Former Minister of Health of Ethiopia, Dr. Lia Tadesse, To Head the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program

“Having been in many leadership roles, I know that the ability to make positive change is related to how strong a leader is. Anything I can contribute to improving leadership around the world truly excites me.” – Dr. Lia Tadesse Gebremedhin

Big Win is delighted that Dr. Lia Tadesse has been appointed Executive Director of the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program (HMLP). Dr. Lia’s exceptional contributions in government and to the field of public health, most notably as Minister and State Minister of Health in Ethiopia, make her an outstanding choice to lead this distinguished program.

Now in its 12th year, the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program has encouraged hundreds of federal ministers from around the world to raise their ambitions for their countries, collaborate on solutions to the multisectoral challenges of the 21st century, and focus on delivering transformational impact for their people.

“Dr. Lia will bring the valuable perspective of someone who has walked in the shoes of a Minister and knows what it takes to lead from the executive seat with clarity of purpose and ambitious drive to achieve impact. Throughout her distinguished career, Dr. Lia has exemplified the key attributes that the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program aims to cultivate,” said Jamie Cooper, President of Big Win.

During her tenure as Minister, Dr. Lia elevated local production of pharmaceuticals to a national priority; played a central role in the cross-ministerial Seqota Declaration initiative to drive down childhood stunting rates, starting in the districts most impacted by severe malnutrition; and improved data systems to better target health interventions. These accomplishments are even more impressive given the context in which they occurred: Dr. Lia took office on the day the first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed in Ethiopia, and she served through a conflict in the country’s North that precipitated significant demand for – and disruptions to – the provision of healthcare.

In the arena of pharmaceuticals, Dr. Lia sought to ensure that Ethiopia had more control over its access to vital drugs and equipment—a vulnerability that became especially exposed during the global supply chain disruptions caused by Covid. After consultation with the private sector, she advocated with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister to ensure that pharmaceutical manufacturers had access to the foreign exchange needed to access necessary raw materials. This led to the launch of five new domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers, increased output among existing producers, and saw Ethiopia launch its first vaccine manufacturing facility. Local production climbed from 8% to 15% of public sector procurement, with an expectation that Ethiopia will self-produce 40% of its public sector requirements by 2025.

In the area of nutrition, the health sector, with the backing of the Deputy Prime Minister, spearheaded a national commitment to eliminate childhood stunting under the Seqota Declaration. Building on her predecessors’ vision, Dr. Lia’s collaborative style enabled a coalition of eleven Ministers to set common priorities based on a shared set of indicators, and to allocate pooled funding to the highest priority interventions, regardless of sector—largely to building water infrastructure and increasing the availability of nutrient-dense foods.  Under her watch, systematic monthly growth monitoring reached 81% of children in Seqota Declaration districts and stunting decreased at the fastest pace recorded globally—increasing from 1 percent annual reduction to over 3 percent reduction.  The program now reaches 240 districts nationally in all 12 regions and two city administrations. The Seqota Declaration approach to working cross-sectorally among Ministers toward specific shared targets has also been expanded to address food system transformation and early childhood development.

Finally, during Covid, Dr. Lia used the pandemic to improve data tracking systems so the Ministry could more optimally target health interventions. She used community health workers to check in pro-actively at the household level. By tracking lab data daily and other administrative health data weekly, rather than monthly, the health sector was able to more optimally deploy scarce commodities, ensure continuity of essential health services, and better advise the Prime Minister and the Cabinet about decisions such as when and where to limit mobility or require masking, sparing unnecessary damage to the economy and social infrastructure.

At Harvard, Lia will pick up the baton from the program’s inaugural Executive Director, Dr. Michael Sinclair.  During Michael’s tenure, more than 260 ministers from around the world have participated in the program.