The Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders initiative transforming local public health leadership across US

September 21, 2017

Last week, public health leaders from local health departments across the country convened in Chapel Hill to continue training to advance innovative new models in their agencies in response to today’s ever-evolving health-care environment.

The second cohort of the Emerging Leaders in Public Health initiative engages in experiential learning.

The second cohort of the Emerging Leaders in Public Health initiative engages in experiential learning.

The visitors all are participants in The Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health initiative, which equips local public health officers with the knowledge and skills to lead transformation within their health departments and assume new roles in their home communities.

Launched in 2014, Emerging Leaders in Public Health is an ongoing leadership development effort. Its national program office is housed within the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“This initiative is bringing together visionary leaders to strengthen and expand the role of local health departments, positioning them for new opportunities,” said Janet Suttie, MA, the national program office director within the Gillings School. “The program is designed partly in response to the changing landscape for local health departments; our participants are working hard to gain competencies in adaptive leadership, design thinking and public health systems development in order to transform their organizations for the future.”

During their visit on Sept. 12 and 13, pairs of participants – each comprised of a senior public health officer and an emerging leader from the same organization – engaged with concepts including fostering innovation, crafting compelling messages, getting stakeholder buy-in and strengthening internal leadership. This training was part of an 18-month experience for the leaders, who have initiated grant-funded projects designed to apply their new organizational competencies and enhance public health in their communities.

Torney Smith (L) and Monica Lupes Valdi exchange ideas over lunch.

Torney Smith (L) and Monica Valdes Lupi exchange ideas over lunch.

Torney Smith, MEd, and his colleague, Heleen Dewey, from the Spokane Regional Health District in Washington State, represent one of the 20 teams in their cohort of emerging leaders.

“Our project will address concerns about health equity by systematizing and increasing awareness of equity issues within our agency and community,” Smith said. “We’ve been working on this for several years, but the grant will enable us to bring crucial trainings to our staff. Our goal is for each staff member to become an empowered ‘chief health strategist’ who can see the great variability of income, education, and housing and transportation access in our area and work with community partners to address how these factors impact health outcomes.”

Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH, and her initiative partner, Margaret Reid, RN, will lead a similar project through the Boston Public Health Commission.

“We want to improve health for all by developing our workforce’s ability to recognize and address health inequities,” Valdes Lupi said. “We also plan to roll out a ‘health equity in all policies’ task force with other city agencies and will launch a health equity advisory council to engage key community members.”

“What’s been most helpful about the Emerging Leaders program,” she added, “is that it offers networking and peer-to-peer learning, gives us practical tools to support the theories we already know and provides us with a supportive learning environment. Being presented with opportunities to challenge our traditional ways of thinking is extremely beneficial.”


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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