Have you ever dreamt about having more fun at your job, or wondered why some people really look forward to going to work every day? Ask Kathy Spahn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Helen Keller International, about her work. Even after five years, she still feels rewarded and energized by her job. I recently asked Kathy to tell us about her journey to HKI and what inspires her the most.
How Kathy got into public health: “I’ve spent my entire career working for non-profit organizations. Coming from a very politically active family, there was never any question in my mind that I would work in the non-profit world. I was a dancer as a teenager, so physical health has always been very important to me. It was always upsetting to me to see people fall ill when it could have been avoided.” Kathy eventually moved from the arts to work in HIV/AIDS, where she became Executive Director of God’s Love We Deliver, an AIDS service organization dedicated to combating malnutrition and hunger among people living with HIV/AIDS. What disturbed her most was the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. She later found that blind people suffer from stigma as well.
Most inspiring moments at Helen Keller International: “I can think of four trips to the field that were particularly rewarding for me. The first experience was visiting Indonesia and seeing vitamin A supplementation in action for the first time. I was so happy to see the children and mothers whose health and lives were being improved by this program. It made me feel like Mother Teresa! I also visited villages on a remote island in Sierra Leone where HKI was distributing Mectizan® for the treatment of onchocerciasis, which is the world’s second leading infectious cause of blindness. It was wonderful to see the excitement of the children swarming around us, so happy to welcome us. Another trip was to Tanzania, where dozens of schoolchildren greeted us with a song they had written about preventing trachoma (see video). And lastly, I was part of a surprise visit to a homestead garden in Nepal that had been started 10 years previously thanks to HKI. It was amazing to see how the garden had grown and thrived in the intervening period. It was about four times larger than the original garden, and the quality of the produce was exceptional. I had never seen such gorgeous cauliflower!”
Keeping the day-to-day interesting: “The thing that people might be most surprised to learn about my day-to-day work is just how varied it is on all levels: tackling diverse subject matter, reviewing budgets, fundraising, giving a speech somewhere, board work such as at InterAction, the list goes on! My work goes from high-level strategy to painstaking detail, all in the same day. There is never a dull moment!”
What makes HKI unique: “First and foremost, the caliber of the staff. They are gold! And there is a spirit of teamwork here that doesn’t exist in many organizations. Everyone moves their oars to move the boat in the same direction. When board members and donors visit the field, they come back saying, ‘These staff members are amazing!’ In addition, HKI has become the leader in programs that link agriculture and nutrition; this is a real area of opportunity for us.”
Favorite Pastime: “Going on a strenuous hike in a beautiful location, preferably hiking up a mountain. Half Dome in Yosemite is a favorite, it’s a 17-mile day hike!”
Favorite Helen Keller quotes:
“The best way out is always through.”
“It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks.”
Share a personal inspiration with Kathy: Do you have a story you would like to tell about your own inspirational experience? Please leave a comment below and share it with us.
Do you have a favorite Helen Keller quote? Helen Keller’s courage and determination continues to inspire people around the world. Tell us which Helen Keller quote inspires you. Here are some of her most famous ones.