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How Women Leaders Have Shaped Our Response to COVID-19

We asked the women leaders at IntraHealth to talk about how women have shaped their leadership style—before, during, and after this pandemic.

At IntraHealth International, we’re lucky to work with amazing women leaders every day. At every level of the organization, in every country we work, they’re leading us through this pandemic and into a future where everyone everywhere has the health care they need to thrive.

In 2020, we saw that countries with female leaders had lower COVID-19 death rates and better economic performance. So we asked some of the women leaders at IntraHealth: How have other women influenced your leadership style, especially during the pandemic?

Here’s what they said.

Lucy Mphuru

Some of the women leaders I admire have really made me shape my approach and exercise an adaptive leadership style—despite the challenges we are facing during this pandemic—and to have decisive, clear communication style. Working at home has made me realize how women can handle multiple roles and still be very efficient—working at home while taking care of children and household duties, for example. Additionally, during this pandemic, most of our interactions have been through virtual platforms, which have made us be more innovative, reduced time and costs, and become more efficient. I've had to communicate and provide strategic direction and vision virtually. But we've been able to accomplish a lot. We couldn't imagine, for example, doing a virtual health clinic visit, but in the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done!”

Lucy Mphuru, country director for IntraHealth's Tanzania office and project director for the Tohara Plus Project

Read more about Lucy’s work in this Q&A about HIV care in Tanzania: Strong Data, Local Relationships: The Future of HIV Care in Tanzania Starts Here.


Lavinia Shikongo

Other women leaders, especially community leaders, taught me during this pandemic that despite resource challenges, one has to be innovative. When schools closed, women leaders made alternative arrangements to have their children tutored while still providing leadership to their respective institutions. Not only are they taking care of their children, they are also taking care of their aging parents, in some cases virtually. They also taught me that in order to address mental health issues, one needs to engage in physical exercise, whether it is working out at least once a day, or starting a garden, or creating a virtual support group to cope with the challenges facing you, your family, and colleagues. They taught me that I first need to take care of me before I can take care of others.

Lavinia Shikongo, country general manager of IntraHealth Namibia


Yadira Villaseñor

COVID-19 has provided me with many lessons. This crisis has been an opportunity for many women across Central America to demonstrate their strong skills. Resilience is one those skills, and that has helped me to lead during this pandemic. I’ve seen women health workers in each HIV facility maintain a positive attitude and strong sense of opportunity to implement differentiated models of care during this turbulent period. Women have been highly adaptable to the challenging context, to multiple demands as health workers continue sustaining progress in addressing the HIV epidemic. Thanks to all women who lead by example.

Yadira Villaseñor, chief of party for the Central America HIV Care and Treatment Project and regional director for IntraHealth’s Central America team.

Read more about Yadira’s work in this Q&A about HIV care in Central America: What’s the Future of HIV Care in Central America, During and After the Pandemic?


Polly Dunford

Early in my career in international development, I was often the only woman in the room with a bunch of men in suits. I was young and I looked it. I got used to the men in those meeting rooms assuming I didn’t have the experience to be there. So I had to work harder to prove myself, make my voice heard, show that I had earned my seat at the table. I’ve been lucky to work with some incredible female leaders and mentors, and I watched them all and learned from them. For me, they modeled what strong leadership looks like. I learned that I could be a strong leader and a mom and someone who cares about the people I work with. Those are all crucial lessons that have been helping me throughout this pandemic, when we all need to care about each other and put our families first. And I feel so lucky to be working with incredible women leaders here at IntraHealth. I’m continuing to learn from them every day.

Polly Dunford, president and CEO of IntraHealth International.

Read more about Polly’s work in Executive Voice: 10 Questions with CEO Polly Dunford.


Meet more women leaders at IntraHealth:


Some women health workers who are changing the world: