Pushing Past Barriers to Become an Exponential Leader: Part Two

Martha Holley Newsome, Medical Teams International President and CEO, pens another blog and shares examples of exponential and influential leadership that she’s utilized and witnessed during her time with Medical Teams International.

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.

In my first blog, I shared a few themes that I learned throughout my professional journey on becoming an exponential and influential leader. These themes have carried through to each of the positions I have held both here in the US and overseas, and helped lead me to where I am today as the President and CEO of Medical Teams International

The topic of exponential leadership ties into the work we do at Medical Teams, an organization that provides medical care around the globe to individuals affected by manmade or natural crises. In these incredibly difficult contexts, I have witnessed how women are the best health advocates in their communities. This is because women understand on a personal level why health is so important for their families. They are the pillars of our society. We are often the caregivers for our little ones, and for our older family members. In fact, over 80% of displaced refugees are women and children. In the work of Medical Teams, it is critical that we have women on our staff – because so many of the people we serve are women and children. They deliver babies and food; they walk door to door to provide care and encouragement, and they teach and train up others around them to be health leaders themselves.  

I saw this reality at work during my recent trip to Colombia, which was such an encouragement to me. I met with our dynamic team of Community Health Workers, primarily all women, who had themselves fled from Venezuela. They are the unsung heroes of our work. They are young and vibrant and have come from immense trauma and pain themselves. Many who have been abused now want to help others overcome their abuse. Women are so unique in this I believe; they are truly overcomers, and then in turn, they help others overcome.  

One example of women overcoming incredible odds rose up our of our visit to Barranquilla, Colombia. This community is located on a literal trash dump. We walked the streets of this makeshift slum with our staff, as they shared their heart and vision for this place. They brought us to a woman whose 3-year-old grandson had been diagnosed with cancer, that we had helped connect to chemotherapy and medical care. She shared how cared for she felt by this team of community health workers, these women who had rallied with compassion around her and her family during their time of intense need.

As we walked on a small bridge over a river of sewage and trash toward our van, a mural appeared ahead of us with the following phrase:  “Mujer eres fuerte y poderosa y talento te sobra,” which translates to: “Women are strong, powerful and full of talent.”

This mural felt like a divine punctuation point to our visit and a message for our female staff and community health workers in Colombia. As we gathered for a photo and I looked around at the brave, resilient and powerful women surrounding me, I got goose bumps. No truer words could have been spoken about these overcomers. 

When we live as leaders that believe in the potential and capacity of women, the sky truly is the limit — as long as we are committed to paving the way and encouraging them to push barriers out of the way on the path toward their dreams.

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.