In February, Pathfinder welcomed new President & CEO Lois Quam. Find out why she loves Pathfinder’s work in this Q&A—and why we’re thrilled to have her with us.
What brought you to Pathfinder, and what are your goals moving into this job?
I joined Pathfinder to save mothers who risk their lives giving birth in refugee camps, whose time comes to deliver with war going on around them or who labor without a trained person at their side. I joined Pathfinder because I want to see young girls finish school and grow up before they become mothers. I want to see everyone everywhere get life-saving treatment for HIV and AIDS. I am proud that our organization, our partners, and the United States are leaders in improving access to health care around the world. We save lives every day.
Coming in as CEO, my top priority is to get to know all the people who work at Pathfinder and who support Pathfinder. I am traveling to Africa and Asia this spring to meet my new colleagues and the people we service soon. I want to work to secure our future by finding new and innovative ways that we can do our work and support our teams in the field.
Why is it so important to improve sexual and reproductive health care for women around the world?
Anyone who is a parent, or who is close to someone who is one, knows directly both the joy and the difficulty of pregnancy and labor and delivery. With good care and support, women in this country and around the world do well. When that care and support are absent, as it is for many, many women in the world, their child’s birthday is the most dangerous day in their life. Right now, more than 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and many more suffer lifelong complications.
We also know that families do better when parents have the chance to decide how many children they want to have and how close together they would like to have them. We know that girls are more likely to finish school and be able to prosper throughout their lives if they finish school and reach their 20’s before having their first child. All that means that men and women need information about and access to contraception services.
What sets Pathfinder apart? Why should everyone care about our work?
There are many reasons, but for me three things stand out.
First, our community level work means people can shape their own lives and build stronger societies and countries.
Second, we have a history of doing what is right at times when it was not the popular thing to do.
And third, our courage—working without fear or boundary.
How do you define courage? And how do you see it in our work?
I see it in our staff around the world. They constantly go the extra mile, and they work in settings where the work we do is not always supported by everyone. We stay involved in countries despite changes in governments and policy. And we don’t shy away from making difficult decisions in response to change around the world to move toward progress.
You’ve been named to Fortune’s list of the most influential women leaders in business three times. What does this distinction mean to you?
When my grandmothers were born, women could not vote. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of woman who came before me and I feel it’s important to take the opportunities I have been given and create opportunities for others.
My business career had been based on setting high goals to expand health care to the poor and elderly. I like the constant challenge to find different and sustainable ways to solve problems people face—and I’ve always been especially drawn to leadership roles during challenging times.
What words of encouragement do you have for Pathfinders shaken by our current political climate? What do the challenges we currently face mean for our work over the next four years and beyond?
At this time of such turbulence, it’s easy to wonder how we can go forward. I am confident that we can. We are at a moment where our work is particularly important. We can take strength from our history—60 years of bringing essential sexual and reproductive health services to people around the world. And we can learn from our fellow Pathfinders around the world who have dealt with enormous turbulence in their own countries.
We have so much to do. Today, there are new challenges around the environment and new challenges to serve increasing numbers of refugees and displaced people. And there are age-old problems we continue to face. Too many women still die in labor and delivery. Too many people around the world lack access to the most basic family planning services. And too many women suffer the consequences of unsafe abortion.
What draws you to this work? Do you have a personal connection to what we do?
My grandmother’s older sister never rose from her bed after childbirth—she died a day later. Like many young children without a mother, her young son died when he was only two. I do this work because of my great-aunt—and all women who have died in childbirth.
I have my own children, and I’ve had a difficult pregnancy and a difficult delivery. I made it through safely, because I had around me all the help I needed. But I could feel in that moment of peril what it must be like to be on your own. I do this work for the women who are still alone and afraid in their pregnancy and labor.
No woman should endure pregnancy without antenatal care. No woman should face childbirth alone. No woman should have to resort to an unsafe abortion. No woman should be robbed of her right to choose if and when to have children. I do this work because I believe in our common humanity.