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April 21, 2021

A Conversation with Lisa Carty: From a Diplomat in the Foreign Service to a Problem-Solver in the International Humanitarian World

By Keerat Singh (SFS'23)

On Tuesday, April 13, Lisa Carty, the director of humanitarian financing and resource mobilization at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) joined the Conversations of Global Health class for an enlightening discussion. She began by sharing the tale of her career, starting at her unemployment following her graduation from Georgetown, something that I, and I’m sure many of my peers, fear about in the future. However, Ms. Carty found a volunteer posting in Southeast Asia, jumped at the opportunity, and found it to be an eye-opening experience. As she told us, that experience defined the rest of her career. Having grown up in New York City and suburban New Jersey, teaching English in a different country opened her eyes to a world of possibilities.

Following this experience, she thought she would try the U.S. Foreign Service for a few years when she was hired as a political officer, but she actually ended up being a foreign service officer for 25 years! Ms. Carty spoke about how she structured her career in both the foreign service and, later, around several different thematic issues, including humanitarianism, gender, conflict prevention and resolution, and global health.

Ms. Carty also spoke to how her career led her to many different locations and sectors: she spent a year on Capitol Hill as a congressional fellow, helped the Gates Foundation with their global health program (and was the second employee in their DC office!), worked for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) in Russia, and now coordinates humanitarian programs across the entire United Nations (UN) system.

The many different directions her career took her was something I found really interesting as an undergrad student very worried about my employment possibilities post-graduation and how they will define the rest of my life.

Ms. Carty also shed considerable light on the different problem-solving approaches she encountered in different positions she held. The U.S. Foreign Service and public sector equipped her with the ability to solve problems at scale, while the Gates Foundation approach to problem-solving stemmed from the private sector and boasted a Microsoft way of thinking.

However, I believe the most impactful part of our conversation with Ms. Carty was our discussion surrounding equity. She spoke about how substantial numbers of people are falling back into global poverty with the coronavirus pandemic. Because of COVID-19, there are 80 to 90 million more people that have fallen below the poverty line, making less than a dollar a day, and 200 million more people who are severely food insecure. She emphasized the importance of pushing forward against these issues and doing so with equity at the forefront of our minds.

She shared some of the important lessons she had learned about equity throughout her career, including the need to be a good active listener, set assumptions about morality, and have better data and better information-sharing across the world.

In the fight for equity, Ms. Carty called for some fundamentals in all countries moving forward: a well-functioning basic primary health care system, the ability to collect and analyze data, the ability to link that analysis to how money is spent to make sure money is spent in the most impactful way, and the linkages of these systems in a way that there is an awareness of what happens in other countries. She ended with a call to bring the whole world into our global health problem-solving and not restrict the discussion to wealthy countries.

Given the fact that we are witnessing widespread inequities during the vaccine distribution process in real-time, I found the discussion with Ms. Carty to be extremely illuminating and was very grateful for the opportunity to converse with her.

Keerat Singh (SFS’23) is a sophomore student in the Conversations in Global Health course pursuing a degree in business and global affairs, a minor in Spanish, and a certificate in diplomatic studies.