Martha Holley Newsome, Medical Teams International President and CEO, concludes her time with the 4word community by encouraging all inspirational leaders to embrace “stepping out of the boat.”
You can listen to more of our conversation with Martha on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.
As CEO of Medical Teams International, what are you most proud and excited to see with your team?
Oh, so many things! For the past five years, we have had a really ambitious strategic plan to triple our impact through three aspirational goals: triple the number of refugees and displaced that we’re serving, triple our capacity to respond to disasters, and triple the number of people that we’re serving right here at home in the U.S. We haven’t always had all the financial resources that we need, but we’re on track with at least two of those goals to reach those audacious targets.
One target that we had for ourselves to triple our capacity to respond to disasters. Our team created a moving target to measure our capacity against all of the disasters in the world. We’ve watched the number of world disasters just go up and up. That one goal we may not quite hit, but we’ve certainly done an incredible job in terms of increasing our capacity to respond to disasters. I’m super proud of the team for always being willing to pivot and to be agile in terms of responding to whatever the new disaster is.
Are there any issues or conflicts that are happening around the world that you want to see get more attention?
The one that’s really heavy on my heart at the moment is Sudan, and it has not been getting the news coverage it should. I mean, we hear pretty much daily about Ukraine and of course the needs are extreme, but we don’t hear much about Sudan. In April 2023, a bitter conflict between two military groups broke out and they just started bombing a city of 10 million people. Everybody has had to flee. We had to get two of our expats out and their stories of getting out of that situation are just hair-raising. I think what most Americans and the world don’t realize is that half of that country’s population is impacted—24.5 million people.
Our teams are still in southern Sudan. We had started our work in Sudan responding to the conflict in Ethiopia and now Sudanese are going across that same border. We really need to scale up, and it’s a conflict that’s not getting a lot of attention. The needs are really extreme. I love the fact that you asked this question because this helps us get the word out. I know there’s so much compassion within the Christian community, but we often don’t get the information that we need to be able to respond.
Is there a way to partner or connect with Medical Teams International as a volunteer?
Absolutely! You can go to the Medical Teams International website and there is a page for volunteers. Volunteers help us in our distribution center to get medical supplies sorted and packaged, and out the door. We have an amazing partner that has been sending those supplies to Ukraine. Of course, we need resources to be able to respond, so you can donate through our website as well. We are also collecting and asking for names of people who have technical or clinical experience and would like to be part of our humanitarian response roster. And of course, every single person can be an advocate for refugees around the world and help get the word out.
Who has been the most influential leader to you?
I’m going to cheat and give you two! Very early in my career, when I was in Washington D.C. I had just received my Master’s in Public Health, and I went to work for a contractor who did nutrition programming globally. I was preparing to get married around the same time as I started this job, so I had so much going on. The leader of that worldwide project gave me a really rough performance appraisal. She told me that she knew I could do better, that she expected more from me. She really called me on the fact that I was just giving sort of an average effort. And I am so grateful that she reminded me that everyone has a lot to juggle and we each have to figure out how to give our best. Her words really put me on a path to achieve.
The second most influential leader in my life was the boss that I mentioned earlier, Ken Casey, who was the special representative to the president with World Vision for the HIV initiative. I really appreciate his mentorship and the fact I reported to him later in my career. When I was leading our Africa HIV team, he helped me to understand what an exponential leader needs to do to create a vision and a plan, and then go after it, believe in big things and then rally people around you to achieve that vision. He helped me take that next step towards being a transformational leader, and that has stood with me for the rest of my career. Dream big and be passionate, but then come up with a strong plan to implement the dreams that you have.
What is one thought or piece of advice that you want our readers to remember most from everything we’ve discussed this month?
Allow God to push you beyond your comfort zone and be willing to step out of the boat. That was the advice on my heart as I considered taking the CEO position with Medical Teams International. I had read a book by Mark Batterson called In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars. The thesis of this book is that not only does God require us to be obedient and live righteous lives, but He also gives us opportunities to step out of the boat. I love the fact that at the 4word Executive Women 4Christ Forum, we got to listen to Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben talk about being in the storm with Jesus and how He calms the storm. I went up to her afterwards and said, “I love that picture you gave to us, but I think Jesus also calls us out of the boat.” Um, Peter gets a bum rap for stepping out of the boat and sinking, right? But Mark Batterson’s book talked about the fact that the rest of the disciples didn’t get to experience what it felt like to walk on the water—they were the ones who lost out.
I think the Lord calls us beyond our comfort zone, and I would just encourage this incredible community of 4word women to be willing to step out of the boat. Take that risk, take the opportunity that the Lord is giving you, and be willing to step into things that seem beyond your capability. That’s where God shows up the most and provides us with everything we need to lean into that opportunity.
Martha Newsome is the President & CEO of Medical Teams International, a global health and humanitarian organization. She has spent the last 30 years of her life dedicated to serving the health needs of others. In her current role, Martha leads more than 1,500 international staff as they restore health to three million people through medical and dental care, disaster response, humanitarian aid and community health programs.
Considered an authoritative global leader in international public health, Martha has a deep understanding of grassroots operations as she worked her way to senior leadership from the front-line realities of local community health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. Martha lived in southern Africa for 15 years, and at the age of 33, was elevated to Country Director for World Vision in post-war Mozambique. Prior to joining Medical Teams International in 2016, she led World Vision International’s Global Sustainable Health team representing three sectors, over 3000 employees and a budget of $700M.
Martha is Chair of the Integral Alliance Board of Directors, an international alliance of 21 faith-based relief and development agencies, and is published in public health journals like the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine and Human Resources of Health.