2016 – Karen LeBan

In by Marc Pitre

device-camera-recorder-video-glyph-128 Watch Karen’s acceptance speech at the Fall 2016 Global Health Practitioner Conference (starting around 1:20).

NOTE: Karen LeBan served as Executive Director of CORE Group from 2002 – 2015. CORE Group Board Member Janine Schooley wrote the following tribute to Karen.

I cannot think of anyone more deserving of the Dory Storms Child Survival Recognition Award than our own Karen LeBan. Karen has been a recognized leader in the field of child survival and global health since 1999 and, knowing Karen, she was likely a leader, albeit more behind the scenes, well before then.

Karen began her career as a USAID Development Intern in Bolivia, moving from there to several positions in the field and at headquarters with Save the Children. In 1999, Karen became PVO Liaison with BASICS, the Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival Initiative. In 2002 she became Executive Director of CORE Group which also brought her onto two important Steering Committees: the US Committee for Child Survival (2003-2010) and the US Coalition for Child Survival (2002-2010). Her contributions to these complex, multi-sectoral, multi-organizational committees were not those of a flame throwing ideologue, but rather one of quiet strength, wisdom and a never wavering devotion to the community-based, integrated health and development programming that is so essential for the health and well-being of mothers, children and families around the globe.

While Karen achieved much in her career prior to coming to CORE Group, it is her steady, thoughtful, committed, intelligent, devoted and insightful leadership as Executive Director of CORE Group for 14 years (2002-2015) that is most worthy of this particular recognition. In reviewing Karen’s legacy at CORE Group, it is impossible to separate out her personal contributions from the contributions of CORE Group itself, so fully has Karen infused the organization with her vision, her belief system, and her heartfelt approach to community-driven global health. It is obvious that her fingerprints are on just about everything that the CORE Group has done, developed, published, learned, shared, taught and discovered over the years. Her steadfast commitment to community engagement, to listening and learning from those we serve, are well reflected in the products of CORE – from C-IMCI to Designing for Behavior Change, from PD-Hearth to Care Groups – Karen’s belief in collaborative work has led to the widespread utilization of so many approaches and models that are evidence-based, practical, life-affirming and life-saving.

Karen personifies what is at the heart of CORE Group, which is the spirit of collaboration, of learning and sharing, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. She has shaped a culture of collaboration that we have all benefitted from, not just as individual participants in CORE Group activities, but as organizations, small and large, that have gained much from Karen’s open and approachable style of interaction and the collaborative atmosphere that starts with Karen and flows throughout the organization and membership. It is in large part due to Karen’s ability to engage across a wide variety of actors that CORE Group members are valued for collaborative work and long-standing ties to communities and why CORE Group has been recognized for its role in polio eradication in India, among so many other achievements. Karen exemplifies CORE members’ ability to serve as a necessary bridge between a mother undergoing a risk-laden pregnancy and a government functionary drafting new national health sector policies, or between a Care Group in a village and a global conference room in Geneva.

In addition to the innovative tools, the collaborative environment, and the technical expertise Karen, through CORE, has brought us over these last 14 years, she has been a tremendous operational leader of the organization as well, navigating with grace, hard work, and nonstop dedication what has often been a very challenging course. Karen is a consummate mentor to staff and colleagues, a supportive supervisor and trusted colleague like no other. Her “tenacity with optimism” in the face of adversity has been a hallmark of her leadership. And through it all, Karen has served as a faithful steward of CORE Group resources, as the stalwart protector of the organization’s integrity and the thought leader for growing its influence and significance.

Karen has helped us fulfill the promise of Alma Alta through her hard work, her nurturing, and her quiet but firm voice of wisdom. She commands our loyalty, our respect and our recognition in a way that is not commanding at all, but rather gentle and ultimately more powerful.