This article was originally published in the Philanthropy Matters e-newsletter.
CEO and president of CARE, a pediatrician, HIV/AIDS expert with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CEO of McKinsey Social Initiative, and current president and CEO of Chicago Community Trust.
The list of leadership career positions reads long for Dr. Helene Gayle.
On October 4, she shared her experiences in these positions and words of advice for students, faculty, staff, and the general public as the first speaker in the Diversity Speaker Series, sponsored by the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Throughout her visit, Dr. Gayle touched on issues of social impact, diversity, and leadership, as well as her personal experiences fostering social change all over the world.
A physician by training, Dr. Gayle realized early in her career that public health, specifically HIV/AIDS, was wrapped up in social factors.
“Around the world, people with HIV/AIDS are some of the most marginalized, stigmatized people in our communities. I discovered that social determinants of health, or the non-health aspects of disease and health disparities e.g. class, race, etc., were issues that I was very interested in,” she said. “Throughout this time, I developed a passion for social equity and justice and discovered the great benefits that result when people come together for social change.”
Dr. Gayle determined that philanthropy acted as one mechanism for creating and fostering positive social change and a way to fight the issues of social and economic inequity. As the current president and CEO of Chicago Community Trust, she discussed why community foundations must be the “eyes and ears of the community,” while also explaining that all three sectors (public, private, and nonprofit) must work together and innovate in order to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
She also shared the importance of being intentional about diversity, inclusivity, and equitability, and that it’s vital for organizations to address several questions about those topics.
“Numbers are necessary, but insufficient. We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we creating the kind of environment that allows for diverse voices? Are we acting in truly sensitive ways to create that space?’ Everyone’s voices should be valued for what they bring to the table,” Dr. Gayle said.
Dr. Gayle also stressed the power of people and communities in telling their own stories, identifying their own needs, and coming up with relevant solutions. She described “On the Table,” an annual event where individuals from various communities gather together to share ideas and discuss issues: “We need to continue to foster these key conversations about important, and often divisive, issues.”
These annual forums have inspired other cities and communities to model talks after them as well.
Through her service in a government agency, a nonprofit, a social initiative, a private foundation, and a community foundation, Dr. Gayle’s passion and focus has been on service to others. She encouraged others to find out “what makes them tick” and pursue those passions wholeheartedly.
“Prepare yourself well to do the things that are most aligned with who you are as a person,” she said. “That will give you a sense of meaning and purpose that will drive your life.”
The next speaker in the Diversity Speaker Series will be Jim Moore, president and CEO of the University of Illinois Foundation on October 30 at 6 p.m.
Co-sponsored with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and Christian Theological Seminary, the third event in the Diversity Speaker Series will feature Reverend Starsky Wilson, Dr. Brad Braxton, and Aimée Laramore discussing faith, race, and philanthropy on November 6 at 7 p.m.