What Defines Global Health Leadership in the 21st Century?

  • Project Coordinators:  Ilona Kickbusch, Michaela Told
  • Research Assistant:  Austin Liu
  • Project owner: The Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva
  • Project status: Ongoing until August 2017
  • Key Words: World Health Organization, Director-General, election, United Nations, international organisations, multilateralism, global health, global governance, global health governance, global policy, diplomacy, health diplomacy

On 1 July 2017, a newly appointed Director-General (DG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) will take office. With the high political attention to health following the Ebola outbreak, as well as the beginning of a new era of sustainable development, the new DG will face an extraordinary set of challenges. The next DG will need to address interconnected and complex issues, such as antimicrobial resistance, non-communicable diseases and climate change, while managing an organisation with 194 Member States and their diverse interests, as well as six regional offices and 150 offices in countries, territories and areas. Every decision made will impact on people’s health and lives, especially the most vulnerable population who are often left out in the current global governance system.

Expectations towards the new Director-General are great, so are the challenges involved in the selection process. For the first time, this critical appointment will be made by the full World Health Assembly – the governing body of WHO. As opposed to previous elections, all candidates now also engage with the public through social media and attend different forums related to the election. The process has become more open than before but the voting still will be conducted by secret ballots. Many fear that decisions will be driven more by foreign policy considerations than the qualities of the candidates and their visions in leading the organisation.

Through this project the Global Health Centre aims at raising more awareness and debate around global health leadership in general and the WHO DG in particular. In this way, the project wants to contribute to a more open selection process, promote transparency and accountability, and ensure the required profile for the next DG is well defined.

The project activities combine roundtables and public events as follows:
(1) a high-level multi-stakeholder roundtable was held on 30 September 2016 in Oxford in partnership with the Blavatnik School of Government to discuss the leadership qualities required for the next DG;
(2) a public forum was held on 3 November 2016 in London together with Chatham House to allow non-governmental stakeholders ask questions to the DG candidates;
(3) a public hearing will be held on 6 March 2017 in Geneva at the Graduate Institute together with Chatham House, Rockefeller Foundation and the UN Foundation to further pose question to the three final candidates nominated by the Executive Board of WHO.

In addition to these activities, the Global Health Centre also undertakes policy research on the required leadership skills and publishes in-house as well as in renowned journals about the election process.

This project is funded by a grant of the Rockefeller Foundation.


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