Climbing Health Care's Highest Mountain: Risa Lavizzo-Mourey's 2012 President's Message

May 22, 2012, 1:00 PM

Last summer, in anticipation of the Foundation's 40th anniversary and of her tenth year at the helm, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, took on a challenge of a different sort. Together with her adult daughter, she joined a team climbing to the "Roof of Africa," the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

In her 2012 President's Message, Lavizzo-Mourey tells the tale of the trek, and recalls the advice her hiking group leader gave her:

• Measure each pace — Step. Pause. Step. Pause.

• Keep progress slow, but steady.

• Always onward. Always upward.

• Maximize progress. Minimize risk.

• Know your limits.

• Know when to stop / rest so you don’t have to stop / halt.

Lavizzo-Mourey writes, "It wasn’t until I was back on the job in Princeton that I realized these are the same basics RWJF has followed over the past four decades. That’s when it hit me: As we push our philanthropy to higher and higher levels, the one mountain that really matters is the mountain RWJF’s been trying to move all along!"

That mountain, of course, is the challenge of improving health and health care for all Americans, and RWJF has invested $9 billion in the effort over the last four decades. Lavizzo-Mourey continues:

In our practice of philanthropy, this is where the “Kilimanjaro Effect” comes into play. Step by step we progress onward. We may have to “discover the new terrain” and new ways to traverse it. It may take us a generation, or two or three, but we have the will and the means to hang in there until momentum occurs, progress is secured, and evidence confirms that the change we seek is producing positive results. If it is not—well, we have learned the hard way to know our limits, when to step, when to pause, when to stop, suspending the climb for a better route on a better day. Ours is a spirit of resilience and resolve our founder and namesake built into our philanthropic DNA from the very start.

Read Lavizzo-Mourey's 2012 President's Message: The Push for the Summit: Creating Health Care's New Terrain.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.