Copy the Leader: Ann Varghese
Ann Varghese, c’01 is a Senior Program Officer at the  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We sat down with Ann to learn what leadership means to her.

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Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

What do you do in your work?

I have been at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) for about 7 years. Initially, I worked in the Global Health division making and managing grants, developing partnerships, and working with colleagues on issues related to Neglected Tropical Diseases. That is truly rewarding work however in the last few years, I have devoted more time to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. Currently, I am part of the Foundation Strategy Office and I lead our work around diversifying partnerships. At the BMGF, we rely on a vast network of partners aimed at tackling some of the biggest challenges in global health, development, and US education. I support efforts focused on better understanding our current landscape of partners and working to be more representative of the populations and communities we serve to achieve our greatest impact.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

In my career, some of the most effective leaders I have known all have one thing in common, they are good listeners! Part of being a good leader is understanding the people or teams you are leading and that comes from taking time to really listen to them. The people closest to the issues will understand the context and challenges of the work and bring a different perspective to potential solutions. A good leader listens to a variety of perspectives and is then able to determine and communicate the best course forward. A good leader does not pretend to have all the answers and knows when and how to engage others for the best outcomes.

How do you practice leadership at your job?

I work with technical experts and thought leaders from across the globe, which can be intimidating at times! Part of my leadership style is about identifying strengths or gaps in a team and thinking about the best way to harness that strength, or address a shortfall, for the good of the broader piece of work. Everyone involved has a role to play and I find it is important to create ownership over the work so people feel accountable for its success. My leadership style is not about being front and center, sometimes leading from behind and giving others a chance to shine is the best way to achieve the overall goal.

What makes a team or group successful?

It is critical for a team to have a shared goal and for each member to understand their role in achieving the goal. A good leader communicates expectations clearly and ensures early alignment on roles/responsibilities, timelines, and ways of working together. Effective team members can articulate the overall goal of the work and know how various roles, including their own, contribute to getting to the finish line.

How has your company adapted to the changes brought by the pandemic?

I am proud that the BMGF has been working tirelessly since COVID 19 emerged to ensure a safe and effective vaccine is distributed equitably and affordably to everyone around the world. For almost 18 months now, employees from 10 offices around the globe have worked from home. We shifted our thinking on how we engage with each other and our partners. Leaders and staff have been incredibly compassionate and flexible during these challenging times. I am grateful to work for an organization guided by the belief that every life has equal value and aims to help all people lead healthy, productive lives, it is truly a privilege!

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