January 2021 marked the exciting start of a new term for PSI’s Board of Directors. 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 Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, Vice President of DoorDash.
PSI: We want to learn all about you! Tell us about your background, areas of expertise and professional journey.
KG: Growing up in Ghana and having the rare opportunity to come to the U.S. for college, I was really interested in the development field. So I majored in Economics & International Studies at Macalester College thinking I’d end up at the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. As it usually happens, life had other plans and I fell into a career in Marketing & Advertising after an internship and first job at Leo Burnett, the famed advertising agency in Chicago.
For me, marketing has always been and continues to be a fascinating exploration of human psychology; consumer culture; social, cultural, and technological trends; and how businesses can build connections with people and drive positive social impact. The best marketing starts with understanding people deeply and solving for their needs brilliantly – and this is also fundamentally true of the development world broadly and of the work PSI does specifically.
I’ve had the opportunity to understand people and build for their needs in the U.S., U.K., and Ghana – where I built an advertising agency to serve 23 countries in West Africa. And I’ve gotten to work on some of the world’s most incredible brands – like Kellogg’s, Nike, Nestle, P&G, Vodafone, Bacardi, Facebook and now Doordash. And at each point, whether it’s using Maggi in West Africa as a vehicle to valorize the women of the region and recognize the immense role they play, or helping restaurants reopen with DoorDash during the pandemic, I’ve tried to focus marketing as a force for positive outcomes in society.
PSI: Building from that, how did you get to know PSI and our mission, and come to join the Board?
KG: I spent the first 17 years of my life in Ghana before moving to the U.S. in 1997, and living in Ghana again from 2009 to 2011. Whether it is HIV or sanitation or malaria, PSI’s work focuses on issues that are very present in Ghana. As a child, I had malaria many times; it was an annual occurrence. Growing up in Ghana, you’re not not going to get malaria. PSI’s work to provide people with the resources and information to avoid or overcome these challenges is crucial, particularly in places where healthcare systems are not robust.
Going beyond that, and at a deeper level, I lost my mother when I was quite young to a rare disease that would have been diagnosed in other contexts. Having healthcare systems that are robust enough to support people’s needs is integral. PSI plays an enormous role in making that happen by advancing consumer-powered healthcare around the world.
For these reasons, I have always felt that even before I came to PSI, this was a part of my story. The mission is what attracted me to PSI because it is deeply personal to me and my homeland; being able to be a part of driving that in Ghana, and other places that look like Ghana, has been a privilege to be a part of.
When people can use their voice and choice – and when they have access to the right tools – they have the power to drive their own health outcomes. That is deeply important in the context of the countries in which PSI works.
PSI: You describe people having access, agency and tools in their hands to drive their health journey. Can you talk a bit more about what consumer-powered healthcare means to you and the difference you see it making?
Simply, that people get to make the decisions that make sense for them, for their bodies, for what they need – and that they have the tools, the resources, the access and the information to do so.
This seems like a simple obvious idea – but there are very few places where this is true, and for very few people (often the elites). In most of the world, particularly around reproductive health or HIV or mental health, stigma abounds. It is difficult or impossible for people to access the care they need because the systems around them are broken, paternalistic, punitive and designed to deny care. This is true whether you’re a woman in the U.S. seeking an abortion or a man in rural Ghana living hundreds of miles away from the nearest health care provider.
For me, consumer-powered healthcare is about saying that people having the right, and people should have the agency and the ability to get access to care when they need it, without fear of judgment or shame.
For example, I have great healthcare coverage through my job, and all I have to do to access care is call my doctor for an appointment. How do we make that type of consumer-powered healthcare true for everyone, no matter who they are or where they happen to be in the world?
PSI: We’re halfway through 2021, what are you looking forward to for the remainder of the year?
KG: Personally, I’m in the middle of a move across the county, so I’m looking forward to getting settled and reestablishing roots in a new but familiar community in New Jersey, having lived there before.
When I think about the world in general, I’m really interested in the shape of things as we emerge from the fog of COVID. We’ve been in this COVID realm for almost a year and a half, and it’s been harrowing and strange on so many levels. There’s an intense desire for normalcy and for “going back,” but I don’t believe there will be a “going back.” I believe we’re looking at a new new normal – and I think there’s so much that is going to come out of this period that we don’t yet fully understand.
As a student of human culture and psychology, I’m fascinated by what the shifts to a remote/hybrid culture mean for companies and employees, by the incredible art that’s likely to come out of this period, by how we respond as an international community to this latest brutal reminder of our interconnectedness, and by the new types of choices people are making around the importance of their personal relationships, being proximate to family, and so on. This is an optimistic view, but I think we will see a richness in relationships, in culture, in art, in cross-border collaboration and in how we think about work.
In any case, the next decade will be fascinating to watch unfold.
PSI: Bearing in mind that one of your fellow Board members revealed that he used to dress up as Goofy while working at Disney – what is something unique or interesting that you’d like to share about yourself?
I love and embrace change. My wife and I have had 23 addresses in the last 25 years. We have lived in multiple countries and on multiple continents. I find that change is the only constant; throughout my childhood I always had to adapt and that has turned into a strength and a skill. I find that I am open to people and new experiences, and that I embrace risk. Perhaps, this is why I ended up rocking out with an air guitar on the most popular daytime variety show in the Philippines – It’s Showtime!