formerly been based in the U.S., and the position I hold today.

Challenging the status quo

VillageReach believes that equity enhances our collective impact and that this commitment to equity is at the root of our growth. Over the last three years we have seen our revenue double. For us this is not just a fundraising metric, but a clear indication that we have been able to scale our impact. Our commitment to having strong leadership in proximity to where we work increases our engagement with partners and improves our solutions to meet community needs.

Today more than 50 percent of VillageReach’s organizational and technical leadership is based in Africa, an increase from 28 percent just two years ago. By changing this leadership structure and growing technical and operational areas in our country offices we were better positioned to adapt to COVID-19. With country and regional staff already in place and making up 70 percent of our staff before the pandemic, our response could be locally driven and tailored to country specific needs. Now we are recruiting future Board of Directors candidates in Africa, so that our governance better represents our staffing and operations.

This change all started with one shared commitment. We started small and built along the way allowing ourselves space to evolve to changing needs of our organization in an ever-changing world.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

But while we can see how our commitment to decentralize our leadership has been a success, these changes have not been easy. For VillageReach, recognizing that we have been part of a sector that has perpetuated inequity and under-valued lived experience requires us to be uncomfortable. We must openly acknowledge that hiring more in Africa means hiring less in the U.S. and Europe, and we must continue to question old assumptions and traditional power structures.

This work is not easy, and while we are proud of the shifts we have made, our work is far from done. Maintaining a diverse, inclusive and equitable organization is never finished, and to truly be a locally driven, globally connected organization we must consistently evolve. We will continue to push ourselves to have uncomfortable conversations and examine our organizational practices.

It’s the only way to truly achieve our mission – to transform health care delivery to reach everyone.

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