The Power of Voice – Reflections on the GIH Conference

April 9, 2014

I learned a great deal about the power of voice last month in Atlanta. Many funders use their voice and influence to: improve the livability of our communities; search for game-changing ideas; test new program models; and demonstrate philanthropy’s unique power to coalesce resources around an issue. As Faith Mitchell, the President and CEO of GIH (Grantmakers in Health) reminds us, “Voice is one of the most important non-financial tools foundations can use to support change.”

Michael Bzdak speaks at the GIH Conference

Globally, there are a small number of membership organizations that have the power to convene health funders. Since Johnson & Johnson has been a long-term GIH member, we try to participate regularly in these convenings to share our work and to learn about the work of others. We appreciate that GIH provides a forum to be inspired, learn new things, train our voices and to make new funder friends.

Since the theme of this year’s meeting was The Power of Voice, we proposed a session to highlight the voices of our community partners. Fortunately, our session “Transforming Health Leaders into Change Agents” was selected and we were able to invite four community healthcare leaders from three of our leadership programs.

Francis Afram-Gyening at GIH Conference

Our primary reason for designing a session was to highlight the issues of leadership and management development as a means to empower leaders across diverse sectors including early childhood health/education, K-12 school health settings, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), Community Health Centers, and Community-Based Organizations working on disease-specific issues. Our four partners/panelists explained how participation in these Johnson & Johnson-funded training programs gave voice to them as individual leaders, and to the agencies they lead and the populations/communities they serve.

We believe that equipping individual health professionals with the leadership and management skills to actualize personal voice within their organization will ultimately deliver better health outcomes among their targeted populations.

As our partners shared their stories of increased confidence, personal success and leadership victories, it was clear to me that their voices were hard to ignore. It was also apparent to me and to the audience that they developed their own powerful voices in order to speak for those without a voice.

As Faith Mitchell pointed out, “…not every important story gets told—or the hearing it deserves. Too often, it is the stories of unserved and underserved families and communities that we do not hear. Too often, they are voiceless.”

As an Executive Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson, Michael Bzdak manages the Corporation’s building healthcare capacity initiatives throughout the world.  He is also responsible for the Corporation’s volunteer support program as well as managing the metrics and evaluation efforts of Contributions team.   Michael has been an employee of Johnson & Johnson since 1990.

He serves on the Council on Foundations Corporate Committee, the Conference Board’s Business/Education Council, as well as New Jersey’s Governor’s Advisory Council on Volunteerism and Community Service and just completed a term as chairman of the New Jersey AIDS Partnership Advisory Committee.  Additionally, he has served on the board of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation as well as the New Jersey Council for the Humanities where he completed a term as chairman of the board of directors.  Michael is also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University as well as New York University.