GHIT Fund: Diversity is hardwired in our DNA

In conversation with Catherine Ohura, CEO

The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund is a Japan-based international public-private partnership that mobilises Japanese industry, academia, and research institutes to create new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases that affect the world’s poorest people.

Advancing gender equality was one of your key priorities when you took the helm of the Fund last year. Why is that, and what have you focused on first?

We have long known that diversity, including gender diversity, is key to effective, innovative organisations. In the for-profit world, diversity relates directly to sales and profits. In global health, where organisations are striving to create a healthier world, it is even more critical to embrace diversity as a mechanism to maximise our ability to deliver on our missions.

So diversity is not just a question of fairness, it’s a driver of success. A growing body of evidence shows that this is the case. We need to be using this data to get buy-in from leaders. We need male allies in this push for gender equality, and in my experience, data is essential to securing that support.

When I joined GHIT, there was already a lot of work underway to promote diversity. I was keen to unite those initiatives and policies into a single corporate strategy with a clear vision—and ensure accountability at the highest levels of our governance. Having gender equality as a business pillar incentivised staff to consider gender in our external work. We are now looking ahead to how we can integrate a gender focus into all aspects of our business portfolio, partnerships and programmes.

How has the Fund made this focus on diversity central to the organisation?

We are fortunate to have a truly diverse team—not just in terms of gender and nationality, but also in experience and perspective. Most of our employees have lived and worked in countries different to their own. Therefore, part of the reason we have been able to make such progress recently, is due to diversity already being part of our DNA.

Bringing about more diverse organisations must be embraced as an imperative by top leadership—it can’t be a second or third rung priority. At GHIT, we have also seen the value of having employees who truly value it too. An essential part of our hiring process is looking at how candidates think about and embrace diversity. At GHIT, we also see this as an issue for everyone.

If you had three takeaways for other organisations, what would they be?

First, I would encourage all organisations to embed diversity into their hiring process. We need diverse workforces, but we also consider an understanding of the value of diversity as a core competency. Particularly in global health, which necessitates cross- country and cross-sectoral collaborations, this should be non-negotiable.

Second, I think it is critical for organisations to ask themselves what success looks like. All organisations should be setting gender- and diversity-specific KPIs. Without measurable, transparent goals, it’s very difficult to be accountable for progress. Mechanisms like Global Health 50/50 have helped us with that—and perhaps in the future, a ranking system in the Report would provide organisations with another way to track progress.

Third, consider how global health can be a force for equality across society. GHIT Fund, for instance, is unique to Japan in how diverse we are. We want our progress to inform and inspire similar progress across Japan. As a sector I think we have a responsibility to drive broader social change in our own national context. Who better to do this?