by Danielle Shapiro
On March 26, 2019, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer (retired) visited our Conversations in Global Health course to discuss his journey within global health and give us a look into his leadership techniques. Although he currently stands as a prominent leader in global health, his leadership skills are applicable to any discipline. His story illuminates how passion and cooperation can instigate change.
We often hear stories of global health leaders starting off as aspiring doctors, politicians, or public health experts. Ziemer, however, did not become a global health advocate through a conventional path. Ziemer was raised in Southeast Asia by missionary parents and grew up speaking the local mountain dialect before learning English. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a major in history, and joined the military immediately after. His first tour with the U.S. Navy turned into a thirty-year career. Although Ziemer had no intention to devote thirty years to the military, he was recognized for his ability to engage with communities and continued his service. His ability to communicate and keep a team motivated and focused was extraordinary; Ziemer was built to be a leader.
After the military, Ziemer joined a faith-based NGO called World Relief, where he soon became the executive director. Although unconventional, Ziemer attributes his leadership success to listening to others and earning respect. Working for World Relief taught Ziemer about the complexities of development and prepared him for success in his global health career. He separated development into five sections: health, agriculture, microfinance, resettling of displaced people, and disaster response. Each element, although intertwined, must be given adequate attention and dealt with separately, and so Ziemer did just that. Ziemer’s categorization strategy allowed him to become a successful leader of development.
Former President Bush recognized Ziemer’s leadership skills, and nominated him to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2006. Ziemer decided to focus his work on the health aspect of development. He translated his leadership experience from the military and World Relief to PMI and USAID.
PMI focused on controlling malaria in Africa and was a collaborative U.S. government effort led by USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of State, the White House, and others. Because PMI united so many groups, Ziemer emphasized the importance of fostering a community within the organization. He explained that groups often have different expectations and priorities. Because of this, it is vital to identify objectives and settle differences early on. In order for any progress to be made, people must listen to one another and understand each other’s concerns. Although Ziemer did not have direct experience in the global health field, his ability to unite and motivate a team has earned him recognition as one of public health's most effective leaders.
At Georgetown, many of us are constantly stressed about our futures and how our majors will translate into jobs after graduation. But Ziemer's journey in global health highlights that we can become leaders in any field and make a difference if we are passionate, considerate of others’ opinions, and ready to learn.
Danielle Shapiro (COL’20) is a junior in the College, majoring in biology of global health and minoring in disability studies.
This blog was written by a student in Georgetown’s Conversations in Global Health course, which brings leaders in global health to Georgetown to discuss their careers and work.