Member Profile: Lisa Hilmi, CORE Group

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March 07, 2017

Member Profile: Lisa Hilmi, CORE Group

By Elizabeth Walsh

Director, Communications and Marketing InsideNGO

Our Member Profile blog series features InsideNGO members talking about their work and how they manage the operational challenges within their organizations. This month we feature CORE Group Executive Director Lisa Hilmi, seen in photo at right. This year, CORE Group celebrates 20 years of accelerating global health impact by unifying member organizations and partners to implement high quality, community-focused maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health programs around the world. Here Lisa talks about her first year at CORE Group, their operating model, and the challenges inherent in running a membership organization.

Q. You joined CORE Group in April of last year as executive director. What’s been the biggest surprise to you in your first year? 

I was very familiar with the work of CORE, but coming in as executive director, it was great to meet so many of the members at the Spring Global Health Practitioner Conference in 2016, as well as the many technical experts and members of civil society from developing countries that attended our conferences. This year we had over 20 countries represented and over 150 organizations attend to discuss prominent issues in community health. Meeting our members and hearing more about their work reiterated that CORE Group has a powerful collective voice that amplifies the work of our members across the world.

I have also been impressed by the solid strategic plan CORE Group has in place to strengthen our hub of community health innovation and learning, increase global participation in our collaborative learning and action network to build strategic capacity, and engage with priority health issues at the global and country level. We also plan to partner more with foundations, universities, and corporations.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What was your path to this position?

I have been passionate about global public health, especially for women and children, for the past 25 years. I have worked with many CORE Group members, as well as the UN, in over 12 countries. I am proud to be a nurse; I practiced clinically in pediatric emergency departments and with children with disabilities. My global work has concentrated on technical and executive roles, as well as research. My research focused on adolescent health disparities in urban environments, global road safety, disaster preparedness, nutrition and livelihoods, and gender issues.

I was excited to join CORE Group as I offer a diverse background that lends technical expertise, strategic direction, research acumen, and clinical knowledge to CORE’s strategic vision. The collaborative mission of CORE Group is important to me, as I strongly believe that there is power in people working together to solve the challenging health issues we face today.

Core Group works with 70+ member and associate organizations to generate collaborative action and improve and expand health practices for underserved populations around the world. How big is your team? And how is your operating model structured?

We now have over 100+ members that belong to CORE Group, so we have really grown over the years, but still maintain the collaborative feel of a small group. The CORE Group staff consists of only 10 people, who work with the force of 20! We recently conducted an internal restructuring this year and are using Global Impact for their stellar financial management services. Due to the large volunteer workforce at CORE Group, we work very closely with our working group co-chairs (who volunteer their time), volunteer planning committees, and others who are key to the collaborative resources and products that CORE produces with others. Our structure has executive management and operations, business development, project technical advisors and teams, and a knowledge management and communications team.

By investing in good global health policies, we see an economic return on human capital at the individual, household and community level, as well as global health security, and national economic growth.

Lisa Hilmi, Executive Director

CORE GROUP

What are some of the operational challenges/issues you face?

As a member organization, we want to offer the most useful benefits to our members and are always looking for new opportunities that we can access for them. I want to be able to cater to members’ needs in an evolving non-profit climate. We just conducted a member survey, which was very useful for gaining feedback from our membership organizations.

We also face a challenge of ensuring that all organizations are paying their membership dues, as it enables CORE Group to carry on the collaborative support, events, resources and other projects that we are involved in. We recently decided that we will need to increase our outreach for membership dues. One of the ways we’re addressing this is by discussing common challenges that network organizations face, through the CEO Forum established by InsideNGO, as well as reaching out to our partners.

With shifts in funding channels, priorities, and partnerships, we are constantly evaluating our business development process and our plan. We are diversifying our board with a variety of skill sets that can assist the organization to grow.

Additionally, strengthening internal systems and policies is important for our organizational growth. I want to enable staff to have input into changes in policies, as well as the direction of CORE Group. Shortly after I started with CORE, we had a staff retreat that identified key areas for improvement and reviewed the strategic plan to operationalize how we move forward.

Finally, our team is small, yet we are doing an incredible amount of activities and outreach, as well as being key consortium members of USAID’s flagship Maternal Child Survival Program (MCSP), Food for Peace’s TOPS program, USAID’s Resilience award, and the USAID-funded CORE Group Polio Project. This is often challenging for the staff and for the donor, who may allocate 5% level of effort in a budget, but expect 40%. I am dedicated to providing staff capacity building and professional development opportunities, so I am very pleased by the InsideNGO training catalog and events offered.

Many organizations working on maternal and child health were dealt a blow in January with the reinstitution—and, in fact, expansion—of the “global gag rule,” the policy that bars NGOs abroad from receiving US funding if they perform abortion services or give information about abortions as a means of family planning. What impact are you seeing on the operations of your member organizations abroad?

Our member organizations are diverse and have a variety of views on this policy. CORE Group has been disseminating information on advocacy and information sessions that other organizations have hosted, at the request of members. Many members, technical experts, researchers, clinicians, and some donors have expressed some concern about women’s health and access to safe care, and have provided multiple studies with evidence demonstrating how detrimental this policy can be to women’s health. Some members may feel that this policy closely aligns with their organization’s mission.  

CORE Group will continue to convene organizations around the evidence of reproductive health programs at the country-level and engage globally with our multiple partners. Ultimately, we need policies that address women and children’s health in a comprehensive manner based on evidence, especially for the most vulnerable populations. By investing in good global health policies, we see an economic return on human capital at the individual, household, and community level, as well as global health security and national economic growth.

Since we’re publishing this interview during International Women’s Month: What advice do you have for young women coming up behind you, who are interested in pursuing a career that focuses on the international non-profit sector?

It is vital we hear the youth voice and young women’s opinions, engage them in dialogue, and use their expertise. I hope that young women will advocate for the issues that are important to them and participate in events for collective action. Although we have made progress, there is still inequity in women and girls’ lives, both in developing countries and here in the United States. We need young women to add their footprint through volunteerism, advocacy, social media, political engagement, and in career choice.

I would encourage young women to get involved in CORE Group’s Young Professional Network and to join the YPN listserv to keep updated on relevant news, updates, and events. We have a mini-workshop coming up on March 31, 2017, so be sure to check out the details as well as future opportunities to network and learn.

I also suggest young women should find a mentor in the sector you are interested in. A dedicated mentor is important for feedback, career advice, networking, and other opportunities. Continue professional development throughout your career; there is no age limit for learning and education!

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