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Healthcare will be the Industry that Propels More Women into Leadership

Speaking at the 2017 Social Innovation Summit, Terri Bresenham explains why stories from countries in India, Southeast Asia and Africa are already showing why

 

This week social innovation, business and technology meet, as some of the world’s leading thinkers descend on the 2017 Social Innovation Summit.

With speakers from government to startups, the goal of the summit is to bring together involved audiences who care about the world’s toughest challenges, for debate and discussion, and to work towards solutions.

“This conference is all about leveraging this community & thinking about what we can do together,” writes the conference organizer on Twitter.

That intersection of business innovation and social transformation was evident across the sessions today, including a talk by Terri Bresenham, a CEO, engineer by training, and a woman on a mission for the 5.8 billion people with limited quality healthcare access globally.

Having lived in India for the past six years, Bresenham, who now leads GE Healthcare’s Sustainable Healthcare Solutions business, said the company’s journey started with a problem that was visible in all of the countries that she spent time, as she met with ministries of health, NGOs and other partners: in low resource-settings, in challenging environments with little infrastructure, how do you create technology that helps these 5.8 billion

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“As I listened more to what governments were facing, what I was learning is that it isn’t about the technology,” she said. “In fact, I have this irresistible urge to not follow the western model of healthcare in these parts of the world.”

This new way of thinking led to the creation of the Sustainable Healthcare Solutions business that Bresenham leads at GE Healthcare. Acting as a startup of sorts within a global company, it aims to serve the 5.8 billion people in the world with limited access to quality healthcare through disruptive technologies and affordable, relevant solutions.

Patients wait to be treated at the Mgabathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, June 15, 2016.

Patients wait to be treated at the Mgabathi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, June 15, 2016.

But what has become a personal mission for her and an imperative for the business was a less visible challenge, one lurking underneath the surface and one that is part of the solution to the heart of the issue: women are underrepresented and underpaid in global healthcare leadership roles.

It’s an issue the world grapples with across industries but one, Bresenham pointed out, that is especially felt in the developing world.

Even though women make up 75% of the global healthcare workforce, only 38% hold the top jobs. They contribute $3 trillion to the industry, but nearly half is unpaid and unrecognized.

Often the primary caregivers, first responders, and sometimes the only responders, midwives, nurses and community workers, women in these regions make most of the health-related decisions, and they are the ones most impacted by diseases and high mortality rates.

A number of efforts are already proving the value of upskilling women in these parts of the world. In 2015, GE Healthcare announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to help train two million health professionals globally.  In India, in partnership with leading healthcare and education experts, the effort aims to train 100,000 skilled healthcare workers who will strengthen India’s healthcare system over the next five years. To date, all of the female candidates who enrolled in the program within the first two years have been employed as full time radiology technicians after completing their training.

Terri Bresenham, the CEO of GE HealthcareÕs Sustainable Healthcare Solutions talks to a doctor next to GE Healtthcare equipment at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, June 15, 2016.

Terri Bresenham, the CEO of GE Healthcare Sustainable Healthcare Solutions, talks to a doctor next to GE Healthcare equipment at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, June 15, 2016.

“The difference that employment and economic empowerment makes to young women in this part of the world is dramatic,” she said. “We can put these two things together. The lack of skilled resources and bringing more girls and women in[to leadership] for the next generation.”

Another effort aims to address a deep-seeded part of the challenge for women in global health, which is that so much of the impactful work that’s happening is unrecognized. A new documentary follows three women, from three countries, who have never met, but share a common journey as they bring health and hope to women and their communities.

Over the past several months, the filmmaker went out to where these stories happen to find out:  How is it that these individual women have made an impact on the disparity that exists in global health in a way much of the world is still striving to do?

Heroines of Health, a film by Emmy-award winning filmmaker and Master of Public Health Lisa Russell, premiers soon.

Be the first to know when the documentary premieres here