Dr. Kat Turner speaks with The Pivot

Katherine (holding laptop) leads a session on increasing global competence in public health at the Gillings School’s MPH@UNC immersion event.

Katherine Turner lives her values as a global citizen.

Number 1

What’s your role in public health?

I have several roles. One is as owner, president and principal consultant at Global Citizen LLC, the consulting and coaching firm I founded in 2011.

I am also a mentor and adjunct professor at the Gillings School. I advise students and young professionals on career paths and development. I love teaching classes and engaging with students on leadership, systems and design thinking, cultural competence, abortion and other global health topics in the online MPH@UNC program. I also have taught various courses in the residential program and codesigned a course on effective training for global health.

Another role is being a thought leader and author. I wrote a chapter on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and intercultural competence in leadership for Leadership in Practice: Essentials for Public Health and Healthcare Leaders, a textbook that is taught in public health schools at dozens of universities. I also provide thought leadership through keynote addresses and other speaking engagements and by publishing articles, videos and online posts.


Number 2

Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?

Through my firm, I collaborate with leaders across all sectors and around the world to develop inclusive leadership skills and strengthen their capacity to effect organizational transformation and social impact by advancing public health, human rights, DEI and global competence for a better world.

Global Citizen LLC is a boutique woman- and LGBTQ+-owned firm. We take a highly customized approach to our work with leaders in the nonprofit, academic, government, philanthropic and for-profit sectors. We conduct comprehensive and engaging assessments, facilitate strategic visioning and planning processes to develop coherent and measurable strategic plans. We also provide coaching, training and other capacity-strengthening services to support implementation and create accountability and sustainability.

Katherine presents at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Katherine presents at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

We center DEI in all our work and support leaders in improving their organizations’ effectiveness to produce high-impact results. We know that by developing more inclusive, effective leaders, strengthening the capacity of employees and organizations, and transforming organizational systems, cultures and practices, we’re effecting broader, societal-level change. Sparking transformation at the individual, organizational and societal levels is my personal and professional mission and passion, and I find my work extremely meaningful and fulfilling!

My firm also operates what I call passion projects, like our Global Citizens in Action program. This is a global citizenry education and leadership development program for school-age children. They learn about global citizenry, global competence, DEI and inclusive leadership, and they develop social media campaigns and other types of advocacy projects to raise awareness and advocate for social justice and action. We welcome youth-serving organizations as collaborators in this program.

I also love teaching, mentoring and engaging with students. My firm has a vibrant internship program. We recruit interns on an ongoing basis and always have interns from the Gillings School. We create mutually beneficial opportunities for interns to contribute to the mission and work of Global Citizen LLC, and we invest in their skill and professional development. I value staying in touch with and supporting interns long after they’ve left my firm.


Number 3

What brought you to public health?

Growing up, I couldn’t have told you what public health or health education was. As an undergraduate at Duke University, I majored in psychology and planned to become a clinical psychologist. I also discovered women’s studies — now gender studies — and graduated with honors with a certificate in that field.

A conversation on careers with my favorite professor, Dr. David Goldstein, helped me realize that what I was most passionate about was my work as a peer educator and community organizer. I was co-president of our peer sexual health and counseling program and a leader in our women’s center on campus.

Dr. Goldstein said, “What you’re describing sounds like public health and health education, and one of the best schools in the country for that is right up the road at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

That really piqued my curiosity, and I began looking into graduate programs at the Gillings School.


Number 4

Can you describe a time when you have pivoted in your public health career?

After discovering public health, I originally planned to enter UNC’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program after working for a year as an abortion counselor and a specialist for a national sexually transmitted infection hotline.

After I was admitted to the Gillings School, I learned that I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. I worked in a small village in Togo on a Guinea worm eradication program. In my second year, I recruited village health workers and founded a regional health education program. I also founded and served as a regional trainer in a peer education program for my fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

I returned to North Carolina to complete the MPH program in health behavior. While still a student, I was offered the opportunity to work as the Durham County Health Department’s associate director of health education and communicable disease education manager. I loved my community work and colleagues — but having had a very international upbringing, I missed working at the global level.

I pivoted back to global health, becoming a senior advisor in health systems and manager of Francophone West Africa programs for more than 15 years at Ipas. I pivoted again when I founded Global Citizen LLC in 2011 and worked initially as a part-time consultant. I left my wonderful colleagues and work at Ipas to devote myself to working as a full-time business owner and executive consultant in 2017. I thrive on the creativity, diversity and autonomy that running my own consulting and coaching firm affords me.

Transformation and equity have been key themes throughout my life. I’ve always been committed to my own personal and professional transformation as well as facilitating and supporting the transformation of other individuals and systems to advance equity. The work at multiple levels, from the individual to the society, feeds off of each other; it is individual leaders who effect organizational and broader societal level changes, and broader changes impact large numbers of people.


Number 5

Who are you when you’re at home?

I am a loving partner to Valarie and mother to our son, Jaidan, and devoted family member and friend to my beloved community. I’m very proud of our son, who is just beginning his first year at UNC and is a third-generation Tar Heel! My family and friends are incredibly important to me. We also have two adorable dogs, Ava and Pauli, who accompany us on most of our adventures.

Katherine, her partner, Valarie Hines, and her son, Jaidan Turner-Lowry, ascend a mountain overlooking Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica.

Katherine, her partner, Valarie Hines, and her son, Jaidan Turner-Lowry, ascend a mountain overlooking Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica.

My family, friends and I enjoy walking, hiking, swimming, kayaking, camping and generally enjoying time reveling in nature. We grow various vegetables and fruit in our yard, and I love preparing delectable dishes from all over the globe. Lately, my best recipes have come from TikTok and Instagram! I love listening to music, especially at outdoor concerts, and dancing. We are avid travelers and frequently go on local weekend excursions as well as domestic and international trips.

My family moved a lot when I was growing up, and we lived in numerous states on both coasts of the United States and in London during my middle school years. I was an AFS exchange student for a year in Holland, and as a college student and adult, I lived in Paris, Togo and the U.S. The AFS organization was founded on the belief that the more people are invested in and have loving relationships with people in other countries, the less likely we are to engage in world war, and that intercultural connection and peace mission has always resonated strongly with me.

While at Ipas, I traveled and worked in dozens of countries spanning five continents, and I was fortunate to be able to bring our son on many work trips. Jaidan grew up with a strong sense of himself as a global citizen and a commitment to service to others. I was excited when he decided to take a gap year to participate in a social justice and Spanish intensive programs in Guatemala and an environmental volunteer service program in Hawaii.

As well as being completely committed to the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and integrity, I identify as a global citizen. Those values those form the foundation of my personal and professional identities and leadership roles. I have a lifelong commitment to advancing DEI and global competence with individuals and organizations and at a broader societal level — for a better world.

Read more interviews in The Pivot series.

Published: October 11, 2023

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