Kate Gross: A woman of optimism

Kate Gross was one of the most influential young leaders in global development.

If there’s one way to describe Kate Gross, it would be a woman of enthusiasm, insight and humor.

I had the privilege of writing a profile on Gross, following her selection as one of the 2011 Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London. At that time, the then-33-year-old Gross was CEO of the Africa Governance Initiative — a charity that advises African governments on how they can better serve their citizens — and held the distinction of being the youngest-ever female senior civil servant in the United Kingdom, having been an adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during their tenures at 10 Downing Street.

“Thanks for selecting me! I’m so pleased,” she replied to our email announcing her selection.

For someone of her stature, she was surprisingly accommodating: She promptly responded to our questionnaire on lessons she could share about leadership and provided us with an image that gave a lasting impression, one of optimism.

“At every stage [Kate] was one step ahead, anticipating strategic or management challenges with options to discuss on how to tackle them. … She will always be remembered as the founding CEO who established AGI and prepared it for success in the future. ”

— Liz Lloyd, chair of the Africa Governance Initiative board

She later wrote an exclusive commentary for Devex about her takeaways from the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan — and it exuded deep discernment about the state and future of global development.

“With the presence of a new generation of African leaders, crystal clear about what they want from aid, the prominence of new donors, south-south and triangular partnerships, the flow of private capital into Africa, and the involvement of business and philanthropic foundations that push the boundaries of innovation in development, the old model of the rich north giving to the poor south has been replaced by a new global partnership,” said the then-self-confessed “newcomer to aid summits.”

Gross was also funny. In January 2013, she published a cheeky poem about her hairstyle in a blog she called “the nuisance.” She was referring to her illness: stage 4 colon cancer, which led her to step down from the helm of AGI two months later.

This past Christmas, Gross, who became an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2013, went “off to Narnia,” her mother wrote on the same blog.

But as Tony Blair said following the sobering news, “Her work and her achievement will endure.” She was credited for turning what was an idea to a charity that according to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “has worked with us to improve our efficiency by helping improve systems, by building teamwork, by looking at our structures and our basic organization, by helping us to concentrate on the delivery through a unit that coordinates all of our agenda items in the different ministries and agencies.”

Without a doubt, in an industry that needs and thrives on visionary and effective leaders, Kate Gross will be missed.

Gross is survived by her husband, Billy Boyle, and 5-year-old twin boys, Isaac and Oscar. Her book, “Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life),” is due for release this month.

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About the author

  • Ejv 150x150

    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.