Welcoming Our New CEO, Ulla E. Müller
CEO and President, EngenderHealth
What inspired you to start working in sexual and reproductive health and rights?
Working to ensure women’s rights has been a strong thread throughout my career. Early on, a series of events—including unforgettable women—led me to realize that sexual and reproductive health is the linchpin for achieving a woman’s potential, whether it is education, finance, politics, or development.
There was one unforgettable Tanzanian woman—she was 41 years old and had 11 living children after having been pregnant 24 times. She and her husband lost six or seven young children and she had multiple miscarriages. She told me: “If only I had a choice, I would have been able to look after my children.” Not only had she wanted fewer children, but she also talked about the despair of burying her children. She did not have access to family planning, and I imagined how different her life would be if she had the opportunity to decide what was right for her and her family. She really showed me how reproductive health care and contraception are essential in enabling a woman to claim her right as an individual.
What has working and living in Africa for 20 years taught you?
My first experience in Africa was in Mozambique in 1994, as part of a democratization project in the private sector. In the 20 or so years since then, I’ve worked in Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, and Tanzania.
My background is a unique combination spanning the economics, private sector, human rights, and reproductive health fields, and this has enabled me to listen to and speak the language of decision makers. I have learned to make the case for women as drivers of economic and social growth and show that without health—and, in particular, without access to quality sexual and reproductive health services—it is impossible to make an impact on the greater development agenda.
Tell us about what kind of culture you have created in your previous leadership roles?
I am fearlessly committed to delivering on our mission to women and girls. I believe this is the ultimate motivator and glue that holds an organization together. It guides our decisions, the trust we have in each other and our ability to develop a creative and productive environment. I want everyone to feel inspired—from the receptionist to a Board member—because we are all entrusted to save women’s lives and build futures. I focus on building a strong team of people who are each experts in their discipline and providing the right processes to support efficiency and collaboration. Thankfully, we have a world-class team at EngenderHealth and are in an excellent position to continue tapping this incredible talent to grow and accelerate positive change.
What drew you to EngenderHealth as an organization?
EngenderHealth has a long, deep heritage that spans nearly 75 years. It has managed to remain true to its core values dedicated to improving women’s sexual and reproductive health, yet also to evolve and change through the years in order to stay totally relevant to the needs of our field. EngenderHealth has also mastered so much in partnership with government and communities, and this expertise in building sustainable solutions is remarkable. Together, I think these two facets of the organization are very exciting and a strong foundation for continued growth.
What changes do you hope the future holds for women and girls?
I hope that by 2030, we will have moved further toward achieving universal access and recognition of women as equals. By this, I hope that we no longer need to differentiate between women’s rights and human rights, because they are recognized as being one and the same. I envision a world where gender equality is achieved and is not something that we “mainstream” into programs; women can freely access safe abortions without fear or stigma; women—regardless of geography—can choose if or when to have children; and a woman’s value is not attached to her fertility or to her ability to get married if and when she is ready.