March 25, 2011

Why We Do What We Do: Martha Dale

It all began when Martha Dale, director for China programs, was on the receiving end of an unexpected phone call in 2005. Elizabeth Bradley, faculty director of the Global Health Leadership Institute (GHLI), was on the other end of the line. She wanted to complete a needs assessment in Ethiopia that would be funded by the Clinton Foundation. 

Martha was interested in Elizabeth’s proposal because traveling and hands on projects were two of Martha’s interests. She had experience running a non-profit organization for people with HIV and AIDS in New Haven and had a background with conventional health care administration after receiving her master’s in public health.  After completing individual projects for GHLI, she applied for her current position as the director for China programs. “I was looking for a new adventure in my career life and specifically the China program appeared on the horizon,” explained Martha. “As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Do one thing every day that scares you,’ and this was what I did.”

Martha has worked on and off for GHLI since 2006, until her appointment as director of China programs in 2009. During this time, her accomplishments include individual learning and program development. For example, even after visiting three countries, Martha explains how no experience can prepare you for the next. Specifically, her range of travels has taught her so much about individual practitioners and systems in other countries and how their health care systems operate in the context of their pressures from the environment and political challenges.

Martha’s successes extend outside of herself. Performance improvement, after listening and responding to the needs participants in programs and turning this feedback into constructive design work, is useful for each new class that participates in the China program. Martha explained how this is not black and white. For example, a woman raised her hand in a management and leadership class and asked how you can communicate more effectively. Although this was not initially a part of the course, Martha thought about how this could be incorporated into the curriculum. This is just one example of how student feedback helped the China program evolve.

One staple of the China program’s 10,000 women, displays a video from Goldman Sachs. Martha’s face lights up when discussing how this video makes her feel.  “Even though I have seen this video at least eight times,” explains Martha.  “Every time I watch it makes me more excited about and committed to the program.”  Martha said seeing this feeling and passion translated in the audience adds to the emotional experience. This video is an example of how Martha’s work has provided her with not only professional achievement, but also with personal growth. She explained how she never actively engaged in women’s empowerment issues during her early career, but now feels personally part of this important cause in other cultural settings. This positive experience reminds her of how easy it was to take this important social issue for granted, as she herself confessed she felt as a recent college graduate. Martha always reminds the students how important they are to the program and for other women.

She describes her role as an “exporter of expertise.” Martha feels a sense of comfort from the connection she has with her program when she visits her program in China. For Martha, her work in global health is more than a job. It has taught Martha you must love your work, no matter what stage of your career you’re in.

Amanda Sorrentino, GHLI Intern

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