Opinion: If we want universal health coverage, we need complete business leaders

To address global development problems, organizations need to create influence rather than wield power. Photo by: rawpixel.com from Pexels

The challenge for this generation of development leaders lies not only in what they should do, but what they should be. Succeeding in today’s multidimensional development landscape calls for new kinds of institutions guided by new kinds of leaders.

The need for a holistic manifestation of leadership is illustrated by our difficulty tackling universal health coverage. The UHC 2030 goals are essential but, in my opinion, unachievable without radical thinking executed through nimble, forward-leaning organizations acting in networks carefully orchestrated to produce tangible results. Complete business leaders must step up to make this happen.

Activism. UHC. Climate. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 74th U.N. General Assembly.

In addressing problems of global scale, the fundamental unit of effectiveness is no longer the organization, but the network. To address global development problems, organizations need to create influence rather than wield power. They need to bond with other organizations where they can find common interests and create social value.

What is clear is that no one organization has cornered the market on answers, capital, or talent. The great donors and funders of development — USAID, DFID, the World Bank, others — increasingly recognize their role as orchestrators and conveners.

Practically speaking, these networks of institutional relationships can take many forms: loose periodic sharing of ideas, coming together in associations, occasional partnerships, tighter bonds such as strategic alliances or affiliations, legal joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, and so on.

An example from my own environment would be IntraHealth International — the NGO whose board I chair — serving as a founding member of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition and a nonstate member in “official relations” status with the World Health Organization. These two IntraHealth relationships, in turn, connect my company DAI, now an affiliate with IntraHealth, to adjacent networks of institutions. These linkages may not directly benefit DAI’s bottom line, but they extend its ability to drive social impact.

These new kinds of “network-centric” institutions require a new kind of leader, what I call a “complete business leader.” Complete leaders are well-rounded and grounded, can integrate across disciplines, and can inspire diverse constituencies to produce results. They have mastered what I describe in my book, “The Complete Business Leader,” as seven competency areas of leadership: individual wisdom, relationship management, thought leadership, business growth, people leadership, project management, and business management.

Leaders of consciously networked organizations need to be able to think and act in nontraditional ways. They need to be able to see from the outside in, identifying new people, partners, and approaches to address multifaceted challenges. Their “newness” is grounded in the reality of development but not bound by traditional thinking.

Reaching out to other leaders and institutions, these leaders see how to create long-term, mutually beneficial relationships based on trust and respect. They realize that win-lose relationships don’t produce sustainable results. They don’t just find common ground; they create new ground. They gather and inspire highly diverse teams of varying ages, cultures, experiences, and technical disciplines. They see the big picture and connect others to it.

To realize the vision of UHC, traditional donor funding is insufficient. Public sector solutions are inadequate today and are likely to fall short. By the same token, private sector health care — while viable and thriving in certain sectors and countries — remains disconnected from the broad public health goals of UHC. What is needed is a convergence of the public sector, with its mission, policy-setting mandate, reach, and resources, and the private sector, with its focus on innovation, results, efficiency, and financial sustainability.

The public sector may have to give up some of its control, but it can create effective policy and regulatory frameworks for health market players; the private sector will see an opportunity to grow, but it will need to play by the rules.

Marrying public and private sector interests in the pursuit of UHC will require us to adopt novel technical and management models, create unconventional partnerships, integrate myriad sources of financing, leverage digital tools and approaches, and win sustained political commitment. That’s a tall order. But if we recognize what is required of us as leaders — what we are fundamentally called to be — then we have a far greater chance of pulling it off.

Activism. UHC. Climate. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 74th U.N. General Assembly.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Chris LeGrand

    Chris LeGrand, president of DAI Global Health, has 30 years of experience creating health solutions for both the public and private sector. He is passionate about the possibility of putting health technology and knowledge in the hands of citizens, empowering them to take charge of their own health and well-being. Chris recently published a book, "The Complete Business Leader: A Framework for Impact in Work and Life."