A Road Taken: Why We Do the Work We Do

The Road Taken, Ethiopia

"2014 and the years beyond it don’t have to mirror our past. They don’t have to mirror our present. Together, we can mould the future that we want to see."

This blog was originally posted on UNAIDS' blog, Daily Development.

From time to time, I’m asked the question, “Why do you do the work that you do?”

In turn, I ask “Why wouldn’t I want to do the work I do?”

The numbers tell part of the story.

If this year looks like the last, 14 million girls will be robbed of their childhood, married before the age of 18. Ten million women will die in childbirth (and mostly of preventable causes). More than 1.6 million people will die of AIDS-related causes. And without access to contraception, 222 million women will be denied the choice of when, whether, if, and how many children to have.

But how can we stay hopeful while taking on such colossal challenges? How can we balance idealism in wanting to make a difference with harsh realities and the need to be pragmatic?

It starts with understanding that 2014 and the years beyond it don’t have to mirror our past. They don’t have to mirror our present. Together, we can mould the future that we want to see.

At Pathfinder, we know that sexual and reproductive health matters. We know that our work means the difference between life and death for millions of people around the globe.

Every day, I am reminded that our work makes a significant difference to people I don’t even know. People who I’ll likely never meet.

Why does that matter?

Because each day spent dedicated to fulfilling Pathfinder’s mission and vision means lives bettered, lives protected, and lives saved. And that’s incredibly satisfying.

In November, I travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the third International Conference on Family Planning. The energy and dynamism at the conference was palpable.

Going beyond the “usual suspects,” this year’s conference brought together a unique group of advocates, donors, young people, journalists, and world leaders for an open and frank discussion on where we are today and how we can create the world we imagine for tomorrow.

One thing was clear: things are getting better. Together, we are making a difference and creating healthier sexual and reproductive lives for men, women, and young people everywhere.

"The sexual and reproductive health movement wouldn’t be a movement without you, without me, without our peers."Just take the conference’s backdrop as an example. Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture unlike any other. It is also a country that has made tremendous progress on the family planning front, doubling national contraception use twice in the last decade. And contraception use and availability continues to grow today thanks to a strong commitment to family planning by the government of Ethiopia and the impact of the Health Extension Program.

Ethiopia has also made incredible strides on the AIDS front. Between 2009 and 2012 new HIV infections among infants in Ethiopia fell by 50 percent thanks to a concerted effort by the national government and the global health community to reach mothers with information about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. We also see positive changes in the approach to HIV and AIDS work in Ethiopia and around the world. Today, we approach HIV and AIDS work more comprehensively, with a better understanding of the linkages between prevention, treatment, and care, with compassion and without stigma.

Pathfinder is very proud to have been a part of that progress.


And we are proud to be part of a cohesive movement so fiercely dedicated to the idea that every person has the right to a healthy sexual and reproductive life.

This year’s International Conference on Family Planning served as a poignant reminder that while each organization and advocate has a unique role to play, our collective action is what matters at the end of the day.

The sexual and reproductive health movement wouldn’t be a movement without you, without me, without our peers.

Together, our work goes further for the people who need it most each and every day. And that’s why Pathfinder and I do what we do.

Purnima Mane

Purnima Mane is Pathfinder's President and Chief Executive Officer. She oversees more than 1,000 staff around the world, an annual budget exceeding $100 million, and sexual and reproductive health programs in more than 20 developing countries.

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