Elspeth Williams

Elspeth Williams - 2016 Nominee
Position: Associate Director, Policy & Government Relations
Organization: Population Council
Williams works to promote evidence-based reproductive health policymaking. She's worked to forge new partnerships with donors, the private sector, governments and global NGOs to garner funding and commitments to international reproductive health. – John Townsend, Vice President and Director, Reproductive Health Program at Population Council
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

As a reproductive health policy expert and advocate, I work to inform and influence global family planning policies and funding. In my current role leading U.S. policy and government relations at the Population Council, I advocate for high-quality scientific evidence to inform U.S. global policymaking to ensure effective reproductive health policies, programs, and technologies globally. In my previous family planning advocacy work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I forged new partnerships with governments, multilateral institutions, and partner organizations to galvanize progress towards FP2020. I funded and partnered with global advocacy organizations pushing for increased political commitment and financial investment needed to ensure quality family planning in their countries.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

During my years working and traveling in sub-Saharan Africa—as a field-worker, implementing partner, and donor—I have met countless women robbed of their reproductive rights. Their lack of access to family planning is one of the most severe social injustices of this modern era. It is also one of the most significant lost opportunities—investment in family planning is a game-changer for advancing global health and development.My passion for justice and women’s health and rights fuels my advocacy.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

Controversial and complex politics! Elevating an evidence-informed family planning agenda to the top of policymakers’ priorities is challenging, both here in the U.S. and abroad. I focus on building relationships and partnerships, advocating on behalf of scientific evidence, and equipping policymakers with actionable, high-quality data. If we can successfully frame family planning at the center of the global agenda it will be one of the most consequential advancements of this century.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Under-investment in new contraceptive product development is staggering. Increased method mix increases overall contraceptive use, and discontinuation rates of existing methods remain high. Yet, public and private sector donors have largely shifted away from investing in R&D of contraceptives. We need to develop methods that are user-controlled; long acting; multi-purpose prevention; better tailored to low-resource settings; have fewer side effects; and are better suited for adolescents.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

I believe deeply that family planning can transform lives and nations. I want nothing more than to help lead institutions and governments to help fulfill this promise. I will continue to build partnerships, to gain expertise, and work to influence policy levers and design solutions to help to ensure greater progress on family planning. Onward!

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