How Carolyn Brehm, PSI’s New Board Chair, Sees Consumer-Powered Healthcare

January 2021 marked the exciting start of a new term for PSI’s Board of Directors. So began the tenure of four new and returning talented Board members and new Board Chair Carolyn Brehm. We are conducting interviews with the Board members, delving into their backgrounds, personal and professional journeys, as well as their call to PSI and its mission to deliver consumer-powered healthcare.

Below, we talk with Carolyn Brehm, Founder and CEO of Brehm Global Ventures.

PSI: You have been on the PSI Board for going on four years now and recently took over as Chair. Let’s reacquaint our readers with your background.

Carolyn Brehm:  Over my 40-year career, I’ve worked at the intersection of public policy, government relations and business and spent most of my career at two Fortune 100 companies- General Motors (GM) and Procter & Gamble (P&G) – with brief interludes at several non-profits and trade associations .

I  studied international relations, economics and Mandarin at Georgetown University  before completing an MBA 10 years later, studies that prepared me for roles as a business leader and lobbyist.  I knew from the age of 17 after a life-changing experience as an exchange student in Mumbai, India that I wanted to do global work.  I’ve been blessed to have roles that have taken me all over the world, including China where I met my American diplomat husband (now retired).

I currently spend my time doing a combination of consulting and board work, like the service to PSI. I also serve on the Board of Governors at the University of New Haven and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service Advisory Board.  I also co-teach political risk and corporate diplomacy courses and mentor a host of students and former colleagues.

PSI: Reflecting back to before you joined the PSI Board, what brought you to PSI and what inspired you about our work and mission?

CB: I first got to know PSI in 2004. I was supporting the P&G team to expand distribution channels for a P&G water purifier product. PSI was one of P&G’s first NGO partners to distribute both water and sanitation products through its social marketing initiatives in Southeast Asia and Africa.

PSI was and is still unique for an NGO.  The social enterprise model, market orientation and consumer-focused approach to development made it an attractive partner for the Company.

PSI President and CEO Karl Hofmann invited me to join the Board in 2017.  Serving on the board appealed to me for many reasons. First, PSI’s 50-year history with its successful and sustainable track record. Then there is PSI’s reputation in the global health community and the impact it has had on the lives of women, girls and families in tackling some of the biggest global health issues.   Another huge asset is PSI’s relationships with governments in the markets where it operates and the health care policies and programs it has helped shape.

Perhaps most inspiring has been the opportunity to see PSI programs in action.

In 2014, I visited PSI’s local partner, Sun Quality Health Clinic outside Yangon, Myanmar with then USAID Administrator Raj Shah To participate in a community training for moms and kids on clean drinking water and hand washing in a effort to curb the spread of diarrheal illness.

In early 2018 while in Madagascar, I joined the PSI team for evening  outreach where we distributed condoms and information on free HIV testing to sex workers. It was a special opportunity to see the work that PSI does, to witness the trust and respect that the sex workers demonstrated with PSI staff and the impact it was making on the local community.

PSI: You mentioned PSI’s consumer focus. What does consumer-powered healthcare mean to you and how do you see it as an important component of the work that we do?

CB:  I’ve seen the evolution of PSI programs since my early P&G days spent selling condoms and mosquito nets, and addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria.

While in our 51st year, we’re still doing some of that work, PSI’s business model has evolved to meeting consumers’ health needs in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, sanitation and non-communicable diseases and leveraging technologies in exciting ways.

Consumer-powered healthcare is based on what consumers want and need.  It is about understanding consumers as individuals and how to best serve them with personalized information. Ensuring they have a right to choose, to have access close to their homes and places of work, and access to high quality health care that is also affordable.

PSI: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

CB: Traveling both for pleasure and for a PSI board trip to visit a country project…at some point!

I am also excited about the role as Chair of the Board. We have such an incredible level of depth and breadth of expertise on our Board and together we can help take PSI to new heights.  It’s a privilege to be working with Karl and the team.  I have never met so many talented, committed, interesting and inspirational people all associated with the same organization. It is true to say that people are PSI’s number one asset.

PSI: Any final fun or interesting facts about yourself that you’d like to share?

CB: 2020 was a pivotal year for many people, good and bad, with lots of soul searching. One of the joys for me was becoming a grandmother for the first time to baby Harry, who is six months old. He gives me a new window on life and what’s important. He has been a daily reminder of purpose. I want to make our world a better place for him – and generations to come.

Carolyn and Harry
Carolyn and her grandson Harry. “He gives me a new window on life and what’s important…I want to make our world a better place for him – and generations to come,” she said.

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