The #gritandgrace diaries: resilience, health systems and Michelle Obama have more in common than you might think

Resilience comes when we take a stand for the right thing, stick to our values and are not ashamed for doing so

The #gritandgrace diaries: resilience, health systems and Michelle Obama have more in common than you might think

By Nana Yaa Boadu, HSG Board Candidate 2016

I like writing. I actually do. And when I write, I like to write from the heart, as you will soon find out. With my recent nomination to stand for HSG Board elections came the opportunity to write a blog. A writer’s dream, you would think. But idea after idea came and left without the ‘this is it!’ moment. Eventually, I thought back to the blogger’s mantra: write something you would want to read yourself.

Then it hit me. Well, not just me. Michelle (Obama). Yes! The twittersphere was ablaze after her Democratic National Convention (DNC) speech on Monday night. An epic entry for history’s diaries; and certainly not of the ‘mad black woman’ kind that some irreverent cartoonist tried a hand at earlier. Odes also emerged to her gifted speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz. I have always admired Michelle Obama. She’s classy, intelligent, fit, and fabulous. A strong Black woman with poise and purpose, who clearly states her mind with true diplomacy. Not afraid to shine, she also endures with unwavering resolve, the cruel criticism that often haunts the spotlight. She has told of times when she needed steely resolve to bounce back, when her critics have been at their loudest. I thought of the disappointing day I just had in Ottawa, Ontario and I heard a question in my mind – “how do you handle disappointment?” One word came back to me – resilience.

So, what has FLOTUS to do with (ideally, resilient) health systems? Allow me now to draw you, coffee chat style, into how Michelle Obama’s fabulous speechmight be relevant to you, and I, and to health systems in the 21st century.

When I think about Michelle Obama, I think resilience. Ok, so now you see where I’m going with this. In her beautiful blue dress, a perfect picture of poise and purpose, Michelle was every bit the epitome of (female) resilience as she made Hilary Rodham Clinton shine without once taking the back alley of dirty politics. Two things about her speech struck a chord with me – the beginning and the end. Michelle began with her most prized asset – her family and their values. She presented Barack as her husband, not so much the CEO of the West Wing whose nod to a Special Forces strike would take out the world’s most wanted terrorist in minutes. She talked about him as a man of proven ‘character and conviction”, … of “decency and grace”. She spoke as a mother, of seeing her daughters grow up with the resolve it takes to be constantly scrutinized underneath one of the world’s brightest spotlights. Apparently, resilience is just as critical in politics as it is in health systems. Go figure.

If resilience will mark the next four years (and probably many decades) ahead of us as a community of health systems researchers, policy makers, practitioners, funders and stakeholders, we need some introspection, a rapid review of sorts on where we are, how we got there, what we can celebrate, and what we should change. It takes resilience in our fast paced world, to stop for a moment without fear of being run over, or of losing relevance. Now is a good opportunity for the engine room tour, to make our foundational principles explicit. Let’s debate the tough questions. For example, is our problem solving creativity now limited to how cleverly we can make our research proposal, or program mandate reflect the condition, or GIS-mapped location that carries the biggest funding price tag? In my work, and yours, are we promoting health only as a program feature of Agenda 2030, or as a fundamental human right that should be equitably within the reach of all, including the poorest of the poor? I’ll allow you to ruminate on that for a moment.

In the meantime, here’s my second take home message from Obama’s leading lady. Future. From start to finish, FLOTUS made it clear that as a family and as an administration, future is the preoccupation of their present. True, that might be an American thing, but still, I couldn’t help thinking how that mindset must uniquely frame one’s outlook on personal, professional and global responsibility. To what extent do the expert opinions we provide, the policies we inform and espouse, and the programs we endorse, reflect the future of health and health systems that will serve future generations? For instance, do we consider climate change a conspiracy theory, a mere disturbance, or an opportunity to change our business as usual approach to life?

I keep going back to the speech that wowed the USA and the world at large. We heard, in very simple words often, about children, the future, and why electing Hilary (anequally “resilient” lady, according to POTUS!) would be the right thing to do for future generations.

In our fast-paced teleprompter society, there’s barely a minute to think off script. But I want to pause here for personal reflection. What would my children – or yours – think if they understood the high-level report, document, or strategy couched on our laptops in protected mode? Would they be proud to learn that my signature – or yours – appended on the dotted line meant that the world (the entire world!) had to adopt whatever our dedicated team of writers, editors, consultants and specialists had put together? What kind of legacy are we building with the decisions we make today? It’s time to take a stand. That’s the first step to becoming resilient.

Resilience comes when we take a stand for the right thing, stick to our values and are not ashamed for doing so. It takes #grit, but it also takes #grace. I invite you to join me, and together, let’s rewrite the #gritandgrace chronicles – beyond national politics, and across global policy. By standing for HSG Board elections, I’m seeking your support, to make a difference, to stand up and be a voice for future generations. With #gritandgrace, we can make resilient health systems the value and the legacy we leave for future generations.

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