When one thinks of some of the most pressing global diseases and pandemics to hit our world over the past 40 years, H1N1, SARS and the avian influenza are often the first to come to mind. Managing these types of global crises takes a confident and compassionate leader, like Brescia alumna, Dr. Margaret Chan. Graduating from Brescia’s Home Economics program in 1973, Dr. Chan quickly made her way through the international public health world before taking on the significant role of Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). After completing her term at WHO in June 2017, Dr. Chan is still considered to be the most powerful international public health official in history.
I knew it had a solid reputation and it was recommended to me by a girlfriend.
What path led you to your role as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)?
I began work at WHO in 2003, when the late WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-Wook invited me to serve as Director of the Department for Protection of the Human Environment. Because of my experience as Director of Health of Hong Kong, where I worked to promote better health and prevent the spread of diseases – including outbreaks of avian influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), I then became Director of Communicable Diseases, Surveillance and Response as well as Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza. In September 2005, I became Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases and then was elected to the post of Director-General in November 2006.
What are some of the learnings that you have been able to take away from your experience at Brescia and apply to your career?
My time at Brescia taught me the importance of education for the empowerment of women. Equal access to education and the opportunity to develop personal ambitions is crucial to give women the autonomy to manage their own lives and to pursue professional careers.
To what do you attribute your professional success?
The guiding principles for my life are truth and fairness. There is no shortcut. Any success I have achieved is based on professional competence from good training; the ability to work as part of a multicultural team and my willingness to work hard.
What advice would you give to Brescia alumnae and students?
To succeed in today’s world you must:
- practice tolerance and accept people from culturally diverse backgrounds;
- dare to dream and work hard to pursue your dreams, and;
- maintain your independent thinking and acquire analytical skills to succeed in today’s world of information explosion.
How do you define leadership? Or, what characteristics make a great leader?
For me, a great leader possesses three main characteristics:
- humility, in order to be able to lead or to follow;
- accountability, do not overpromise or under deliver as this ensures you “walk your talk,’ and,
- the ability to manage complexity.
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