Q&A: New PATH CEO on plans to become 'the go-to health NGO'

Nikolaj Gilbert, PATH’s next president and CEO. Photo by: PATH

SAN FRANCISCO — On Wednesday, global health organization PATH announced its new president and CEO. Nikolaj Gilbert — currently the global partnerships director for the United Nations Office for Project Services, or UNOPS — will join PATH on Jan. 6, 2020.

The news comes as a result of a global search to select a successor for current PATH President and CEO Steve Davis, who announced his decision to step down earlier this year.

On the day of the announcement, Devex spoke with Gilbert, who is currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark, about his upcoming move to Seattle, Washington, and his goals as CEO of PATH.

“You will be seeing a more visible PATH outside of Seattle. My background and network is in Europe and Asia and that will help our capabilities at PATH find new homes and donors and partners.”

— Nikolaj Gilbert, incoming president and CEO, PATH

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

PATH has more than 1,400 employees, and 58% of your team is based outside the United States, with 22 offices worldwide. I understand you’ll be based in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first few months, and traveling to offices in Asia and Africa. How do you plan to get a sense of PATH’s work globally?

One of my first priorities is to get to know everything PATH is doing. I need to go out and see the country operations, see how they impact communities, and see it with my own eyes, not just read the stories. So that’s going to be a main focus at least for the first 6 months.

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I need to understand our innovation pipeline, the vaccine pipeline, digital health technology, and how it can help governments make informed decisions about health care interventions.

Learning about the organization will be one of the main focus areas coming in. I also need to spend time understanding the history of PATH in full before coming out with a huge change agenda. I really respect what this organization stands for and what Steve and the team has done.

You’ve been in the public and private sector, having worked at Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical company. At UNOPS, much of your work is about working with donors. How will that shape your approach and priorities at PATH?

PATH has some of the most relevant donors in health care in the world. The partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. government has shaped what this organization is all about today.

So one of my key priorities will be to see: How can we sustain and grow those relationships that we have, how can we continue to be the preferred partner for those donors, and how can we also help them with their priorities?

When you look at the global health and development landscape today, there are not many organizations like PATH out there — only PATH can do everything from science to delivery to implementation.

The World Health Organization has more of a policy mandate. You have Gavi and The Global Fund, but those organizations have specific roles in this ecosystem. I think PATH is an organization that can bring all these actors together, but this means we need to broaden the awareness of the organization around the world.

Health equity, the vision of PATH, can’t be done alone. We need partners and donors to work together to bring that vision to life. And Seattle is a strong start but there are so many more actors we need to work with.

PATH has increased its global footprint, and I see that continuing. As we get closer to governments and help them implement universal health coverage for their populations, there will be a need for capable and strong leaders and advocates for health in those countries to help make that transformation happen. You will be seeing a more visible PATH outside of Seattle.

My background and network is in Europe and Asia and that will help our capabilities at PATH find new homes and donors and partners.

How will you measure your success as CEO of PATH?

It’s not about my success as CEO. It’s about the success of PATH.

And we as an organization will be successful if we are able to have an impact on the ground across everything we do. If we look internally, success is having a culture where people stand up for their values. And we will be successful if we become the go-to health NGO in the world because of our capabilities, our knowledge, and our history.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.